« السابقةمتابعة »
to obey with the least ultimate danger from obedience: and they are reconciled chiefly by making the promise a religious obligation, acting in the following manner:
Remove the notion of imprecation, and what is the position of the party who takes the oath ? He now stands not only before man but God; is made amenable to an additional tribunal, and subjected to far higher influences. The fear of violating the promise is far more strong, first, because the presence of God and his personal observa. tion is more full of awe than that of man; secondly, because the terrors of his anger are unseen, and the punishment upon perjury indefinite; and, thirdly, because all the sensibilities of shame before the eyes of the world, and apprehension of evil from man, which give weight and validity to a common promise, are included in the oath; and man, to whom it is taken, acts afterward as the minister of God in avenging any insult upon his name.
And yet at the very same time the violation of a promise to God is far more safe, is far less likely utterly to destroy the moral constitution, offers far more chances of ultimate recovery, than a violation to man. This statement also may appear a paradox, but it is undoubtedly true; and it requires explanation to those who propose to substitute declarations for oaths, as far less injurious to the conscience. In the first place, it must be remembered that in each case the crime by itself is precisely the same, although it is not felt to be the same. A. steals in opposition to a promise, B. without any promise. The guilt of stealing is in each alike, and whether the promise is to man or God can make no difference. In each act of stealing the same laws of honesty are broken. In each also there is contempt for the honor of God, whether we disobey his commands without thinking of his presence, as in the case of a promise to man, or are carried away from them in opposition to former resolutions of obeying them, as in the case of an oath. Whether we never think of a person, or forget him for a time, matters little. Only that man is nearer to piety who has once been impressed with a sense of God's presence, and has formed intentions of honoring him, though intentions which, from the weakness of his nature, he may at times have failed to fulfil, than one who is kept in ignorance almost of God's existence; in ignorance, at least, that he superintends and witnesses all the dealings of men, and that no act is right or wrong except as it relates to him. Grievous lapses are indeed grievous things; but there may be a darkness and deadness which never lapses, because it never advances, and this is far more grievous. And such is the state to which mankind will be reduced when for occasional accidental trespasses against God's name and honor, we substitute the greatest and most deliberate dishonor to it, the putting it clean away out of all our dealings.
Moreover, in the case of a Christian, it must never be forgotten that every vice or fault of whatever kind, whether in contradiction or not to an express particular oath, is a contradiction of a previous oath-one made on the most solemn occasion, and renewed deliberately, and by many men often. We cannot sin without breaking our vow at baptism; and to break any subsequent vow or promise can add little to the heinousness of such an original offence. It is not because men do not feel the obligation of their oath at baptism, renewed as it is in every profession of their Christian faith, and do feel the obligation of an oath made on some particular occasion, perhaps with more external solemnity, that the intrinsic obligation of one is less than the obligation of the other. Our sensibility to moral obligation, as was stated before, is the very last standard to which we should refer for the real measure of duty-for the real measure of remorse when the conscience becomes awakened for the real measure of punishment, whether it is awakened or not. And if now, as in better days, men when they sinned in any way were reminded that each sin was a liewere told of their solemn promise to obey all the commands of God
if that promise were renewed by them as solemnly as it was made in primitive times, when those who were about to be initiated stood up in the presence of the church, and with loud voice and outstretched hands swore themselves servants of their Maker-if the oaths which they then swore were treasured up to be brought out against them, as witnesses of every failing; and their vows were brought daily before them as recorded faithfully and strictly in the sight of Heaven, to last there until the day of trial-if, in one word, the church herself, as in her better days, had rigidly maintained the whole mystery of baptism, we should not now be called on to defend the practice of swearing to God in cases of human dealings which may be brought under the example and the sanction of his own most holy institution. And we should not have been led into the error of dreading a violation of a subsequent oath as a crime beyond all pardon, while the violation of our oath at baptism is passed over without notice, and without fear, as if it were no oath at all.
