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to advance the temporal and eternal interests of man. Deprive any individual of this moral strength, and what good can he achieve? In the midst of crowds he is solitary; no man regards him; and it may even prove a hinderance to what is highly beneficial, that it was he who first proposed it. To be reduced to this condition is indeed a most grievous calamity. If the chief design of man during his residence on earth, is to glorify God, by suggesting and countenancing deeds of benevolence and patriotism, and by doing good to the extent of his opportunity,and, if in the exercise of this power he experiences pure and perpetual enjoyment, what is the wickedness, and what the criminality, of the person who succeeds in whole or in part in frustrating this design of the Creator, and in de stroying the means which would have increased the virtue and happiness of mankind ?
Our reputation also is in many cases an useful restraint upon us.
I do not say that in the absence of every better motive, the conduct and actions proceeding from this, are entitled to the name of virtue. But if character be an instrument by which we may glorify God, and increase the happiness of man, iti must be lawful to desire it, to guard against the loss of it when acquired, and, in certain circumstances, to refrain from things which in themselves are neither morally good or evil, merely from regard to our reputation. In very many cases, mankind are restrained from doing what is bad, and encouraged in the performance of what is good, by a concern for their reputation. It is the object of the slanderer to remove this restraint, to take away this stimulus, and to afford
the evil passions of his fellows wider scope in the production of sin and misery.
The mischief which he produces is great, in proportion to the respectability, the usefulness, and the eminence of the persons whom he attacks. Are they ministers of the gospel, whose influence chiefly rests on their personal reputation and character? What a barrier may he be instrumental in raising up, to render inefficient all efforts to win and save souls. Are they magistrates whom he attacks, whose character should be unsullied, and a great part of whose usefulness rests on the estimation in which they are held? Then the slander is the means of producing greater mischief than he can be aware of, till he appear before the tribunal of the eternal Judge.
Finally, the slanderer is under the frown, and exposed to the indignation of Almighty God. “ Lord who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a report against his neighbour.”
THE forms in which oaths have been administered have been various in different ages and nations. Among the Jews, the juror lifted up his right hand,
while he repeated the customary words of the oath*, -a form which is retained in Scotland.
Mr. Paley remarks, and I entirely concur in his opinion, that in no country in the world are the forms of oaths worse contrived, either to convey the mean. ing, or to impress the obligation of an oath, than in England. “ The juror with us,” says he, “after repeating the promise or affirmation which the oath is intended to confirm, adds, 'So help me God:' or, more frequently the substance of the oath is repeated to the juror, by the officer or magistrate who administers it, adding in the conclusion, ' So help me God.'. The juror while he hears or repeats the words of the oath, holds his right hand on a bible, or other book, containing the four gospels. This obscure and elliptical form, together with the levity and frequency with which it is administered, has brought about a general inadvertency to the obligation of oaths; which, both in a religious and political view, is much to be lamented.”. There can be no doubt that the requiring of oaths on so many frivolous occasions has a great tendency to diminish the sense of significancy and solemnity in the minds of the people. A pound of tea cannot travel regularly from the ship to the consumer, without costing half a dozen oaths at least; and the same security for the due discharge of their office, namely, that of an oath, is required from a churchwarden, and an archbishop, a petty constable and the chief justice of England. The cause of public morals requires a considerable change in the manner and in the frequency with which oaths are administered.
• Psalm 144.
The great solemnity of an oath consists,
I. In its being an appeal to the Omniscience of God. It is deliberately calling upon him to whom the heart is known, to witness the truth of what is affirmed. If on no occasion his name should be pronounced but with the profoundest reverence, it should be with deep seriousness, and only on such occasions as the ends of justice imperiously require, that we venture to swear by his being and perfections.
II. It is a reference to his decision in the judgment of the great day. This, indeed, is expressed in the form of oath administered in Scotland. The nature of an oath implies it. We hereby most solemnly sig. nify our belief, not only that God is the witness of our thoughts and our conduct, but that he will punish with awful severity those who in defiance of all the sanctions of religion, and of the retributive justice of God, declare falsehood. The violation of truth in such circumstances is a contempt of God, and indicates the extreme of human depravity.
III. An oath is the last means to which mankind can have recourse, to ascertain each other's veracity. In this view"men verily swear by the greater : and an oath for confirmation, is an end of all strife.” They of necessity must give greater credit to it than to a bare affirmation, from the greater solemnity of the circumstances attending it, and from their having nothing better beyond to which they can trust. Perjury, therefore, is the most aggravated crime, since it is not only a contempt of God; but, in its consequences, strikes at the property and life of man, and at the very existence of society.
There are some professing christians who are of opinion that the taking of oaths in evidence, or for any purpose whatever, is unlawful. In vindication of their views they allege the language of our Lord: “ 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; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne ; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let
your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil *.”
This language is obviously a prohibition of vain and unauthorized swearing, and does not at all relate to judicial oaths. The persons whom it immediately censures are profane swearers. Our Lord himself when examined upon oath in the presence of the high-priest made no objection to answer the questions proposed to him. The Apostle Paul repeatedly uses the form of an oath: “I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you, I come not as yet to Corinth."
* Matt. chap. v. 33–38.