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Sermons on Evil-Speaking by Isaac Barrow

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Introduction by Professor Henry Morley.

Against Foolish Talking and Jesting.

Against Rash and Vain Swearing.

Of Evil-speaking in General.

The Folly of Slander. Part 1.

The Folly of Slander. Part 2.


Isaac Barrow was born in London in 1630. His father was draper to
the king. His mother died when he was four years old. He was named
Isaac after an uncle, who died in 1680, Bishop of St. Asaph. Young
Isaac Barrow was educated at the Charterhouse School, and at
Felstead, before he went, in 1643, to Cambridge. He entered first
at Peterhouse, where his uncle Isaac was a Fellow, but at that time
his uncle was ejected from his Fellowship for loyalty to the King's
cause, and removed to Oxford; the nephew, who entered at Cambridge,
therefore avoided Peterhouse, and went to Trinity College. Young
Barrow's father also was at Oxford, where he gave up all his worldly
means in service of the King.

The young student at Cambridge did not conceal his royalist feeling,
but obtained, nevertheless, a scholarship at Trinity, with some
exemptions from the Puritan requirements of subscription. He took
his B.A. degree in 1648, and in 1649 was elected to a fellowship of
Trinity, on the same day with his most intimate college friend John
Ray, the botanist. Ray held in the next year several college
offices; was made in 1651 lecturer in Greek, and in 1653 lecturer in
Mathematics. Barrow proceeded to his M.A. in 1652, and was admitted
to the same degree at Oxford in 1653. In 1654, Dr. Dupont, who had
been tutor to Barrow and Ray, and held the University Professorship
of Greek, resigned, and used his interest, without success, to get
Barrow appointed in his place. Isaac Barrow was then a young man of
four-and-twenty, with the courage of his opinions in politics and in
church questions, which were not the opinions of those in power.

In 1655 Barrow left Cambridge, having sold his books to raise money
for travel. He went to Paris, where his father was with other
royalists, and gave some help to his father. Then he went on to
Italy, made stay at Florence, and on a voyage from Leghorn to Smyrna
stood to a gun in fight with a pirate ship from Algiers that was
beaten off. At college and upon his travels Barrow was helped by
the liberality of public spirited men who thought him worth their
aid. He went on to Constantinople, where he studied the Greek
Fathers of the Church; and he spent more than a year in Turkey. He
returned through Germany and Holland, reached England in the year
before the Restoration, and then, at the age of twenty-nine, he
entered holy orders, for which in all his studies he had been

The Cambridge Greek Professorship, which had before been denied him,
was obtained by Barrow immediately after the Restoration. Soon
afterwards he was chosen to be Professor of Geometry at Gresham
College. In 1663 he preached the sermon in Westminster Abbey at the
consecration of his uncle, Isaac, as Bishop of St. Asaph. In that
year also he became, at Cambridge, the first Lucasian Professor of
Mathematics, for which office he resigned his post at Gresham

As Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Isaac Barrow had among his
pupils Isaac Newton. Newton succeeded to the chair in 1669. Barrow
resigned because he feared that the duties of the mathematical chair
drew his thoughts too much from the duties of the pulpit, towards
the full performance of which he had desired all studies to be aids.
He was then intent upon the writing of an "Exposition of the Creed,
Decalogue, and Sacraments." He held a prebend in Salisbury
Cathedral, and a living in Wales, that yielded little for his
support after the Professorship had been resigned. But he was one
of the King's chaplains, was made D.D. by the King in 1670, and in
1672 he was appointed Master of Trinity by Charles II., who said,
when he appointed Isaac Barrow, "that he gave the post to the best
scholar in England." Barrow was Vice-Chancellor of the University
when he died in 1677, during a visit to London on the business of
his college.

The sermons here given were first published in 1678, in a volume
entitled "Several Sermons against Evil-speaking." That volume
contained ten sermons, of which the publisher said that "the two
last, against pragmaticalness and meddling in the affairs of others,
do not so properly belong to this subject." The sermons here given
follow continuously, beginning with the second in the series. The
text of the first sermon was "If any man offend not in word, he is a
perfect man." The texts to the last three were: "Speak not evil
one of another, brethren;" "Judge not;" and "That ye study to be
quiet, and to do your own business."

