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vow upon you, before you take it you must consult with God, and know that it is not against his will.' God must be first obeyed in all things: but especially in matters of so great moment, as vows and promises.
Quest, i. 'What if I be in doubt whether the oath or promise imposed be lawful? must I take it, or not? If I take an oath which I judge unlawful or false, I am a perjured or profane despiser of God: and if a man must refuse all oaths or promises, which the magistrate commandeth, if he do but doubt whether they be lawful, then government and justice will be injured, while every man that hath ignorance enough to make him dubious, shall refuse all oaths and promises of allegiance, or for witness to the truth.' Answ. 1. I shall tell you what others say first in the case of doubting: Dr. Sanderson saith, Praelect. iii. Sect. 10. pp.74, 75. 'Tertius casus est cum quis juramento pollicetur se facturum aliquid in se fortassis licitum, quod tamen ipse putat esse illicitum. Ut siquis ante haec tempora admittendus ad beneficium (ut vocant) Ecclesiasticum, promisisset in publicis sacris observare omnes ritus legibus Ecclesiasticis imperatos; vestem scilicet lineam, crucis signum ad sacrum fontem, ingeniculationem in percipiendis symbolis in sacra ccena, et id genus alios; quos ipse tamen ex aliquo levi praejudicio putaret esse superstitiosos et Papisticos: quaeritur in hoc casu quae sit obligatio? Pro Resp. dico tria: Dico 1. Non posse tale juramentum durante tali errore sine gravi peccato suscipi. Peccat enim gravitur qui contra conscientiam peccat, etsi erroneam. Judicium enim intellectus cum sit unicuique proxima agendiregula; voluntas, si judicium illud non sequatur, deficiens a regula sua, necesse est ut in obliquum feratur. Tritum est illud, Qui facit contra conscientiam aedificat ad gehennam. Sane qui jurat in id quod putat esse illicitum, nihilominus juraturus esset, si esset revera illicitum; atque ita res ilia, ut ut alii licita, est tamen ipsi illicita; sententiam ferente Apostolo, Rom. xiv. 14. &c. Dico 2. Talejuramentum non obligare, &c. 'That is, 'The third case is, when a man promiseth by oath that he will do a thing which in itself perhaps is lawful, but he thinketh to be unlawful: as if one before these times being to be admitted to an Ecclesiastical benefice (as they call it), had promised, that in public worship he would observe all the rites commanded in the Ecclesiastic laws, to wit, the surplice, the sign of the cross at the sacred font, kneeling in the receiving of the symbols in the holy supper, and others the like; which yet out of some light prejudice, he thought to be superstitious and Papistical. The question is, what obligation there is in this case? For answer 1 say three things, 1. I say that an oath, while such an error lasteth, cannot be taken without grievous sin: for he grievously sinneth, who sinneth against his conscience, although it be erroneous. For when the judgment of the intellect is to every man the nearest rule of action, it must be that the will is carried into obliquity, if it follow not that judgment, as swerving from its rule. It is a common saying, he that doth against his conscience, buildeth unto hell: verily he that sweareth to that which he thinketh to be unlawful, would nevertheless swear if it were indeed unlawful. And so the thing, though lawful to another, is to him unlawful, the apostle passing the sentence, Rom. xiv. 14. &c. 2. I say, that such an oath bindeth not, &c. 'Of the obligation I shall speak anon; but of the oath or promise, I think the truth lieth here as followeth. 1. The question 'de esse' must first be resolved, before the question of knowing or opinion. Either the thing is really lawful which is doubted of, or denied, or it is not. If it be not, then it is a sin to swear or promise to it; and here there is no case of error. But if it be really lawful, and the vowing of it lawful, then the obligations that lie upon this man are these, and in this order, (1.) To have a humble suspicion of his own understanding. (2.) To search, and learn, and use all means to discern it to be what it is. (3.) In the use of these means to acknowledge the truth. (4.) And then to promise and obey accordingly. Now this being his duty, and the order of his duty, you cannot say that he is not obliged to any one part of it, though he be obliged to do it all in this order, and therefore not to do the last first, without the former: for though you question an hundred times,'What shall he do as long as he cannot see the truth V the law of God is still the same; and his error doth not disoblige him: 'Nemini debetur commodum ex sua culpa.' So many of these acts as he omitteth, so much he sinneth. It is his sin if he obey not the magistrate; and it is his sin that he misjudgeth of the thing, and his sin that he doth not follow the use of the means till he be informed. So that his erring conscience entangleth him in a necessity of sinning; but disobligeth him not at all from his obedience. 2. But yet this is certain, that in such a case, he that will swear because man biddeth him, when he taketh it to be false, is a perjured, profane despiser of God; but he that forbeareth to swear for fear of sinning against God, is guilty only of a pardonable, involuntary weakness. Direct, xiv. ' Take heed lest the secret prevalency of carnal ends or interest, and of fleshly wisdom do bias your judgment, and make you stretch your consciences to take those vows or promises, which otherwise you would judge unlawful, and refuse.' Never good cometh by following the reasonings and interest of the flesh, even in smaller matters; much less in cases of such great importance. Men think it fitteth them at the present, and doth the business which they feel most urgent; but it payeth them home with troubles and perplexities at the last: it is but like a draught of cold water in a fever. You have some present charr to do, or some strait to pass through, in which you think that such an oath, or promise, or profession would much accommodate you; and therefore you venture on it, perhaps to your perdition. It is a foolish course to cure the parts (yea, the more ignoble parts) with the neglect and detriment of the whole: it is but like those that cure the itch by anointing themselves with quicksilver; which doth the charr for them, and sendeth them after to their graves, or casteth them into some far worse disease. Remember how deceitful a thing the heart is, and how subtly such poison of carnal ends will insinuate itself. O how many thousands hath this undone! that before they are aware, have their wills first charmed and inclined to the forbidden thing, and fain would have it to be lawful; and then have brought themselves to believe it lawful, and so to commit the sin; and next to defend it, and next to become the champions of satan, to fight his battles, and vilify and abuse them, that by holy wisdom and tenderness have kept themselves from the deceit. Tit. 2. Directions against Perjury and Perfidiousness: and for keeping Vows and Oaths.
