Newspaper Page Text
\_Fot the Tablet) No. Ja lji. column , ojthe Ifl j
From the Columbian Magazine.
M Enquiry into the confijtency of Oaths with Rea
son and Chrijlianity.
IN discussing this question, I shall firft mention
the objections to oaths, which are founded in rea
son ; and, secondly, the objections to them which
are derived froi*i the precepts and fpiiit of the
1. Oaths produce an idea in the minds of men,
that there are two kinds or degrees of truth ; the
one intended for common, and the other for so
lemn occasions. Now, this idea is directly cal
culated to beget a want of reverence for the sup
posed inferiir kind of truth; hence men are led
to trifle with it in the common affairs of human
life. I grant that some men will tell the truth,
when urged to it by the folcmn formalities of an
oath, who would not otherwise do it: But this
proves the great mifchief of oaths in focicty ; for
as these men are called upon to speak the" truth
999 times in common life, to once they are called
Upon to fwe.-.r to it, we have exactly 999 fulfelioods
to one truth told by them. How extensive, then,
must be the mifchief of this great disproportion
between truth and falfehood; in all the affairs of
human life ! It is wrong to do anything that shall
create an idea of .wo kinds of truth. There is a
scale of fallehoods; but truth has no degrees or
sub-divisions. Like its divine author, if is an eter
nal unchangeable UNIT.
2. The practice of swearing according to hu
man laws, appears to be the cause of all the pro
fane swearing, which is so universal among all
janks of people ; for if there are two modes of
speaking the truth, it is natural lor men to prefer
that mode which the laws of our iountry have en
titled to the firft degree of credibility: hence men
swear, when they wiih to be believed, in common
3. Oaths have been multiplied upon so many
trifling occasions that they have ceased, in a great
degree, to operate with any force upon the most
solemn occasions : hence the universal prevalence
of perjury in courts, armies and custom-houses,
all oyer the world. This fa<t is so notorious in
that a law has lately been pafled in that
island, which requires a bond of £. 200, instead
ot an oath, from every Captain that enters his
vtjflel in the custom house, as a security for his
veracity in the manifeft of his cargo, and for the
amount of his duties to the Government.
Reason and scripture (when perfectly under
stood) are never contrary to each other; and re
velation from God can never give a sanction to
that which is so evidently absurd, and unfriendly
to the interests of human society. Let us proceed
then to examine the bible, and here we shall find,
that oaths are as contrary to the precepts and spi
rit of Chrillianity as they are to found reason.
_ Before I mention either the precepts or the spi
rit of the gospel, which militate against oaths, I
fnall firft mention a few of the cases of swearing
Which I find upon record in the new testament.
I shall firft mention the precedents in favour of
this practice, and then the precepts and prece
dents against it.
The firft precedent I shall produec, is taken
from the example of the devil, who addueftes our
Saviour in an oath,- in Mark v. 7. " What have
I to da with thee, Jesus, tliou son of the most
high God ? I adjure thee by CWthat thou torment
Afecond precedent is taken from the example of
the high prielt, who addrefles our Saviour 'in an
oath, iu Matthew xxvi. 63. "I adjure the; "fays
he, just before he contents to his death, "by the
thing God, that thou tell us whether thou be tlid
Christ the son of God." It has been said that
there was noun propriety in this mode of expres
sion, otherwiie our Saviour would have rebuked
it:, but let it be remembered, that he stood be
fore the tribunal of a high priest, as a prisoner,
and not as a teacher; and hence we find he submits
in, file nee to all the profane infultsthat were offer
He moreover accomplished by thisfilence a pro
phesy refpe«ting himfelf, that when he should be
led to judgmehr, he should be " dumb, and open
nor his mouth."
1 cter furnifhes a third example in favour of
swearing. " And again he denied".- (fays Matthew
obap. xxvi. 72.) " with an oath, I know not the
man." It would seem from this account, that a
bare affirmation was so cliaracteriftic of a disciple
of Jesus Christ, that Peter could not use a more
dirett method to convince the maid, who charged
him with being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth
that he was not a Christian, than by having re
courl'e to the Jewilh and pagan practice of taking
an oath. 6
Herod, furnifhes a fourth instance of ftvearing
in Matthew xiv. 7. when he promised to give the
daughter of Herodias whatever she should ask of
him : sue afced for John the baptist's head in a
charger : the King repented of his hasty promise ;
" nevertheless, for the oaths fake, and them
which fat with liini at meat, he commanded it to
be given her." Here it is evident he would have
violated a common prpmiSe. Butif common pro
mises are not held Sacred, and binding, there is
an end of a great portion, of truth in society, and
of all the order and happiness which arise from
it. To Secure constant and universal truth, men
(hould Swear always or not at all.
