תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

whether he will swear or not when he speaks. Major confuetudo majorem intentionem flagitat: " The more in

veterate a custom is, the greater care should be used to break ourselves off it.”

In short, this practice is fo contrary to fo plain a precept of our Saviour, and by the breach whereof we incur so great a danger, as St. James assures us, that it must be a great charity that can find out a way to reconcile a coinmon custom of swearing with a serious belief of the Christian religion. Which I would to God those who are soncerned would seriously lay to heart; especially, since this sin, of all others, háth the least of temptation to it. Profit or pleasure there is none in it, nor any thing in mens natural tempers to incite them to it. For though some men pour out oaths so freely, as if they came naturally from them; yet surely no man is born of a swearing constitution.

All that can be pretended for it, is custom and fashion. But to shew that this is no excuse, it is very observable, that it is particularly in the matter of oaths and perjury that the Holy Ghost gives that caution, Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.

And, lastly, It deserves to be considered, that this sin is so much the greater, because of the frequent returns of it in those that are accustoined to it. So that, although it were but small in itself, as it is not; yet the frequent practice of this sin would quickly mount it up to a great score.

2. To represent the heinousness of the sin of perjury. But, before I aggravate this crime, it is fit to let men know how many ways they may be guilty of it.

1/, When a man asserts upon oath what he knows to be otherwise; or promiseth what he does not intend to perform. In both these cases the very act of swearing is perjury. And so likewise when a man promiseth upon oath to do that which it is unlawful for him to do, because this oath is contrary to a former obligation.

2dly, When a man is uncertain whether what he swear to, be true. This likewise is perjury in the act; though not of the same degree of guilt with the former, because it is not fo fully and directly against his knowledge and conscience. For men ought to be certain of the truth

of

2

of what they assert upon oath, and not to fwear at a ven-
ture. And therefore no man ought positively to swear
to the truth of any thing, but what he himself hath seen
or heard; this being the highest assurance men are ca-
pable of in this world. In like manner, he is guilty of
perjury in the fame degree, who promiseth upon oath
what he is not morally and reasonably certain he shall
be able to perform.

3dly, They are likewise guilty of perjury, who do not
use great plainness and fimplicity in oaths, but answer
equivocally and doubtfully, or with refervation of fome-
thing in their minds, thinking thereby to salve the truth
of what they say. And we all know who they are that
make use of these arts, and maintain them to be lawful,
to the infinite scandal of the Christian religion, and pre-
judice of human fociety; by doing what in them lies to
destroy all faith and mutual confidence among men. For
what can be a greater affront to God, than to use his.
name to deceive men and what can more directly over-
throw the great end and use of oaths, which are for con-
firmation, and to put an end to strife? whereas, by these
arts, the thing is left in the fainc uncertainty it was be-
fore, and there is no decision of it. For there is hard-
ly any form of words can be devised fo plain, as not to
be liable to equivocation : to be fure, a man when he
fwears may always reserve something in his mind which
will quite alter the sense of whatever he can say or pro-
mise
upon

oath. And this may be laid down for a cer-
cain rule, That all departure from the simplicity of an
oath, is a degree of perjury; and a man is never a whit
the less forsworn, because his perjury is a little finer
and more artificial than ordinary. And though men
think by this device to save themselves harmless from the
guilt of so great a sin, they do really increase it, by ad-
ding to their iniquity the impudent folly of mocking
God, and deceiving themselves.

And whereas it is pleaded in the favour of mental refervation, That the whole propofition, as made up of what is expressed in words, and of that which is reserved in the mind, is true : for instance: If a mang being asked upon oath, Whether he be a Priest? shall answer heis not; reserving in his mind, that he is not a Priest

1

1

1

of Bacchus, or some fuch thing; the whole proposition is true : and then, they say, a man may swear to that which is true, without danger of perjury : This is of no force; because, though the whole proposition be true, it is deceitful, and contrary to that sincerity which ought to be in an oath. And the end of an oath is hereby likewise defeated; which is, to ascertain the truth of what we say: but if a man reserve something in his mind which alters the truth of what he says, the thing is still as doubtful and uncertain as it was before. Besides, if this be a good reason, a man may swear with reservation in all cases; because the reason equally extends to all cases : for if the truth of the proposition, as made up of what is expressed in words, and reserved in the mind, will excuse a man from perjury; then no man can be perjured that swears with reservation. But this the casuilts of the Roman church do not allow, but only in some particular cases; as before an incompetent judge, or the like: for they see well enough, that, if this were allowed in all cases, it would destroy all faith among men. And therefore since the reason extends alike to all cases, it is plain that it is to be allowed in none.

