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tion to God into which by swearing the juror is brought. Viewed as a covenant among men, God is not properly a party to it, but a witness. But those who require the oath being possessed of power deputed to them from above, the same engagement may be also considered as a covenant made with God by him who swears. The engagement viewed in the former light, appears as affording the matter of a covenant between the juror and Him by whom he swears; but, contemplated in the latter, stands forth as one made with God, through the instrumentality of his servants. The oath is sworn to himself; but He, and those whom he hath vested with office, will demand the fulfilment of it.
When the oath usually represented as promissory is sworn, a covenant with God is thereby made. When such an oath is sworn to confirm a vow to God, made not before men, most manifestly a covenant with Him is constituted; but no less is a covenant with Him entered into when such an oath is given to men. By this species of oath is generally understood that which is used in reference to obligation to be fulfilled in the more or less distant future. It has been shown, that even the oath given to confirm an assertion, belongs to this class. Accordingly, all kinds of oaths are generally promissory. But while both species may not be implemented in some cases till the far distant future, some of an assertory nature may be performed at the time when they are sworn. Evidence has been given, that the latter kind of oaths, viewed as promissory, brings under an engagement to God. That both do so, even when taken by men, moreover farther appears. A vow is essentially a promise made to God, but to none other; and the fulfilment of the vow is required, at least in virtue of the making of it.45 But not less does God require
45 Deut. xxiii. 21, 22.
what is promised to another by oath, than what is vowed to himself. The vow binds the soul with a bond which cannot be else than the bond of a covenant with God; but that bond also which is made by swearing an oath to bind the soul being spoken of in the same manner as the bond made by the vow, cannot be another than the bond of a covenant with him. 46
God is properly a party to the covenant made in vowing to Him. When an oath is sworn at the desire of men, they are a party to the covenant that is entered into by him who swears; but God is party to a covenant that is also thereby made ; and when the oath is sworn in secret to God, He alone is a party to the covenant into which the juror enters. In all the cases God is a party to a covenant to which he who swears is the other. Again, though Christ forbade unlawful swearing, yet when he says, “ 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,” 47 he does not teach that the oath, when properly sworn, is not to be performed to God, but rather intimates, that when He is properly appealed to in swearing, he is thereby contemplated as having addressed to him a solemn promise or vow, the fulfilment of which he will demand. A severe penalty followed the non-payment of the vow,
48 and the punishment due to the nonperformance of an oath sworn, even to men, is represented as incurred by failing to fulfil a covenant obligation to God himself. The children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, sware thus to their brethren of the children of Israel, “ The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know, if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, (save us not this day,)
that 46 Num. xxx. 2. 47 Mat. v. 33, 34. 48 Eccl. v. 4-6.
we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer thereon burnt-offering, or meat-offering, or if to offer peace-offerings thereon.” And testifying to their conviction that a failure in the fulfilment of their promise would be a breach of an engagement to God himself, they said, “ Let the Lord himself require it.” 49
Accordingly, the giving of the “ oath for confirmation,” whether of a statement of fact or of a promise to be fulfilled in the future, is in every case a taking hold on the covenant of God. There is every possible variety in the matter of the engagements made by oath, but not one of them is disconnected from a covenant with him. As the hand given among men was in every age a pledge of friendship—the maintenance of which is so palpably a design of a covenant, and betokened" always an accession to conditions of peace; as when the hand was given on the occasion of swearing an oath, a covenant was wont to be made, 50 so when the hand, which, when lifted up in devotion, points out always reconciliation with God, in swearing is held
up towards heaven, a sign that a covenant is being made with him is thereby given.
Hence, when men, in making a league or covenant with one another, lawfully vow or swear to the Lord, they Covenant with him—and this is, moreover, corroborated by the Scripture account of some such covenants. The covenant between Jonathan and David, made by swearing unto God, is denominated a "covenant of the Lord.”51 The covenant of marriage, made by vowing or swearing, to the Lord, is recognised as the covenant of God.52 A covenant between God and each of these different parties must therefore have been made. One reason of these designations of such covenants is, that they were according to God's appointment; but it would be absolutely gratuitous to deny that there is this other reason—that those who sware in each case, by swearing came under an engagement to the glorious Object of all worship to fulfil the promises made by them to each other. Though marriage be not a sacrament, yet it is universally admitted to be solemnised either by the making of vows or by swearing to God; and if this covenant, and all others that are ratified by oath, afford not the matter of covenants with God entered into by the parties, there is not afforded by the scriptural forms of transactions with God concerning things essentially religious, that are ratified by oath, the least evidence of their being covenant engagements to him. A covenant transaction among men concerning lawful things civil, if ratified by oath, has the solemnity of an exercise that carries along with it an engagement, of its own nature, to God, not less than an exercise of Covenanting concerning things civil and religious, or concerning things exclusively religious. Nor is it any valid objection to the sentiment that every covenant-not excluding those that are civilwhich is ratified by an oath, is to be fulfilled, in virtue of an engagement or vow to God made by the oath, that the designation of "a covenant of God” was applied to covenants confirmed by swearing, which were not kept, and probably had not been made in sincerity.53 The transactions with God in such cases are designated by what they professed to be, and ought to have been : and with those who dishonoured God in conducting them it became Him to deal accordingly.
49 Josh. xxii. 21-23. 50 Ezek. xvii. 18. 51 | Sam. xx. 8. 52 Prov. ii. 17.
From the foregoing statements regarding the oath, there may be deduced the two following conclusions :
First, That the civil or moral use of the oath, in the intercourse of society depends wholly upon its
53 Ezek. xvii. 16–19.
spiritual character. The oath of an atheist or unbeliever is not necessarily of any value. The indi vidual who cherishes no sense of responsibility to God for his actions will not always, if at any time, scruple to swear falsely. When a witness is not impressed with the fear of God, his oath is of no more value than his simple affirmation : both may be true, but no security is afforded by his character that both are not wrong. In civil and moral life, the presumption that a witness is competent is based at least upon the profession which he makes of a regard to Divine truth : and though many, even while they tell the truth, swear without reverential feelings to Him whose dread name they use, their evidence or engagement of whatever kind is estimated as trust-worthy, only because it is supposed to be accompanied with the oath religiously employed.
Second, That the oath is distinct from the vow. The vow is a solemn promise to God. He is properly a party to the covenant entered into in making it; and it may be made either on occasions of entering into engagements with men, or in other circumstances. The oath is an appeal to God; it may be made on occasions of covenanting, whether he be properly the party or not, and is an invocation of him, that he may witness and judge concerning a transaction entered into either with himself, or with himself and also with others. The row is essentially a promise, but is made to God, who must be viewed necessarily as a witness to a transaction with himself; and, consequently, though the name of God may not be used in making it, as it is employed in the act of swearing an oath, yet, when it is made, the exercise of swearing is implied ; or, every vow to God implies the giving of an oath, or the act of swearing by his name. The swearing of an oath always brings under obligation to God, and therefore always includes the making