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ON THE SANCTITY OF AN OATH, AND THE CRIME OF PERJURY.
ON THE SANCTITY OF AN OATH, AND THE CRIME OF PERJURY.
OH God, most holy and just, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, and thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven, that right and truth may rule, and peace and love dwell among us! Let us ever adhere to the truth before thee, that we may not shun thy all-seeing eye, and thy eternal justice. Strengthen us to this effect according to thy grace, that thy fear may constantly govern us, that we may evermore walk before thee with our view devoutly directed on high, and find our happiness in thy love. Amen.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun 208 a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
THE Apostle rejoices in our text in the uniformly constant fellowship of the Church at Philippi in the Gospel of Jesus, feels confident that God will gloriously complete the good work which was begun in them, and calls God, the Omniscient, as a witness of the desire of his heart for them when in his imprisonment, and of the affectionate sentiments he entertained towards them. “God is my record,” he says, “how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” This asseveration of the Apostle, uttered with pious feeling on a solemn occasion, leads our serious attention to those oaths, which are required by authority as the seal of important depositions and promises, and those which, uncalled for, are uttered by the inconsiderate on the most trifling occasions; thus I feel myself under an obligation before God, to address you who are here assembled with the deep seriousness of the Gospel, respecting both kinds of oaths, and the heinous crime of perjury. The importance of the subject itself demands such consideration, but alarming appearances of our time give it a peculiar and impressive interest. The sacredness of an oath is 209undervalued by thousands; it is less respected, especially since the time when the taking of oaths has been so multiplied, and certainly often unnecessarily imposed; when the solemnity with which they formerly were taken is seldom any more observed, rather indeed a levity of conduct is more frequently perceived in those to whom the oath is administered. The profligacy of many who esteem earthly advantages higher than the favour of God, and are not afraid to mock him, the Most Holy, is to be added; and the blindness of those, who think that any dishonest reservation will exempt them from the penalties of perjury, completes the deplorable picture. How deeply these appearances affect the true happiness of the people! How can we subsist, what shall become of us, when no more trust is to be placed in our declarations, even of slighter import; and when again truth and honesty are so lightly esteemed, that many cannot be impressed nor bound even by their calling upon the all-holy Searcher of hearts! Whither shall we sink, when the fear of God so departs from us, that the taking of an oath is no longer a sure pledge of the truth, this highly important religious act seems to be misapprehended, and is actually made an object of profane jesting? On what a brink of destruction do we hover, if we do not all shudder with one feeling of horror at the shocking impiety of perjury! Let us then, beloved, take a nearer view of this 210high object, and seriously consider the sanctity of an oath and the fearful crime of perjury. May God strengthen us, that our hearts may feel a lively impression of the deep interest of the subject!
That veracity and integrity be held sacred and every where effective, is an essential condition of the furtherance of human improvement and general prosperity. A lie is the germ of all moral corruption and the grave of our well-being; a lie is of a devilish nature2121 John viii. 44., and where it dwells and operates, there are the plagues of hell. A lie is a fraud and a secret felonious attack upon our most valuable possessions; falsehood, flattery, and hypocrisy, are its offspring; suspicion, distrust, and discord, its fruits; wherever, therefore, it gains admission, there tranquillity and safety are destroyed, misery enters at the moment in which truth departs, love withdraws at the same time, and blessing and happiness desert those wretched beings, who think to found the attainment of their ends on deceit.
