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was needful to provide against sin: against the possible case of unfaithfulness. Saving this cause, there can be no lawful grounds of separation between those whom “God hath joined together.”
33. “ 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 : 34. “ But I say unto you, Swear not at all : neither by heaven ; for it is
God's throne : 35. “ Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem ; for
it is the city of the great king. 36. “ Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make
one hair white or black. 37. “ But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for what
soever is more than these cometh of evil.”
These words expose another error of the Scribes, who explained away the third commandment, confining it to the letter and neglecting the spirit. They maintained, that as long as the name of God was not actually introduced, the commandment was not broken, provided a man kept clear of perjury. Thus perverting the law, as written in Numbers xxx. 2: “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond ; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”
Christ sweeps away at once all vain subterfuges ; Swear not at all. Let your communications be plain and simple, yea, yea, nay, nay.
Because of the strictness of these words, one sect of Christians refuses to employ an oath even for the solemn purposes of a court of justice. Such scruples, when sincere, deserve respect; and certainly we should be able to give good reasons, if we admit a practice which seems contrary to the literal terms of Scripture. There are cases, however, when we are led to do so, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” This appears to be one of such cases.
Because, first, it was allowed, nay commanded by the law of God himself, that matters should be solemnly
settled by an oath taken of the parties. As, for instance, we find an ordinance in Exodus xxii. 10, “If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.”
Secondly. Because, under the law, we read frequently of oaths being solemnly required and given, by those too who were governed by the especial direction of God; and this practice is nowhere reproved, or said to have been followed by the Divine displeasure. Thus Rahab requires of the two spies whom she had concealed in Jericho, “I pray you, swear untu me by the Lord, since I have showed you kindness, that ye will also show kindness unto my father's house. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. Jehoiada receives from the rulers and officers an oath of fidelity to Joash, the rightful heir to the throne, made more sacred by being taken in the house of the Lord;" and Nehemiah in the most solemn manner requires an oath of the nobles and priests, that they would not oppress their brethren returned from Babylon. 6. Then I called the priests," (so he relates it,) " and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. And I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise : even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, , and praised the Lord.”
Further, under the Gospel, St. Paul's own example proves that the serious invocation of the name of God is not unlawful. Writing to the Corinthians, he says, 3 See also 1 Kings viii. 31.
5 See 2 Kings xi. 4.
4 Josh. ii. 12-17. 6 Neh. v. 12.
“I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you
And again, to the Thessalonians, “ Neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness.
These examples give reason to believe, that our Lord, when He says, Swear not at all; and St. James, when he writes, “ Above all, my brethren, swear not :"9 are forbidding that light and wanton use of sacred words which was common amongst the Jews, and is too common among all nations. We conclude that, following the spirit of the Scriptures, we are at liberty without scruple of conscience to comply with those laws of our country, which require us, on certain occasions, to ratify our declarations upon oath.
Still it is an evil much to be lamented, when such oaths are rashly multiplied, and mixed up with the concerns of trade and commerce and the transactions of ordinary life. The grounds on which our Lord condemns the mode of swearing which had become habitual among the Jews, show that an appeal to God is only to be made with great solemnity and reverential awe. Let all be on their guard, that they do not acquire habits of expression of the same kind, and introduce sacred words into common discourse, without meaning, perhaps, but, for that very reason, not without profaneness. This cannot be done where the state of mind is safe, because it cannot be done where there is a proper sense of God, and of the soul, and of eternity.
If men obey the Christian precept, “ Lie not one to another,” a bare affirmative, yea, yea, a bare denial, nay, nay, would universally satisfy. Any thing beyond this, cometh of evil: cometh of the deceit which is in our hearts, and the falsehood which is in our practices, which make men distrustful of one another.
7 2 Cor. i. 23.
8 1 Thess. ii. 5.
9 James v 12.
PATIENCE UNDER INJURIES.
MATT. y. 38–42. 38. “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a
tooth for a tooth :1 39. “ But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil : but whosoever shall
smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40. “ And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat,
let him have thy cloke also. 41. “ And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him
The law of Moses enacted, that “if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour, as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” This was appointed, not as private vengeance to the injured persons, but as a legal punishment to the offender. Perhaps, however, it was perverted as if to justify a desire of retaliation. If so, the spirit of the Jewish law condemned it no less than the Christian ; for it says, “ Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. I am the Lord.” Again, “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and He shall save thee." 4
Our Lord, however, takes the opportunity of showing, that the forgiveness, not the prosecution of injuries, must be the character of his disciples : they must rather yield to evil, than resist it; for “ charity beareth all things :" they must rather resign a claim, than urge it to the utmost; for “charity seeketh not her own :”” instead of being sensibly alive to every wrong, and being
overcome of evil,” they must is overcome evil with 1 Lev. xxiv. 19. See also Exod. xxi. 24, 25.
2 The officers of public magistrates sometimes did this, pressing into their service the persons whom they met, their horses or carriages, for expedition's sake. 3 Lev. xix. 18. 4 Prov. xx. 22. 5 1 Cor. xiii. 5-7.
good." Instead of its being a duty, as some suppose, to insist upon their rights, and vindicate themselves against all injustice, the duty is rather to submit and yield. If a man strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also : if he assail
with one affront, rather bear a second, than return evil for evil. If a man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, rather consent to abide by the loss, and let him have thy cloke also, than begin a strife of which it is impossible to foresee the end. St. Paul illustrates this, when he reproves the Corinthians for indulging in litigious habits, and so acting in the spirit of the world. “Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded ?”?
Such is the general rule. Public justice, public duty, and, in many cases, important private interests, must of course make exceptions to the letter of precepts like these. Christ himself appealed to the law, against the injustice with which He was smitten: “One of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so ? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil : but if well, why smitest thou me ?"8 And St. Paul thought it not inconsistent with his Christian patience to ask, “ Is it lawful for you to scourge a man ihat is a Roman, and uncondemned ?" If by proper means we can prevent another from doing wrong and committing injury, this becomes our duty, as much as it is our duty in other
cases to submit to a wrong done. By the ordinance of God himself
, when Christians are collected together in a settled community, the magistrate is appointed as a “terror to evil workers :” and “he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath
8 John xviii. 22. 9 Acts xxii. 25.
6 Rom, xii. 21.
7 1 Cor. vi. 7; Rom. xiii. 1—4.