There were also published in 1678, the year after Barrow's death, a
sermon preached by him on the Good Friday before he died, a volume
of "Twelve Sermons preached upon several Occasions," and the second
edition of a sermon on the "Duty and Reward of Bounty to the Poor."
Barrow's works were collected by Archbishop Tillotson, and
published, in four folio volumes, in the years 1683-1687. There
were other editions in three folios in 1716, in 1722, and in 1741.
Dr. Dibdin said of Barrow that he "had the clearest head with which
mathematics ever endowed an individual, and one of the purest and
most unsophisticated hearts that ever beat in the human breast." In
these sermons against Evil Speaking he distinguishes as clearly as
Shakespeare does between the playfulness of kindly mirth that draws
men nearer to each other and the words that make division. No man
was more free than Isaac Barrow from the spirit of unkindness. The
man speaks in these sermons. Yet he could hold his own in wit with
the light triflers of the court of Charles the Second. It is of him
that the familiar story is told of a playful match at mock courtesy
with the Earl of Rochester, who meeting Dr. Barrow near the king's
chamber bowed low, saying, "I am yours, doctor, to the knee
strings." Barrow (bowing lower), "I am yours, my lord, to the shoe-
tie." Rochester: "Yours, doctor, down to the ground." Barrow:
"Yours, my lord, to the centre of the earth." Rochester (not to be
out-done): "Yours, doctor, to the lowest pit of hell." Barrow:
"There, my lord, I must leave you."

Barrow's mathematical power gave clearness to his sermons, which
were full of sense and piety. They were very carefully written,
copied and recopied, and now rank with the most valued pieces of the
literature of the pulpit. He was deeply religious, although he had,
besides learning, a lively wit, and never lost the pluck that taught
him how to man a gun against a pirate. He was "low of stature,
lean, and of a pale complexion," so untidy that on one occasion his
appearance in the pulpit is said to have caused half the
congregation to go out of church. He gave his whole mind and his
whole soul to his work for God. Mythical tales are told of the
length of some of his sermons, at a time when an hour's sermon was
not considered long. Of one charity-sermon the story is that it
lasted three hours and a half, and that Barrow was requested to
print it--"with the other half which he had not had time to
deliver." But we may take this tale as one of the quips at which
Barrow himself would have laughed very good-humouredly.
H. M.



"Nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient."--
Ephes. v.4.

Moral and political aphorisms are seldom couched in such terms that
they should be taken as they sound precisely, or according to the
widest extent of signification; but do commonly need exposition, and
admit exception: otherwise frequently they would not only clash
with reason and experience, but interfere, thwart, and supplant one
another. The best masters of such wisdom are wont to interdict
things, apt by unseasonable or excessive use to be perverted, in
general forms of speech, leaving the restrictions, which the case
may require or bear, to be made by the hearer's or interpreter's
discretion; whence many seemingly formal prohibitions are to be
received only as sober cautions. This observation may be
particularly supposed applicable to this precept of St. Paul, which
seemeth universally to forbid a practice commended (in some cases
and degrees) by philosophers as virtuous, not disallowed by reason,
commonly affected by men, often used by wise and good persons; from
which consequently, if our religion did wholly debar us, it would
seem chargeable with somewhat too uncouth austerity and sourness:
from imputations of which kind as in its temper and frame it is
really most free (it never quenching natural light or cancelling the
dictates of sound reason, but confirming and improving them); so it
carefully declineth them, enjoining us that "if there be any things"
[Greek] ("lovely," or grateful to men), "any things" [Greek] ("of
good report" and repute), "if there be any virtue and any praise"
(anything in the common apprehensions of men held worthy and
laudable), we should "mind those things," that is, should yield them
a regard answerable to the esteem they carry among rational and
sober persons.

Whence it may seem requisite so to interpret and determine St.
Paul's meaning here concerning eutrapelia (that is, facetious
speech, or raillery, by our translators rendered "jesting"), that he
may consist with himself, and be reconciled to Aristotle, who
placeth this practice in the rank of virtues; or that religion and
reason may well accord in the case: supposing that, if there be any
kind of facetiousness innocent and reasonable, conformable to good
manners (regulated by common sense, and consistent with the tenor of
Christian duty, that is, not transgressing the bounds of piety,
charity, and sobriety), St. Paul did not intend to discountenance or
prohibit that kind.