At the cradle of the Redeemer of the world sounded the sacred cry, “Peace on earth!” and thereby it was declared, what spirit must animate those, who would avow themselves servants of that divine Person, namely the spirit of the strictest regard for right, the spirit of truth, candour, integrity, and faithfulness. Where this spirit prevails, 211there is unlimited trust, cheerful confidence, quiet submission, firm security, and consequently peace. Where love works, there distrustful anxiety gives way, for “Love worketh no ill to its neighbour.” But where this is the case, nothing more is required than the simple word, the simple affirmation, the simple promise; every pledging of honour, every joining of hands, every additional protestation, is quite superfluous. The language of a sincere heart is alone sufficient, the word alone is amply satisfactory. But the Lord, to whom we would belong, willeth such surety and such trust, and quite decided is his declaration; “Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever. is more than these cometh of evil.” We may consequently assume, that in respect to those who are truly his, the real members of his spiritual kingdom, his precept; “Swear not at all,” is to be taken literally. For where the truth, which he enjoins, presides, there belief also prevails, and when that is so, what need is there of any other confirmation of an assertion or a promise? Yes, thus should it be, this should be the rule with us. Truth should have planted its banner among Christians, no doubt of integrity should find place amongst them, no other surety than an honest heart be necessary, no oath be required, because not needed. But this holy kingdom of God, this sovereignty of truth and of full belief, comprehends not alas! in any part of the 212world, all who call themselves after the Lord. Liars walk by the side of lovers of truth, and deceivers near honest men. Both, who have rendered themselves unworthy of trust, stand in need of a surety for what they say; they are willing to pledge indeed their honour, their faithfulness, and the clasping of hands; but what is binding or sacred to such unfortunates, to whom truth is no longer a duty? They themselves disgrace the sureties whom they have proposed, and even honour does not restrain them from falsehood and perfidy. The last means, therefore, are tried to bind them, that they may not recklessly commit themselves. The highest consideration which can be conceived, shall awe them, the consideration of the Omniscient who seeth in secret, the Most Holy, who punishes deceit and wrong with eternal perdition. Where depositions or promises are of great importance to society, where the innocence or the life of a brother is concerned, or the indispensable faithfulness in office, recourse is had to the sacred thought of God, to bind persons of doubtful disposition. They shall call upon him, the eternal Searcher and Judge of all hearts, to witness the truth of their declaration, the honesty of their promise; they shall point above with upraised hand towards heaven, where the ever righteous Rewarder of evil is enthroned; they shall speak the truth, as they value their everlasting happiness; they themselves shall pronounce 213judgment on their falsehood, if in these solemn moments they are guilty of it. Thus they give, as it were, the fate of their immortal soul as a security. Whether the swearer is made to lay his hand on the Bible or not, and lights are placed near the image of the Crucified, or not—he who swears as a Christian, well knows the fearful assurance in the Bible, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked;” he is already under a strict obligation to imitate the Lord, who was fastened to the cross because he continued faithful to the truth even unto death. Hence the occasion of oaths is derived from the unchristian temper of those, who in the levity and corruption of their hearts have become strangers to veracity, and whose conscience needs to be particularly roused and alarmed.
Yet, since light-mindedness and dishonesty often lie concealed, and the judge cannot presume precisely to discern the inward mind, the oath is required of all persons in cases, which the law prescribes, and even the good man, whose simple word and promise are as sacred to him as that which he swears to, must comply with the oath imposed by the law. It should indeed be enforced only on urgent occasions, and be taken with the greatest solemnity. If it be otherwise, if it be required without necessity from him who must obey, or if there be a reprehensible levity in the proceeding, then legislators and judges may stand 214responsible before the Judge of worlds, when they make what is holy common, and treat with disrespect that which should be revered: but it does not exempt you, who swear, from that solemn seriousness, with which you ought then to behave. Does it rest with you in a question of right, whether you will maintain your actual rights by an oath, and is the advantage of such a nature, that you can forego it according to your conscience? then rather give it up, than solemnly invoke God on an affair of small moment. But must you swear? then view this most sacred act in its fullest signification; an oath is of Weighty import, whether a small or a great matter is at stake. Persons usually prepare themselves beforehand for important undertakings; do you then also seriously consider what. you are about to do. You shall give evidence or make a promise. Reflect, before God, whether you can do this or that with perfect conscientiousness. Think how easily our senses err, bow our memory may deceive us. Consider whether you have the power to perform, what you shall promise upon oath; whether you have an entire willingness to fulfil conscientiously, and for a continuance, the duties to be undertaken. Do you feel fully satisfied on this point? well, then proceed with the reverence which such a sacred act requires, but also with the composure which your purity of intention affords you; then uplift the soul, the eye, the hand, to the 215Omniscient Being who is nigh unto you, then testify to the truth with secret prayer to him, who is the eternal Fountain of truth: or if you are sworn to undertake high duties, then cheerfully vow to your God first, what you will vow to men by invoking the name of God, and to that which your mouth utters, let your heart say forcibly but calmly, Amen! Behold, thus shalt thou swear with that deep veneration and propriety, which proclaim the sanctity of an oath to all who observe thee, with lamentation for human corruption, which has so grievously weakened the confidence in simple assertion, but nevertheless with the gratifying feeling, that by thy upright conduct in these sacred moments thou glorifiest God.