Still it is said there are such things as weak consciences, and they are not to be rashly offended. There are such things as raw consciences, and in the present day the affectation of them is very common-consciences morbidly and tremulously sensitive to some slight demand upon their trust in God's mercy, which yet are as firm as a rock upon the commission of heavy sins. Like the somnambulist, they sit still under a blow upon the back without knowing that it was given, but when a finger touches the hair of their head, they shriek out in agony. This is the moral sensibility which in the present day is indulged and encouraged. No man is so wholly cased in armour but that he has some little point through which shame may reach him. And this point he calls his conscience; and as each man has his own point, and probably a different one, and as nothing is to be enforced which is to wound the conscience of any one, nothing can be enforced at all. Would it not be better to remind men that while they are committing great sins without shame, the fear of committing a less must at least be regarded with suspicion; that conscience is not a casual feeling on a particular act, but the whole faculty of man's reason brought seriously and comprehensively and solemnly to bear upon the whole range of his duties; that it cannot be trusted without infinite peril until it has been purified by practical habits, enlarged by patient thought, tested by selfdenial, sanctified by prayer; that when the plea of conscience comes in, as we see it brought in every day, to shake off some check upon our heart, to escape from some discipline, to avoid the payment of a church rate, or to rob the revenues of God in order to appropriate them to man,-some little doubt may reasonably be felt, if this acute
and delicate intuition of right and wrong be not rather hypocrisy than truth, prudery than innocence.
Nothing, indeed, should be done in things indifferent to wound even the most childish conscience. But where practices are right in themselves, to abolish them, because they shock the casual feelings of ignorant men, is to establish a principle which must end in subverting all rule, all education, and all society.
Lastly, if the repugnance to an oath arises not from a moral sen. sibility to guilt, but from a fear of the punishment on violation-and this is the danger to be dreaded-let men ask themselves seriously whether they would rather fall as criminals into the hands of man or of God? We are only about to expand the brief declaration of Ambrose, “He who owes a debt to man must pay the whole; but he who is a debtor to God, when all else fails, may pay with penitence and tears."
Of all stern, hard-hearted, unforgiving tyrannies, that of human opinion over man, when unmitigated by any thought of religion, is the worst. It is rendered inexorable not only by the bad passions of human nature, but by its own weakness. It cannot afford to pardon. And hence the law of honor, especially when man's interest or resentment is concerned in it, is absolutely cruel. Very different from the mercy of God, it makes no allowance for the frailty of human nature, admits no satisfaction, enforces the penalty to the utmost, cuts off for one single offence all hopes of reformation and amendment. And if in the engagements of life a law of honor is to be substituted for the law of God, and for every violation of a promise man is made amenable to man without any reference to his Maker, his case will indeed be hopeless.
If the principles are correct, the application of them will be easy; but without reference to principles, any alteration in our system of oaths must be most hazardous and unwise. All that we are pleading for is caution, humility, deep thought, and self-distrust in disturbing our ancient landmarks. It is true, indeed, that oaths have been multiplied of late to a very alarming extent, that they have been admitted where they should never have been tolerated, administered irreverently, trifled with publicly and wantonly, and perhaps even by the best of men not observed with that solemn feeling which they are intended to inspire. And therefore, says the spirit of the age, let them be swept away root and branch. They have been abused, and now we will destroy them. May we not ask if the very abuse and multiplication do not prove the truth of some good principle from which they sprang, and which still may be found in a portion of them? Can we indulge in safety this wild, promiscuous demolition, without attempting to fix very deeply and very clearly the limits of the good and the evil? And ought we not to look, as the first means of correction, to the seat of all abuses, the human heart, and give fresh sanctity and power to oaths, by inspiring reverence, and truth, and piety into those who administer or accept them?
It is true, also, that the early church, though its practice, like the authority of Scripture, in many remarkable instances sanctioned the enforcement of some oaths, spoke against them in general with the most unmeasured severity. Scarcely one of Chrysostom's ear
lier homilies occur without strong and repeated denunciations against them; but those oaths were such as fell under the exceptions esta. blished above. They were voluntary, wanton, administered without authority and for private purposes, without regard to the temptation to violate them, assertory, imprecatory, and such as tempted God by unwarranted appeals to his supernatural vengeance. The real principle of an oath the early Christian church enforced in every way. “Let a man swear by his life,'' “ let the name of God be upon every action,' were her favorite mottoes, And if she refused the formal declaration of the principle, it was only because the necessity of any declaration seemed to impugn and throw doubt upon the sincerity of her inward feeling. Afterward, when this high tone of Christian piety was lowered, and it became necessary to avow and enforce religious sanctions publicly, because in secret they were so often neglected, the church, from the time of Constantine, began to multiply oaths indefinitely, and to apply them to all the duties of life in which religion could be naturally infused. Particularly all the relations of society which depended on mutual faith, such as allegiance to a sovereign, fealty to a lord, service to a master, were all sanctified by oath. And in our own country, from peculiar circumstances, the system of purgation was admitted to an extent which shocks and astonishes the conceited ignorance of the present day. We forget that we are living under a totally different system. We make no allowance for the necessities of a half-formed state of society, and we neither study nor understand the many admirable contrivances by which, under the administration of the church, even the superstition of the ordeal was rendered no despicable instrument for detecting orime, deterring perjury, and sheltering the innocent.