For thus expounding and limiting his intent we have some warrant
from himself, some fair intimations in the words here. For first,
what sort of facetious speech he aimeth at, he doth imply by the
fellow he coupleth therewith; [Greek], saith he, [Greek] (foolish
talking, or facetiousness): such facetiousness therefore he
toucheth as doth include folly, in the matter or manner thereof.
Then he further determineth it, by adjoining a peculiar quality
thereof, unprofitableness, or impertinency; [Greek] (which are not
pertinent), or conducible to any good purpose: whence may be
collected that it is a frivolous and idle sort of facetiousness
which he condemneth.

But, however, manifest it is that some kind thereof he doth
earnestly forbid: whence, in order to the guidance of our practice,
it is needful to distinguish the kinds, severing that which is
allowable from that which is unlawful; that so we may be satisfied
in the case, and not on the one hand ignorantly transgress our duty,
nor on the other trouble ourselves with scruples, others with
censures, upon the use of warrantable liberty therein.

And such a resolution seemeth indeed especially needful in this our
age (this pleasant and jocular age) which is so infinitely addicted
to this sort of speaking, that it scarce doth affect or prize
anything near so much; all reputation appearing now to veil and
stoop to that of being a wit: to be learned, to be wise, to be
good, are nothing in comparison thereto; even to be noble and rich
are inferior things, and afford no such glory. Many at least (to
purchase this glory, to be deemed considerable in this faculty, and
enrolled among the wits) do not only make shipwreck of conscience,
abandon virtue, and forfeit all pretences to wisdom; but neglect
their estates, and prostitute their honour: so to the private
damage of many particular persons, and with no small prejudice to
the public, are our times possessed and transported with this
humour. To repress the excess and extravagance whereof, nothing in
way of discourse can serve better than a plain declaration when and
how such a practice is allowable or tolerable; when it is wicked and
vain, unworthy of a man endued with reason, and pretending to
honesty or honour.

This I shall in some measure endeavour to perform.

But first it may be demanded what the thing we speak of is, or what
this facetiousness doth import? To which question I might reply as
Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, "'Tis that
which we all see and know": any one better apprehends what it is by
acquaintance than I can inform him by description. It is indeed a
thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so
many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several
eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear
and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or
to define the figure of the fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat
allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial
saying, or in forging an apposite tale: sometimes it playeth in
words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their
sense, or the affinity of their sound: sometimes it is wrapped in a
dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd
similitude; sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart
answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly
diverting, or cleverly retorting an objection: sometimes it is
couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty
hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of
contradictions, or in acute nonsense: sometimes a scenical
representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical
look or gesture passeth for it: sometimes an affected simplicity,
sometimes a presumptuous bluntness giveth it being; sometimes it
riseth from a lucky hitting upon what is strange, sometimes from a
crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose: often it consisteth
in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how.
Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the
numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language. It is in
short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as
reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising
uncouthness in conceit or expression doth affect and amuse the
fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight
thereto. It raiseth admiration, as signifying a nimble sagacity of
apprehension, a special felicity of invention, a vivacity of spirit,
and reach of wit more than vulgar: it seeming to argue a rare
quickness of parts, that one can fetch in remote conceits
applicable; a notable skill, that he can dexterously accommodate
them to the purpose before him; together with a lively briskness of
humour, not apt to damp those sportful flashes of imagination.
(Whence in Aristotle such persons are termed [Greek], dexterous men;
and [Greek], men of facile or versatile manners, who can easily turn
themselves to all things, or turn all things to themselves.) It also
procureth delight, by gratifying curiosity with its rareness or
semblance of difficulty (as monsters, not for their beauty, but
their rarety; as juggling tricks, not for their use, but their
abstruseness, are beheld with pleasure) by diverting the mind from
its road of serious thoughts; by instilling gaiety and airiness of
spirit; by provoking to such dispositions of spirit in way of
emulation or complaisance; and by seasoning matters, otherwise
distasteful or insipid, with an unusual, and thence grateful tang.

