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wards he reflects upon the obligation he is under, and how far he hath been careful to fulfil it. The knowledge alone of what an oath is, is enough, with a serious mind, to enforce the authority of it beyond all other arguments.
In further explaining the obligation of an oath, we must lay out of the case the particular mischief which false security, and false swearing, may, in any instance, do, because that mischief is to be accounted the same as if compassed by any other means; this we will pass over, and observe the general guilt of
; false swearing, which is what we are to consider. Thus, if we take away the life of another by false swearing, it is just the same as if we stabbed him; there is no difference. If by false swearing we make a cause go otherwise than it would have done, and ought to have done, and thereby deprive the losing side of what he would otherwise have obtained or preserved, it is the same as if we robbed him ; the manner of depriving
1 another of his just right makes no difference. Whatever we consider the general nature and guilt of false swearing to be, these particular effects and aggravations are incalculable.
In order then to show, that oaths carry with them a proper force and obligation of their own, it will be necessary for me to show that there is good reason to believe that God will punish false swearing with more severity than a simple lie, or breach of promise; for unless there be cause to think so, it cannot be contended that an oath has either use or virtue in itself; but that men's bare word or promise might as well be taken, if there be the same guilt in breaking them as a solemn oath. Comparisons of crimes are to be made with caution, for they are attended with this disadvantage; that when we mention one crime to be greater than another, the hearer is led to fancy the less crime to be none at all, or to be inconsiderable. Thus, while we prove that false swearing is a greater sin, and will be more seriously punished than lying, we are apt to think lying can be no great sin in the sight of God, nor the punishment much. This is not an uncommon, but surely a very weak way of reasoning; for lying remains just the same crime, and the punishment which awaits it will be just the same, whether perjury be a greater sin or not. It does not make the guilt of one action less, to show that the guilt of another is greater, any more than it diminishes the height of one tower or mountain, to say that another tower or mountain is higher.
Under this caution, therefore, we proceed to offer our reasons why we believe that God will punish false swearing with more severity than a simple lie, or breach of promise. First;
perjury is a sin of greater deliberation. The person who swears has in fact, I believe, the thoughts of God and of religion upon his mind at the time ; at least there are very few who can shake them off entirely. He offends, therefore, if he do offend, with a high hand; in the very face, that is, and in defiance, of the sanctions of religion. This offence implies a disbelief or contempt of God's knowledge, power, or justice ; which cannot be said of a lie, when there is nothing to carry the mind to any reflection upon the Deity, or the divine attributes at all. For a lie may be sometimes pleaded haste, negligence, thoughtlessness, surprise; this can never be alleged in extenuation of perjury. It is doing a cool, concerted, deliberate crime. It may be said of a liar, that he was off his guard, had not the sense of his duty, and of God, the author of all duty, upon his mind at the time ; the reverse of this is the case of perjury. A man must have, from the nature of the thing, and in fact has, the thoughts of God Almighty and of his duty upon his mind at the time; and then it is showing, by transgressing one, and in effect bidding defiance to the other, a false way of implying in the person guilty of it, either a disbelief or contempt of God's knowledge, power, and justice. This is a heavy accusation ; but when we reflect that a man who swears calls upon God to witness what he says, invokes his vengeance, renounces his favor, if what he says be false, knowing still that it is false, what are we to think of the swearer's guilt ? Can we think he believes that God hears him, that God has the power to punish him, and that God is a punisher and avenger of wickedness ? If he believe these attributes, it is clear that he despises and wilfully defies them.