Direct, i. ' Be sure that you have just apprehensions of the greatness of the sin of perjury.' Were it seen of men in its proper shape, it would more affright them from it than a sight of the devil himself would do. I shall shew it you in part in these particulars. 1. Itcontaineth a lie, and hath all the malignity in it which I before shewed to be in lying, with much more. 2. Perjury is a denial or contempt of God. He that appealeth to his judgment by an oath, and doth this in falsehoodm, doth shew that either he believeth not that there is a God ", or that he believeth not that he is the righteous governor of the world, who will justly determine all the causes that belong to his tribunal. The perjured person doth as it were bid defiance to God, and setteth him at nought, as one that is not able to be avenged on him. 3. Perjury is a calling for the vengeance of God against yourselves. You invite God to plague you, as if you bid him do his worst: you appeal to him for judgment in your guilt, and you shall find that he will not hold you guiltless. Imprecations against yourselves are implied in your oaths: he that sweareth doth say in effect, 'Let God judge and punish me as a perjured wretch, if I speak not the truth.' And it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, "For vengeance is his and he will recompence:" and when he judgeth the wicked, "he is a consuming fire°." 4. Perjury and perfidiousness are sins that leave the conscience no ease of an extenuation or excuse; but it is so heinous a villany, that it is the seed of self-tormenting desperation. Some sins conscience can make shift awhile to hide, by saying, 'It is a controversy:' and ' Many wise men are of another mind:' but perjury is a sin which heathens and infidels bear as free a testimony against (in their way) as Christians do. Some
"See Casanbon's Exefcit. *02.
» Cotta in Cic. de Nat. D. to prove that some hold there is no God, saitli, Quid de sacrilegis, de impiis, de perjuris dicemus, si carbo, &c. putasset esse Deos, tum, perjurus aut impius noil fuissct. See lib. i. 63. (T. C.)
» Heb. x. 31. 30. xii. *9.
sins are shifted off by saying, 'They are little ones:' but ChristiansP and heathens are agreed that perjury is a sin almost as great as the devil can teach his servants to commit. Saith Plutarchq, 'He that deceiveth his enemy by an oath, doth confess thereby that he feareth his enemy, and despiseth God.' Saith Cicero, 'The penalty of perjury is destruction from God, and shame from man.' Saith Q. Curtius,' Perfidiousness is a crime which no merits can mitigate.' Read Cicero de Offic. lib. iii. Saith Aristotle, 'He that will extenuate an oath, must say, that those villanous wretches that think God seeth not, do think also to go away with their perjury unpunished.' In a word, the heathens commonly take the revenge of perjury to belong in so especial a manner to the gods, that they conclude that man, and usually his posterity to be destined to ruin, that is perjured and perfidious: insomuch that it is written' of Agesilaus and many others, that when their enemies were perjured and broke their covenants, they took it for a sign of victory, and the best prognostic of their success against them. Plutarch recordeth this story of Cleomenes, that having made a truce for seven days with the Argives, he set upon them, and killed and took many of them in the night; and when he was charged with perfidiousness, answered, ' I made not a truce with them for seven nights, but for seven days.' But the women fetched arms out of the temples of the gods, and repulsed him with shame, and he ran mad, and with his sword did mangle his own body, and died in a most hideous manner. When conscience is awakened to see such a sin as perjury, no wonder if such run mad, or hang themselves, as perfidious Achitophel and Judas did. No doubt but everlasting horror and desperation will be the end of such, if true conversion do not prevent it. 5. It is a sin that ruineth families and societies 8, like fire that being
P One of Canutus' laws (26.) was, that perjured persons, with sorcerers, idolaters, strumpets, breakers of wedlock be banished the realm: cited by Bilson of Subject. p. 202. Hew few would be left in some lands, if this were done.
q Plut. in Lysand. Cicer. de Leg. lib. iii. Curt. lib. vii. Arist. Rhet. c. 17.
'jElian. Vari. Hist. lib. xiv.
« Though as Moder. Folic, saith, Princ. 7. It is a huge advantage that man hath in a credulous world, that can easily say and swear to any thing: and yet so palliate his perjuries as to hide them from the cognizance of the most. Gabionitarum irritum focdus, calliditatc licet extortum, nonnullis intulisse exitium, ice Gildas in Prolog, p. 2. Josseline's Ed.