But saying no more concerning what it is, and leaving it to your
imagination and experience to supply the defect of such explication,
I shall address myself to show, first, when and how such a manner of
speaking may be allowed; then, in what matters and ways it should be

1. Such facetiousness is not absolutely unreasonable or unlawful,
which ministereth harmless divertisement, and delight to
conversation (harmless, I say, that is, not entrenching upon piety,
not infringing charity or justice, not disturbing peace). For
Christianity is not so tetrical, so harsh, so envious, as to bar us
continually from innocent, much less from wholesome and useful
pleasure, such as human life doth need or require. And if jocular
discourse may serve to good purposes of this kind; if it may be apt
to raise our drooping spirits, to allay our irksome cares, to whet
our blunted industry, to recreate our minds being tired and cloyed
with graver occupations; if it may breed alacrity, or maintain good
humour among us; if it may conduce to sweeten conversation and
endear society; then is it not inconvenient, or unprofitable. If
for those ends we may use other recreations, employing on them our
ears and eyes, our hands and feet, our other instruments of sense
and motion, why may we not as well to them accommodate our organs of
speech and interior sense? Why should those games which excite our
wits and fancies be less reasonable than those whereby our grosser
parts and faculties are exercised? Yea, why are not those more
reasonable, since they are performed in a manly way, and have in
them a smack of reason; feeling also they may be so managed, as not
only to divert and please, but to improve and profit the mind,
rousing and quickening it, yea sometimes enlightening and
instructing it, by good sense conveyed in jocular expression?

It would surely be hard that we should be tied ever to knit the
brow, and squeeze the brain (to be always sadly dumpish, or
seriously pensive), that all divertisement of mirth and pleasantness
should be shut out of conversation; and how can we better relieve
our minds, or relax our thoughts, how can we be more ingenuously
cheerful, in what more kindly way can we exhilarate ourselves and
others, than by thus sacrificing to the Graces, as the ancients
called it? Are not some persons always, and all persons sometimes,
incapable otherwise to divert themselves, than by such discourse?
Shall we, I say, have no recreation? or must our recreations be ever
clownish, or childish, consisting merely in rustical efforts, or in
petty sleights of bodily strength and activity? Were we, in fine,
obliged ever to talk like philosophers, assigning dry reasons for
everything, and dropping grave sentences upon all occasions, would
it not much deaden human life, and make ordinary conversation
exceedingly to languish? Facetiousness therefore in such cases, and
to such purposes, may be allowable.

2. Facetiousness is allowable when it is the most proper instrument
of exposing things apparently base and vile to due contempt. It is
many times expedient, that things really ridiculous should appear
such, that they may be sufficiently loathed and shunned; and to
render them such is the part of a facetious wit, and usually can
only be compassed thereby. When to impugn them with down-right
reason, or to check them by serious discourse, would signify
nothing, then representing them in a shape strangely ugly to the
fancy, and thereby raising derision at them, may effectually
discountenance them. Thus did the prophet Elias expose the wicked
superstition of those who worshipped Baal: "Elias (saith the text)
mocked them, and said, 'Cry aloud; for he is a god, either he is
talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure
he sleeps, and must be awaked.'" By which one pregnant instance it
appeareth that reasoning pleasantly-abusive in some cases may be
useful. The Holy Scripture doth not indeed use it frequently (it
not suiting the Divine simplicity and stately gravity thereof to do
so); yet its condescension thereto at any time sufficiently doth
authorise a cautious use thereof. When sarcastic twitches are
needful to pierce the thick skins of men, to correct their lethargic
stupidity, to rouse them out of their drowsy negligence, then may
they well be applied when plain declarations will not enlighten
people to discern the truth and weight of things, and blunt
arguments will not penetrate to convince or persuade them to their
duty, then doth reason freely resign its place to wit, allowing it
to undertake its work of instruction and reproof.

