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in an organized civil society, to make use of the law for the defence of their lives and fortunes ? By no means : He only forbids that litigious spirit, which induced many in that day to contend with each other before heathen tribunals, when they might better adjust their differences by mutual concessions, or terminate them by reference to some wise Christian brethren.
Our saviour says, “ Resist not evil, but whoso shall smite thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other." Does he intend, that we shall tamely submit to the outrages of every insolent brute, without any measures for selfpreservation, or for the restraint of violence ? This none can imagine. He recommends no more than a' general spirit of prudent meekness and forbearance under personal injuries.
He says, “Give to every one that asketh of you, and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.” Must we then give away our whole substance, if any man should be so impudent as to demand it? Or may we never attempt by any means to recover our property, when it is taken from us by theft or robbery? We know, that no more is here commanded, than a ready disposition to do good, according to our abilities, when we meet with those, who appear to be proper objects of our beneficence.
So in the text, (admitting the translation to be correct) when Christ says, “Swear not at all," we are not to conclude,' that he disallows and forbids all oaths; but such oaths only, as he was then speaking of. The general expression must be so limited, that it may accord with itself, with common reason and the tenor of scripture.
It was the opinion of the Jews, that, in extraordinary cases, they ought to swear by the name of God only ; but that, in their familiar communication, they might swear by heaven, the sun, the earth, the temple, or some other creature, as they pleased; and that such small oaths were not binding. This errour our Lord corrects.
“Swear not at all.” So Christ's words are rendered : But our English adverb, at all, does not accurately -convey the sense of the original word; for that properly signifies, wholly, universally, or without distinction. The same word, in the before cited reproof to the Corinthians, is translated utterly. “There is utterly or generally a fault among you, that brother goeth to law with brother before unbelievers, and not before saints.” The sense, then, of this whole passage relating to oaths must be as follows, “Ye have heard, that it hath been said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself,
but shalt perform thine oaths to the LORD ;” for ye think, that oaths made to the Lord, and in his name, are binding on you. “But I say unto you, Swear not indiscriminately,” or by every object, which comes to mind, as it is your custom to do ; “Swear neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by your lives.” not by any other oath” in your ordinary conversation; “but let your communication ;" (He does not say, Let your testimonies, or your official engagements; but let your communication, your common discourse)“ be yea, yea ; nay, nay.
The Jews would have thought it profane to swear by the name of God in their ordinary conversation ; for oaths, in his name, they allowed to be binding. But Christ tells them, that to swear by any other object, in their ordinary conversation, is profane ; for all oaths are binding. He therefore directs them never to swear by any object, but the great God. Thus common swearing, on their own prin. ciples, must cease ; for corrupt as they were, they had so much reverence for Jchovah, that they. Vol. I.
would not use his name, in their daily customary oaths.
This is the plain sense of our Saviour's words, taken by themselves.
That he does not absolutely forbid, but, in some cases, allow the use of oaths, will appear,
2. From the reason of the thing, and fronı many express passages of scripture.
Oaths, in many cases, are really necessary in civil society ; and it is doubtful whether society could subsist without them. Men in public office ought to be laid under the most solemn obligations to fidelity. Witnesses, in cases where property, character and life are concerned, ought to feel themselves under the most sacred bonds to declare the whole truth, and the truth only. And to men, who believe a divine moral government, nothing can have such binding force, as an oath. Temporal considerations are of variable influence, and may, under certain circumstances, prove temptations to falsehood and unfaithfulness. But an oath reaches to the heart, and binds the conscience. It recognizes the presence and judgment of God, and will take hold of the inward man. He who under this awful bond, dares to falsify and prevaricate, is little less than an atheist. And to a known atheist no oath ought ever to be administered, and no important trust ought ever to be committed.
Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and, so far as I know, among all civilized nations, oaths have been judged necessary, and esteemed sacred. In the patriarchal age they were frequently used. They were required by men of distinguished piety, and were required from men of reputed probity. Abimelech made Abraham swear, that he would not deal falsely with him. Abraham bound Eliezer with an oath to execute his orders respecting his son's marriage. Laban exacted from Jacob an oath, that he would treat with kindness the wives which Laban had given him. Jacob caused Joseph to
, swear, that he would bury him in Canaan. And certainly our Saviour, who came to promote the interests of mankind, did not forbid a usage, which common experience had found necessary to social and personal happiness.
Oaths are undeniably of divine institution. They were inwrought into that government, which God ordained for his favoured people. Cases of doubt and controversy were, by his express command, to be decided by the testimony of persons under oath. The people were by oath to bind themselves to the observance of his laws. They were to swear allegiance to him. And none can suppose, that God would enjoin on them a usage in its own nature sinful. The apostle to the Hebrews speaks of it as a known custom to terminate disputes in this manner. “Men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.” He manifestly speaks of this practice in terms of approbation,
Paul had the mind of Jesus Christ. Did he im. agine, that Christ had forbidden the use of oaths ? Surely then he would not have used them, as he frequently does, in his Epistles, which were indit. ed by the Holy Ghost. He says to the Romans, “ God is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers.” The narrative, which he gives the Galatians, of his conversion and apostleship he thus concludes, “Now the things, which I write unto you, behold, before God I lie not." When he had given the Corinthi. ans a long detail of his various sufferings in Christ's cause, lest it should seem incredible he thus confirms it; “ Now the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ knoweth, that I lie not.” To impress on the minds of these Corinthians a conviction of his affectionate regard for them, he says, “ I call God to record on my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.” To manifest his ardent love for the Philippians, he says,
" God is my record, how greatly I long after you." As he thus swears himself, so he also adjures others. He says to the Thessalonians, “I charge you," or, as it is in the margin, “ I adjure you by the Lord, that this Epistle be read to all the holy brethren.” Paul certainly judged, that oaths, in some cases, were not only justifiable, but important.
We have still a higher authority, even the example of our divine Lord. And his example never contradicted his doctrine. He says to the Phari. sees, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be giva en.” In the original it is, “ If a sign sliall be giv. en to this generation.” This was one of the forms of swearing used among the Jews. It was as much as to say, God's word is not true, if such a thing shall, or shall not be done. We have, in scripture, several instances of the use of this form, which is expressiy called swearing. “The Lord was wroth, and sware, saying, If any of these men shall see the good' land." "I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest.”
Another instance of Christ's approving of an oath we have in his examination before the high priest. The questions put to him he several times refused to answer : “ Then the high priest arose and said, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ.” He requested Christ to answer upon his oath. For among the Jew's adjuration was one form of administring an oath, as is evident from several passages of scripture. It is said in the law of Moses, “If a man hear the voice of swearing, or of adjuration, and be a witness, whether he have seen, or known such