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forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths :
“ But I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by heaven; because 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 the 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*."
It is said by those, who oppose the Society on this subject, that these words relate not to civil oaths, but to such as are used by profane persons in the course of their conversation. But the Quakers deny this; because the Disciples, as Jews, must have known that profane swearing had been unlawful long before this prohibition of Jesus Christ. They must relate, therefore, to something else; and to something, which had not before been forbidden.
They deny it also on account of the construction of the sentences, and of the mean
ing of the several words in these. For the words “ Swear not at all,” in the second of the verses which have been quoted, have an immediate reference to the words in the first. Thus they relate to the word “ forswear" in the first. But if they relate to the word “ forswear,” they must relate to perjury; and if to perjury, then to a civil oath, or to an oath in which an appeal is made to God by man, as to something relating to himself. The word Oath also is explicitly mentioned in the first of these verses, and mentioned as an oath, which had been allowed. Now there was one oath, which had been allowed in antient time. The Jews had been permitted, in matters of judgment, to swear by the name of God. This permission was given them for one, among other reasons, that they might be prevented from swearing by the name of those idols, by which their neighbours swore; for a solemn appeal to any Heathen god necessarily includes an acknowledgment of the omnipresence of the
That the words “ Swear not at all” related to this oath in particular, they conceive to be obvious from the prohibition in the
verses, which have been cited, of swearing by Heaven, by Earth, and by other things. The Jews, knowing the sacredness of the name of God, had an awful notion of the consequences of perjury, if committed after an appeal to it, and therefore had recourse to the names of the creatures, in case they should swear falsely. But even the oaths thus substituted by them are forbidden by Jesus Christ; and they are forbidden upon this principle, as we find by a subsequent explanation given by St. Matthew, that whosoever swore by these creatures, really and positively swore by the name of God. But if they are forbidden, because swearing by the creatures is the same thing as swearing by God who made them, then the oath by " the name of God,” which had been permitted to the Jews of old, was intended by Jesus Christ to be discontinued, or to have no place in his new religion.
The Quakers, then, considering the words in question to have the meaning now annexed to them, give the following larger explanation of what was the intention of our Saviour
this occasion. In his Sermon on the Mount, of which
these words on the subject of Oaths are a part, he inculcated into his Disciples a system of morality far exceeding that of the Jews; and therefore, in the verses which precede those upon this subject, he tells them, that whereas it was said of old, “Thou shalt not kill,” he expected of them that they should not even entertain the passion of revenge. And whereas it was said of old, “ Thou shalt not commit adultery,” he expected that they should not even lust after others, if they were married, or after those in a married
Thus he brings both murder and adultery from act to thought. He attaches a criminality to unlawful feelings if not suppressed, -or aims at the subjugation of the passions, as the springs of the evil actions of men. Going on to show the further superiority of his system of morality over that of the Jews, he says, again, “ Whereas it was said of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself," he
expects that they should not swear at all, not even by the name of God, which had been formerly allowed; for that he came to abrogate the antient law, and perjury with it. It was his object to make the word of his true Disciples equal to the antient oath.
Thus he substituted truth for oaths. And he made this essential difference between a Jew and a Christian, That whereas the one swore in order that he might be believed, the other was to speak truth in order that he might not swear. Such was the intended advance from Jew to Christian, or from Moses to Christ.
The Quakers are further confirmed in their ideas upon this subject, by believing that Christianity would not have been as perfect as they apprehend it to have been intended to be, without this restriction upon oaths. Is it possible, they say, that Jesus Christ would have left it to Christians to imagine that their words were to be doubted on any occasion ? Would he have left it to them to think so dishonourably of one another, or of their new vocation, that their words were to be tried by the touchstone of oaths, when his religion was to have a greater effect than any former system of morality ever known, in the production of truth? Is it possible, when oaths sprung out of fraud and falsehood, as he himself witnesses (for whatever is more than Yea and Nay cometh of evil) that he would have left this remnant