h. fifth precedent for swearing we find in the xix
of Atfts and 13th verse. " Then certain of the
vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call
over them which had evil Spirits, the name of the
Lord Jesus, faying, we adjure thee, by JeSus whom
Paul preaclieth. And the man in whom the evil
spirit was, leaped on them, and overcame them;
so that they fled out of the house naked and woun
_ The la ft precedent for swearing that I (hall men
tion, is the one related in Adts xxiii ' 21ft. It con
tains an account of forty men who had bound
themselves, by an oath, not to eat or drink, until
they had killed St. Paul. It would seem that this
banditti knew each other perfectly, and that they
would not a<fl together under the form of a com
mon obligation. The occasion indeed, seems to
require an oath. It was an aflociation to commit
murder, lam disposed to SuSpedt that oaths were
introduced originally to compel men to do things
that wire contrary to justice, or to their confid
In mentioning the precepts and precedents that
are to be found 111 the new telbament again ft swear
ing, the following striking paflage, taken from
Matthew v. verses 34, 35,' 36, 37, Jhould alone
determine the quellion. Kl Swear not at all, nei
ther by Heaven, for it is God's throne ; nor by
the earth, for it isliisfootftool; nor by Jerusalem,
for it is the city of the great King. Neither fhalt
thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not
make one hair white or black. But let your com
munication be yea, yea; nay, nay ; for whatsoe
ver is more than these, cometh of evil."
I know that these words are said to be levelled
only against profane swearing in common conver
sation ; but this will appear improbable, when
we refleA upon the frequency 2nd number of oaths
which were admitted by the Jewish institutions,
and that the principal part of the discourse of our
Saviour, from whence that paflage is taken, is in
tended to shew the corruptions or imperfections of
those uilhtutions, and the Superiority of the cof
pel dispensation over them.
There is a peculiar meaning in the reason which
is given for the prohibition of swearing in this
precept, viz. that any thing more than a bare af
firmation, cometh of evil. Yes, it came originally
from the universal prevalence of falfehood in So
ciety ; but the Christian religion, by opening
new sources of moral and religious obligation
and by discovering more fully the beauty and re
wards of truth, and deformity and future punish
ment of sals ehood, has rendered the obligation of
oaths wholly unneceflary. They comported with
the feeble dilcoveries of the Jewish, ,and nume
rous corruptions of the Pagan religions ; but they
are unneceflary under that full and clear manifelt
ation ot the divine will which is contained in the
gospel. Cefar's wife should not be fufpetfted—
\Vith how much more propriety should this be said
of the veracity of a Chriflian, than of the chasti
ty 'be wife of a heathen Emperor. Every
tune a Christian Swears, he exposes the purity and
truth of his religion to suspicion. " As for you
Petrach your word is Sufficient," said the Car
dinal Colonna, in an enquiry into the cause of a
riot that happened in his family, while that cele
brated poet was a member of it ; and in which he
exacted an oath from every other member of his
family, not excepting his own brother, the Bi
lhop oi Luna, ihe fame address should be made
to every Christian, when he is called upon to de
clare the truth, " You believe in a future state of
rewards and punishment—you profefs to be the
follower of that Being who has inculcated a re
gard for truth, under the awful consideration of
,1 s omniscience, and who has emphatically styled
TRUTH -' : Tour word > there f° re > »
A Nobleman is permitted, by the laws of Eng
land, to declare the truth upon his honor. The
projeffion of Chnftianity is declaredin scripture to
be an h.gh calling, and Christians are Said to be
prjejis and Kings Stange! that perSons of Such
high rank, should be treated with leSs reSpett than
EnglilhNoblemen; and still , 110 re strange! that
pei Sons pollefiiug theSe august titles should betray
iheir llluftrious birth and dignity, by conforming
to a practice which tawds so much to invalidate the
truth and excellency of their relio-i on
It is very remarkable, that in all the accounts
we have of the of our Saviour with
his diSciples, and of their subsequent intercourse
with each other, there 13 no mention made of a
Angle oath being taken by either of them
Perhaps there never was an event in which the
highest degrees of evidence were more neceflary
than they were to eftabliih the truth of the reSur'
re<fhon of our Saviour, as on the truth of this mi
ncle depended the credibility of the ChriftTan
religion. But an the establishment of the truth
of this great event, no oath is taken, or required
The witnefles of it Simply relate what they Saw'
and are believed by all the dhiiples, Lt/to™',
wl}o Hill remembered too well the prohibition nf
his mailer, fwcar mt at all, to ast for an oath t
remove his unbelief. 0
It is worthy of notice likewise, that no prenof
terous oath ot office is required of the difcil,! "
when they aflume the apoftolie character and are
sent forth to preach the gospel to all nations
How unlike the spirit of the gospel arc thole hu'
man laws, which require oaths of fidelity every
year : and which appear to be founded in t'-e ah
surd idea that men a.e at all times the puurdians
of their own virtue.
