The Obligation of Lawful Oaths | John Brown of Haddington

obligation lawful oaths john brown haddington

John Brown of Haddington

The Absurdity and Perfidity of All Authoritative Toleration of Gross Heresy, Blasphemy, Idolatry, and Popery.

Letter II, pgs. 101-103.

The obligation of lawful promises, oaths, vows and covenants, as well as of human laws, respecting moral duties, however distinct, is no more separable from the obligation of God’s law, than Christ’s two distinct natures are separable, the one from the other, but closely connected in manifold respects. In binding ourselves to necessary duties, and to other things so long and so far as is conducive thereto, God’s law as the only rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy him, is made the rule of our engagement. Our vow is no new rule of duty, but a new bond to make the law of God our rule. Even Adam’s engagement to perfect obedience in the covenant of works was nothing else. His fallibility in his estate of innocence, made it proper, that he should be bound by his own consent or engagement, as well as by the authority of God. Our imperfection in this life, and the temptations which surround us, make it needful, that we, in like manner, should be bound to the same rule, both by the authority of God, and our own engagements.

It is in the law of God, that all our deputed authority to command others, or to bind ourselves is allotted to us. The requirement of moral duties by the law of God obligeth us to use all lawful means to promote the performance of them; and hence requires human laws and self-engagements, and the observance of them as conducive to it. Nay they are also expressly required in his law, as his ordinances for helping and hedging us in to our duty. In making lawful vows, as well as in making human laws, we exert the deputed authority of God, the supreme Lawgiver, granted to us in his law, in the manner which his law prescribes, and in obedience to its prescription.

In forming our vows as an instituted ordinance of God’s worship, which he hath required us to receive, observe, and keep pure and entire (Psalm 76:11 & 119:106 & 56:12; Isa. 19:18-21 & 45:23-24 & 44:5; Jer. 50:5; 2 Cor. 8:5)—we act precisely according to the direction of his law, and in obedience to his authority in it,—binding ourselves with a bond, binding our soul with a bond, (Num. 30:2-11)—binding our∣selves by that which we utter with our lips, (v. 2, 6, 12)—binding ourselves with a binding oath,—binding ourselves—binding our soul by our own vow—our own bond, (v. 4, 7, 14).

In forming our vow, we, according to the prescription of his own law, solemnly constitute God, who is the supreme Lawgiver and Lord of the conscience,—the witness of our self-engagement, and the Guarantee, graciously to reward our evangelical fulfillment of it, and justly to punish our perfidious violation of it. The more punctual and faithful observation of God’s law, notwithstanding our manifold infirmities and temptations, and the more effectual promoting of his glory therein, is the end of our self-engagements, as well as of human laws of authority. And by a due regard to their binding force, as above stated, is this end promoted,—as hereby the obligation of God’s law is the more deeply impressed on our minds, and we are shut up to obedience to it, and deterred from transgressing it—In consequence of our formation of our vow, with respect to its matter, manner, and end, as prescribed by God, He doth, and necessarily must ratify it in all its lawful solemnities, requiring us by his law, to pay it as a bond of debt,—to perform and fulfill it as an engagement to duties, and an obligation which stands upon or against us, (Num. 30:5-11 with Deut. 23:21-23; Psalm 76:11 & 50:14; Eccl. 5:4-5; Mat. 5:33).

In obedience to this divine requirement, and considering our vow, in that precise form, in which God in his law, adopts and ratifies it, and requires it to be fullfilled, we pay, perform, and fulfill it as a bond, wherewith we, in obedience to Him, have bound ourselves, to endeavour universal obedience to his law, as our only rule of faith and manners. Whoever doth not, in his attempts to obey human laws or to fulfill self-engagements, consider them as having that binding force which the law of God allows them, he pours contempt on them, as ordinances of God, and on the law of God for allowing them a binding force. Thus, through maintaining the superadded but subordinate obligation of human laws, and of self-engagements to moral duties, we do not make void, but establish the obligation of God’s law.


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