4thly, He is guilty of perjury after the act, who having a real intention when he swears to perform what he promiseth, yet afterwards neglects to do it; not for want of power, (for so long as that continues, the obligation ceaseth), but for want of will, and due regard to his oath.

Now, that perjury is a most heinous sin, is evident, because it is contrary to so plain and great a law of God; one of the ten words or precepts of the moral law : Thou fhalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain ; thou shalt not bring or apply the name of God to a falfhood; or, as Josephus renders it, Thou shalt not adjure God to e false thing : which our Saviour renders yet more plainly, Matth. v. 33. Thou shalt not forswear thyself. For he seems to refer to the third commandirent, when he fays, Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forfwear thyself, as he had done before to the sixth and seventh, when he says, It was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery. So that the primary, if not the sole intention of

1

1

lin of per

this law, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, is to forbid the great fin of perjury. And I do not remember that in fcripture the phrase of taking God's name in vain, is used in any other fense. And thus it is certainly used, Prov. xxx. 9. Lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of ihe Lord my God in vain; i.e. lest poverty should tempt me to steal, and stealth should engage me in perjury. For among the Jews an oath was tendered to him that was suspected of theft, as appears from Lev.vi. 2.&c. where it is said, If any one be guilty of theft, and lieth concerning it, or sweareth falsely; he shall restore all that about which he haih sworn falsely. Lest I steal, and take the name of the Lord my God in vain ; that is, be perjured, being examined upon oath, concerning a thing stoln. And for this reason the thief and the perjured person are put together, Zech. v. 4. where it is faid, that a curse shall enter into the house of the thief, and of him that sweareth falfely by the name of God. From all which it is very probable, that the whole intention of the third commandment is to forbid this

great jury. To deter men from which, a severe threatening is there added, For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh, bis name in vain; that is, he will most severely punish such a one. And it is very observable, that there is no threatening added to any other commandment, but to this and the second ; intimating to us, that, next to idolatry, and the worship of a false God, perjury is one of the greatest affronts that can be offered to the divine Majesty. This is one of those fins that cry so loud to heaven, and quicken the pace of God's judgments : Mal. ii. 5. I will come near to you in judgment, and be a swift witness againt the fwearer. For this God threatens utter destruction to the man and his house, Zech. v. 4. speaking of the curse that goeth over the face of the whole earth : God, says he, will bring it forth, and it shall enter into the house of him that sweareth

falsely by the name of God, and mall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it, with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof. It shall remain in the

midst of his house, and shall consume it : This sin, by the secret judgment of God, undermines estates and families to the utter ruin of them. And among the Heathen it was always reckoned one of the greatest of

crimes,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

mourns.

crimes, and which they did believe God did not only punish upon the guilty person himself, but upon his family and posterity; and many times upon whole nations; as the Prophet also tells us, that because of oaths the land

I need not use many words to aggravate this fin. ' It is certainly a crime of the highest nature ; deliberate perjury being directly against a man's knowledge, so that no man can commit it without staring his conscience in the face; which is one of the greatest aggravations of any crime. And it is equally a lin against both tables; being the highest affront to God, and of most injurious consequence to men. It is an horrible abuse of the name of God, an open contempt of his judgment, and an infolent defiance of his vengeance. And, in respect of men, it is not only a wrong to this or that particular perfon who suffers by it, but treason against human society; fubverting at once the foundations of publick peace and justice, and the private security of every man's life and fortune. It is a defeating of the best and last way that the wisdom of men could devise for the decision of doubtful matters. Solomon very fully and elegantly expresseth the destructive nature of this fin, Prov. xxv. 18. A false witness against his neighbour, is 'a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow; intimating, that, amongst all the instruments of ruin and mischief that have been devised by mankind, none is of more pernicious consequence to human society, than perjury, and breach of faith. It is a pestilence that usually walketh in darkness, and a secret Itab and blow; against which, many times, there is no possibility of defence.

And therefore it highly concerns those who, upon these and the like occasions, are called upon their oath, whether as jurors or witnesses, to set God before their eyes, and to have his fear in their hearts, whenever they come to take an oath ; and to govern and discharge their consciences in this matter by known and approved rules, and by the resolutions of pious and wise men, and not by the loofe reasonings and resolutions of pamphlets, fent abroad to serve the turns of unpeaceable and illminded men, whether Atheists, or Papists, or others, on purpose to debauch the consciences of men, by teach

« הקודםהמשך »