In the same degree, beloved, in which an oath taken with sincerity is a religious act, highly to be venerated and of awful importance, appears on the other hand perjury, as an infamous and shocking crime, a dreadful blasphemy, an abominable trifling with heaven and hell. To begin with smaller things; whoever lies without blushing, whoever testifies what he has not seen or heard, whoever promises what he will not perform, whoever pledges his honour to an untruth, whoever abuses the mutual and assuring pressure of hands to the ruin of his neighbour; how low is such an one sunk! how despicable is he! But, alas! he may sink still deeper. With daring countenance he now strikes at what is 216divine, makes a mock of the Most Holy, scorns everlasting mercy, purchases empty worldly profit with the wages of hell. Represent to yourselves the terrific portrait of a perjured man, and consider then his abominable conduct. When the human judge can pronounce no sentence respecting a deed done without witnesses, he, who has some knowledge of the affair, shall now be called upon to afford ground for decision. The case affects the right, the honour, the property, perhaps even the life of a fellow-creature.
How pressing a demand upon his veracity does the importance of these valuable things constitute! how shameful then to speak falsely! But that this may the more surely be prevented, that the man may not be induced, either by fear or gain, to swerve from the truth, it is required of him, that he shall take God as the holy witness of his declaration, and speak the truth, if he wishes that God may be gracious to him. The earth, its advantages and its sorrows, should be lost sight of in these solemn moments; God and eternity should fill his soul. But now the miserable man steps forth with unabashed brow, to deride both divine and human laws, and for the sake of some worldly trifle, which to-morrow may be the prey of fate, profligately to hazard his eternal happiness; he steps forth with reprobate mind to; raise his hand to heaven, the seat of the avenging Deity, and 217with perjured words to blaspheme the Most Holy. Now is the deed of hell accomplished, equally heinous, whether the wages of sin be small or great. The judge must now do wrong without his fault, condemned innocence now goes weeping from the place where justice alone should rule, the terrible curse of her tears now lies upon the perjured man. He has confessed God with his lips, but has blasphemed him inwardly; he has sported like a madman with God and eternity. He would obtain enjoyment, and he has laid a gnawing worm that never dies to his heart; he has, like one not in his senses, valued the span of this life higher than eternity. It is to no purpose that he reserves a secret sense in his oath,—that he gave in his own mind another signification to his words. Wretched, contemptible subterfuge! This shameful deception will vanish, when once his conscience shall awake with the pains of hell, and the words, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” will hover flaming before his tortured soul. Oh! it is too shocking to wish to make the most holy and righteous God, as it were, a concealer of crime and disgrace. Imagine not, wretched man, that an oath as a human exigency is of trivial importance, hold it not for something common, if, perhaps, it is treated as common by an erring legislation, or an inconsiderate judge.
A sacred awe of it should dwell in every breast; 218if thou hast it not, woe unto thee! Hast thou so severed thyself from God, that thou no more regarded him? Woe unto thee! He is enthroned above the stars, his presence will be alarmingly announced to thee in the voice of thunder, in the voice of thy terribly awakened conscience, in the voice of the messenger of death, whom God sends to bring you before his holy tribunal. Unhappy man! already thou hast destroyed thy peace here below; thou must tremble for fear of the exposure of thy crime, must dread solitude and the anguish of sleepless nights, must shudder at every anticipation of thy hour of death. Yes, fly from every death-bell, every funeral procession; they warn you fearfully of the hour of judgment. And yet it comes to thee also inevitably. Miserable man! nothing saves thee from its agony! Thou hast, in swearing falsely, renounced the mercy of God; and yet no mortal, not even the most pious can stand without it. Alas! when the good things, which thou boughtest with perjury, now appear to thee accursed, when thy heart, in the heat of anguish, pants for coolness, as thy dry palate thirsts for refreshment, when thou shudderest at thy former self-cursing, when thou findest no solace in thyself, and lookest forward with despair into the night of eternity—poor man! even they, whom thou once defrauded, must now deplore thy misery.
Let me break off, beloved, and with mild words 219urgently exhort you; honour with inviolable fidelity God and the truth! “Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; and esteem whatsoever is more than these” as “evil.” Withstand the temptation to acquire any advantage, though by the very least deviation from the truth. “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Fathers, Mothers, Teachers, hold it of the first importance in the education of those entrusted to you, forcibly to represent to them veracity and faithfulness in their serious and their beautiful colours, and to plant in their souls the deepest abhorrence of every the smallest kind of dishonesty. Let us all walk pure and without offence in the true fear of God; and, in all temptations, by firmly holding fast truth and right, let us keep that holy peace, which blesses those only, who are of a clean heart, even to the end. Amen.220221
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