There can be no doubr of Chriliians having U l i
formly refufed to take an oath in the firlt ao e s 0 f
the church : nor did they conform to this paean
culloin, till after Chrillianity was corrupted bv a
mixture with many other parts of the paean and
There are two arguments in favour of oaths
which are derived from tiie new testament and
which remain to be refuted—ill. St. Paul uies ft.
veral expreiiions in his epiltles which amount to
oaths, and even declares " an oath to be the end
of ltrife." It was the character of St. Paid that
he became all things to all men. He circiun'cifed
as well as baptised Jews, and proves the truth of
revelation by a quotation from a heathen poet
Oaths were a part of the Jewilh and Pagan insti
tutions—and, like several other ceremonies, for
some time, continued to retain a ilrong hold of
the of the new converts to Christiani
ty. St. James, whowaslefs accommodating to these
prejudices, bears a teftimonr against oaths', nearly
in the fame words, which were before used by his
2u. It has been said, that the great Jehovah
frequently 1 wears, both in the old and new testa
ment, and that the angel who is to found the
lall trumpet will ""fwear that time /hall be no
more." Every expression of thi-. kind ihould be
conlidered as an accommodation to Jewilh and Pa
gan customs, in order to render the truths of reve
lation more intelligible and acceptable. The Su-.
preme Being, lor the fame reasons, often afibmes
to liimfell .he violent pallions, and even the fea
tures and lenles ol men : And yet who can suppose
it proper toafcribe either of them to a Bein<r, one
of whose perfections confilfa in his exiiting as a
pure unchangeable spirit.
It oatlis are contrary to reason, and have a per
nicious influence upon morals and the order of so
ciety ; and above all, if they are contrary to the
precepts and spirit of the gospel; it becomes le
giiiators and niinillers of the gospel, to consider
how far they are responsible for all the falfehood,
prolane lwearing and perjury that exill in society.
It is in the power of, legislators to aboliih oaths,
ex P them from our laws ? and it is in the
po\v er ol niinillers ot the gofpel,by their influence
and example, to render truth fofimple andobliga
tory, that human government lhall be aihamed to
a k any other mode of declaring it from chris
tians, than by a bare affirmation.
The Iriends of virtue and freedom have beheld,
with great pleasure a new Conllitution eltabliihed
mthe tinted States,whofe objects are ptace,union,
J''/ will be in the power of the firft
ongre.o that lhall a eft under this Conflitution, to
et l le world an example of enlightened policy,by
laming laws that /hall command obedience,with
out t.ie abhird and improper obligation of oaths.
,-T 1 means they will add the relloration and
e , ' hmentof truth, to the great and valuable
o jets ol the Conllitution that have been men
Flour fuperfine, . 37 /s. p T , iarrtl.
common, , . „ 2 / rt r j„
. . %f a do .
Indian Meal, . . ■> do
pftr'h " " * 10 /6. • do.
T ' " - *" 1 5f. a iy/6. do.
I ?TT' - • - i2 j6. do.
- 3 /. , r do.
Bcefl " fh ' - - 2/-/ofa 3 L do.
— Connt'y, . . f J fdo
Mackrcl, . . . ft a r Q do .
Herring . _ *j- f | do
Sh.p-ftuff, . . yfc a9 r t r.Cwt.
C » - - 20 f do
Mufcovada Sugar, a 67/6.°' do.
James-river, . - 30/ a 4 0/ do.
r - - - 3of. a 40/ do.
Rappahannock, - o O C do.
Maryland, col'd, - 4 /r do.
Wcftern Shore, long leaf, a 2 -f do.
taftern Shore, - . 2 of a 2 7 f do.
f n C t Caro !- - - 35/ - 37/4 <*"•
In tenor ditto, - Jr *" do.
Leadinpig s , . . do.
Rve"'' _ - 7/6. pr. bulhel.
Barley, * . " . " # d °"
Indian Corn, . a °' do .
Kl atS r j * 1/8. a if. do.
Haxfeed, . _ V. J da.
- - Ifo. a e/S. do.
r~ Llvc rpool, - . 4/. do.
Kum, Jamaica, _ . As, * ifh pr.galloo,
Windward, . %. /// P V
trench. - - 2/ do.
- -N. England, - . s > 9 . do.
?, r , and y> - - 4 /n. do.
- me, Sherry. . 6r a ,\<i.
Published by JOHN FENNO, No. 9, Maiphn-
Lane, near the Oswego-Market, New-York.