3. Facetious discourse particularly may be commodious for reproving
some vices, and reclaiming some persons (as salt for cleansing and
curing some sores). It commonly procureth a more easy access to the
ears of men, and worketh a stronger impression on their hearts, than
other discourse could do. Many who will not stand a direct reproof,
and cannot abide to be plainly admonished of their fault, will yet
endure to be pleasantly rubbed, and will patiently bear a jocund
wipe; though they abominate all language purely bitter or sour, yet
they can relish discourse having in it a pleasant tartness. You
must not chide them as their master, but you may gibe with them as
their companion. If you do that, they will take you for pragmatical
and haughty; this they may interpret friendship and freedom. Most
men are of that temper; and particularly the genius of divers
persons, whose opinions and practices we should strive to correct,
doth require not a grave and severe, but a free and merry way of
treating them. For what can be more unsuitable and unpromising,
than to seem serious with those who are not so themselves, or demure
with the scornful? If we design either to please or vex them into
better manners, we must be as sportful in a manner, or as
contemptuous as themselves. If we mean to be heard by them, we must
talk in their own fashion, with humour and jollity; if we will
instruct them, we must withal somewhat divert them: we must seem to
play with them if we think to convey any sober thoughts into them.
They scorn to be formally advised or taught; but they may perhaps be
slily laughed and lured into a better mind. If by such complaisance
we can inveigle those dottrels to hearken to us, we may induce them
to consider farther, and give reason some competent scope, some fair
play with them. Good reason may be apparelled in the garb of wit,
and therein will securely pass whither in its native homeliness it
could never arrive: and being come thither, it with especial
advantage may impress good advice, making an offender more clearly
to see, and more deeply to feel his miscarriage; being represented
to his fancy in a strain somewhat rare and remarkable, yet not so
fierce and frightful. The severity of reproof is tempered, and the
reprover's anger disguised thereby. The guilty person cannot but
observe that he who thus reprehends him is not disturbed or out of
humour, and that he rather pitieth than hateth him; which breedeth a
veneration to him, and imparteth no small efficacy to his wholesome
suggestions. Such a reprehension, while it forceth a smile without,
doth work remorse within; while it seemeth to tickle the ear, doth
sting the heart. In fine, many whose foreheads are brazed and
hearts steeled against all blame, are yet not of proof against
derision; divers, who never will be reasoned, may be rallied in
better order: in which cases raillery, as an instrument of so
important good, as a servant of the best charity, may be allowed.

4. Some errors likewise in this way may be most properly and most
successfully confuted; such as deserve not, and hardly can bear a
serious and solid confutation. He that will contest things
apparently decided by sense and experience, or who disavows clear
principles of reason, approved by general consent and the common
sense of men, what other hopeful way is there of proceeding with
him, than pleasantly to explode his conceits? To dispute seriously
with him were trifling; to trifle with him is the proper course.
Since he rejecteth the grounds of reasoning, 'tis vain to be in
earnest; what then remains but to jest with him? To deal seriously
were to yield too much respect to such a baffler, and too much
weight to his fancies; to raise the man too high in his courage and
conceit; to make his pretences seem worthy the considering and
canvassing. Briefly, perverse obstinacy is more easily quelled,
petulant impudence is sooner dashed, sophistical captiousness is
more safely eluded, sceptical wantonness is more surely confounded
in this than in the simple way of discourse.

5. This way is also commonly the best way of defence against unjust
reproach and obloquy. To yield to a slanderous reviler a serious
reply, or to make a formal plea against his charge, doth seem to
imply that we much consider or deeply resent it; whereas by pleasant
reflection on it we signify the matter only deserves contempt, and
that we take ourselves unconcerned therein. So easily without care
or trouble may the brunts of malice be declined or repelled.

6. This may be allowed in way of counterbalancing and in compliance
to the fashion of others. It would be a disadvantage unto truth and
virtue if their defenders were barred from the use of this weapon,
since it is that especially whereby the patrons of error and vice do
maintain and propagate them. They being destitute of good reason,
do usually recommend their absurd and pestilent notions by a
pleasantness of conceit and expression, bewitching the fancies of
shallow hearers, and inveigling heedless persons to a liking of
them; and if, for reclaiming such people, the folly of those
seducers may in like manner be displayed as ridiculous and odious,
why should that advantage be refused? It is wit that wageth the war
against reason, against virtue, against religion; wit alone it is
that perverteth so many, and so greatly corrupteth the world. It
may, therefore, be needful, in our warfare for those dearest
concerns, to sort the manner of our fighting with that of our
adversaries, and with the same kind of arms to protect goodness,
whereby they do assail it. If wit may happily serve under the
banner of truth and virtue, we may impress it for that service; and
good it were to rescue so worthy a faculty from so vile abuse. It
is the right of reason and piety to command that and all other
endowments; folly and impiety do only usurp them. Just and fit
therefore it is to wrest them out of so bad hands, to revoke them to
their right use and duty.