Upon this followed an age in which, with the corruption of the Romish Church, all other truths and systems became corrupted likewise. Then aaths were made instruments of worldly policy, and abused to the lowest purposes. And now they are all to be cast off, because piety is so lost, and men's hearts are so hardened, that the name of God no longer acts as a warning or a terror. For this is the true cause-not that we reverence God more than former ages, but that we reverence him less. And that has come to pass in our own days which Plato (De Leg., lib. xii) lamented even in his days, and against which, in his usual deep, penetrating, masculine wisdom, he made the same provisions which we have endeavored to point out at present, and which cannot be stated, in conclusion, better than in his own words:
“There was," says he, “a legislator of old, who laid down a law for his tribunals which we may well admire. He saw that men · around him believed in God; for there were children of God still upon earth, and he himself was one. To God, therefore, and not to man, he intrusted the decisions of justice, by imposing upon each litigant an oath. But now when of the men around us some believe that no God exists; some that he cares not for mortals; some, the most common and most wicked, that by offerings and flatteries he may be bribed to become their accomplice in villany; now, in an age like this, the rule of that great legislator would indeed be folly, Man's piety has changed, and our laws must be changed also; and therefore in all our courts prohibit the oath of both parties. Let
Vol. IX.- Oct., 1838. 53
the plaintiff record his charge, not swear to it; let the defendant enter his reply, but deliver it unsworn. For," he adds, “it would indeed be awful for trial upon trial to occur within our walls, and for us to know and feel that nearly half the parties to them were perjured souls; and yet to mix with them, meet them at table, talk with them, intermarry with them! Let,” he concludes, “ an oath be taken from judges, from magistrates, from electors to high offices, from all in whom is reposed any weighty trust, and who have no interest in perjury. But whenever perjury would lead to gain, decide the cause without an oath. Let no one swear to enhance his credit; let there be no imprecation."
From the American Quarterly Register. Art. V.--ON THE MODESTY BECOMING A CHRISTIAN MINISTER.
BY REV. DANIEL DANA, D.D. Nothing is so essential to the prosperity of religion as the character of its ministers. Their office and work require high and peculiar qualifications. In this point all are substantially agreed.
In the character of an untaught teacher the most ignorant perceive an incongruity. The veriest of hypocrites den ands in a minister unimpeached sincerity; and the most profligate of men, a spotless example.
So pervading and general a sentiment carries with it decisive evidence of truth. It is drawn from the inmost depths of the human mind. It may be impaired; but it cannot be effaced. Even in the present low state of religion and morals in the community it retains much of its original strength.
Many things, indeed, in the existing condition of our country are adapted to improve the ministerial character, by eliciting and strengthening some of its best attributes.
While most other sciences are making rapid advances, it would be unnatural that religion, the best of all sciences, should stand still.
The rapid extension of the gospel, with the imperious demand for its still farther extension, is fitted to rouse the energies of every minister, to quicken the impulses of his heart, and nerve the vigor of his arm.
In the meantime an endless variety of domestic objects and interests prefer their claims. While societies, anniversaries, public assemblies, resolutions, and speeches are indefinitely multiplied, no minister can well be idle. His thoughts and feelings, and, if he has them, his talents and eloquence, will have an ample field for their exhibition.
But amid these demands for energy, and temptations to display, there is latent danger. Especially there is danger lest virtues of the more passive or secluded cast be neglected and forgotten. There is one virtue, I mean that of modesty, which is already cast into the shade; and is, indeed, in some danger of being transferred from the list of virtues to that of weaknesses.
It is my wish to speak a word for this lovely stranger; to lead her out from her seclusion, to vindicate her rights, and to assign her due importance and praise.