But, secondly; perjury violates a superior confidence. Mankind must trust to one another; and they have nothing better to trust to than another's oath. Hence all legal decisions, which
govern and affect every right and interest on this side of the grave, of necessity proceed and depend upon oaths. Perjury, therefore, in its general consequences, strikes at the security of reputation, property, and even life itself. A lie cannot do the same mischief, because the same credit is not given to it. I have repeatedly endeavoured to inculcate this rule, that the way of estimating the guilt of any action is, to consider what would be the consequence if others allowed themselves in the same; the rule will never fail us. Now apply it to the case of perjury; what would be the effects, what would be the condition of mankind, if men once began to trifle with oaths, or to allow themselves, without shame or reserve, to swear to a falsehood? No man's innocence, no man's character, no man's estate, no man's life, would be safe for an hour. Who would sleep in his bed in peace that reflected he was in danger of being called out to prison, and perhaps to death, upon the accusation of a false witness; and that, since the obligation of oaths was held no longer sacred, false witnesses were to be procured in every street of a city? We read of something of the kind in the last stage of prophecy, in the state at which some nations arrived before their destruction; and a dismal state of affairs it was. It
It supplied the place of murder and robbery, when men could take away the lives and fortunes of another by false swearing. This they may always do. Courts of justice, be they ever so honest or so vigilant, cannot help it, for they must trust to oaths of witnesses; for what else, what higher tie upon the consciences of men, can they trust to ? So that it is truly said that every man's estate or life is in the power of perjury to take away; and this is true in our own country as much as in
The point we laid down was, that there is good reason to believe that God will punish false swearing with greater severity than a simple falsehood; and we have evidence to prove that it is in reality a greater crime.
But further it is to be observed, in the third and last place, that God, in the Old Testament, directed the Israelites to swear by his name, and the priests to require upon some occasions an oath of the person to be examined; and moreover, to show the immutability of his own counsels, he solemnly confirmed his covenant with that people by an oath. None of these things, it is probable, he would have done, had he not intended that oaths should have some meaning and effect beyond the obligation of a bare word or promise; which effect must be owing to the severer punishment with which he will hereafter vindicate the authority of oaths.
Exodus XX. 7.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not
hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
In all cases whatever, where there is an express command, it is best, in my opinion, to set off with the command, and to let it come fairly to be tried what the strength of the command is ; whether men will take upon them to set aside the authority of God's commandment or not.
Now in the case of profane swearing, there is a positive and express command extant. There neither is, nor ever was, a doubt but that the command reaches the case. There neither is, nor ever was, a doubt but that the case of profane swearing constituted a direct and positive violation of the command. There may be, and there are, various ways of taking God's name in vain, but it never has been disputed that profane swearing is one of them.
There is no swearer, then, who does not knowingly violate the divine command, and who therefore has not this question to ask himself; Whether he be safe while he is going on in a continued breach of one of God's commandments? That is precisely his situation; and if he can draw, either from sound reason or from scripture, good authority for believing that to be a safe situation, then he may be at ease; if he cannot, then has he the condemnation of a transgressed and despised command to look forward to. It does not seem a case, either for evasion, for doubt, or indeed for much reasoning. The command is clear, if commands can be clear. The transgression is also clear.
And in this respect it goes beyond some other duties, and some other sins, in the clearness of the command and the clearness of the transgression ; for which reason, although it may be true, and perhaps is true, that the most ignorant persons are the most guilty of this practice, yet it is a case in which ignorance is little or no excuse. Were it a deep or abstruse case, were it a case of much argument or reasoning, were it a case which called for learning, or research, or inquiry, or knowledge, to come to any certainty about it, great apologies might be made
for ignorance, great allowance to the want of education or of opportunity, from which the ignorance proceeded. But nothing of this sort can be pleaded. Here is a plain command, and plain transgression. The ignorant man knows this as well as the wise. It is a rule for all. • God will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain,' is a judgment pronounced for all mankind. The most illiterate understands it, the most learned does no more. If any questions have been ever raised upon this command,
, such as whether taking any oath, or upon any occasion, be consistent with it, more especially as it is recognised and applied by our Saviour, they are questions in which the profane swearer has no concern. This case is clearly within the law. It is nothing to him whether other cases be so or not.
I have said, here is a plain transgression of a plain command'; and of what sort of a command? Let that be considered. Let it be considered under what circumstances, with what distinguishing force, with what extraordinary and prodigious solemnity, the ten commandments, of which this is one, were delivered; what reverence they are entitled to from all who reverence God. With those who think that God is not to be reverenced, who do not reverence him in any thing, I have no concern. . And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow; and be ready against the third day, for the third day the Lord will come down, in the sight of all the people, upon Mount Sinai. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the Mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, so that all the people that was in the camp trembled; and Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the Mount; and Mount Sinai was altogether in a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole Mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. And God spake all these words.' • These words," saith Moses, 'the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the Mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice, and he added no more; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.'
Now of commands so delivered, so pronounced, accompanied with such terrible preparation and solemnity, is any one to