It doth especially seem requisite to do it in this age, wherein
plain reason is deemed a dull and heavy thing. When the mental
appetite of men is become like the corporal, and cannot relish any
food without some piquant sauce, so that people will rather starve
than live on solid fare; when substantial and sound discourse
findeth small attention or acceptance; in such a time, he that can,
may in complaisance, and for fashion's sake, vouchsafe to be
facetious; an ingenious vein coupled with an honest mind may be a
good talent; he shall employ wit commendably who by it can further
the interests of goodness, alluring men first to listen, then
inducing them to consent unto its wholesome dictates and precepts.

Since men are so irreclaimably disposed to mirth and laughter, it
may be well to set them in the right pin, to divert their humour
into the proper channel, that they may please themselves in deriding
things which deserve it, ceasing to laugh at that which requireth
reverence or horror.

It may also be expedient to put the world out of conceit that all
sober and good men are a sort of such lumpish or sour people that
they can utter nothing but flat and drowsy stuff, by showing them
that such persons, when they see cause, in condescension, can be as
brisk and smart as themselves; when they please, can speak
pleasantly and wittily, as well as gravely and judiciously. This
way at least, in respect to the various palates of men, may for
variety sake be sometimes attempted, when other means do fail; when
many strict and subtle arguings, many zealous declamations, many
wholesome serious discourses have been spent, without effecting the
extirpation of bad principles, or conversion of those who abet them;
this course may be tried, and some perhaps may be reclaimed thereby.

7. Furthermore, the warrantableness of this practice in some cases
may be inferred from a parity of reason, in this manner. If it be
lawful (as by the best authorities it plainly doth appear to be), in
using rhetorical schemes, poetical strains, involutions of sense in
allegories, fables, parables, and riddles, to discoast from the
plain and simple way of speech, why may not facetiousness, issuing
from the same principles, directed to the same ends, serving to like
purposes, be likewise used blamelessly? If those exorbitancies of
speech may be accommodated to instill good doctrine into the head,
to excite good passions in the heart, to illustrate and adorn the
truth, in a delightful and taking way, and facetious discourse be
sometimes notoriously conducible to the same ends, why, they being
retained, should it be rejected, especially considering how
difficult often it may be to distinguish those forms of discourse
from this, or exactly to define the limits which sever rhetoric and
raillery. Some elegant figures and trophies of rhetoric (biting
sarcasms, sly ironies, strong metaphors, lofty hyperboles,
paronomasies, oxymorons, and the like, frequently used by the best
speakers, and not seldom even by sacred writers) do lie very near
upon the confines of jocularity, and are not easily differenced from
those sallies of wit wherein the lepid way doth consist: so that
were this wholly culpable, it would be matter of scruple whether one
hath committed a fault or no when he meant only to play the orator
or the poet; and hard surely it would be to find a judge who could
precisely set out the difference between a jest and a flourish.

8. I shall only add, that of old even the sagest and gravest
persons (persons of most rigid and severe virtue) did much affect
this kind of discourse, and did apply it to noble purposes. The
great introducer of moral wisdom among the pagans did practise it so
much (by it repressing the windy pride and fallacious vanity of
sophisters in his time), that he thereby got the name of [Greek],
the droll; and the rest of those who pursued his design do, by
numberless stories and apophthegms recorded of them, appear well
skilled and much delighted in this way. Many great princes (as
Augustus Caesar, for one, many of whose jests are extant in
Macrobius), many grave statesmen (as Cicero particularly, who
composed several books of jests), many famous captains (as Fabius,
M. Cato the Censor, Scipio Africanus, Epaminondas, Themistocles,
Phocion, and many others, whose witty sayings together with their
martial exploits are reported by historians), have pleased
themselves herein, and made it a condiment of their weighty
businesses. So that practising thus (within certain rule and
compass), we cannot err without great patterns, and mighty patrons.

9. In fine, since it cannot be shown that such a sportfulness of
wit and fancy doth contain an intrinsic and inseparable turpitude;
since it may be so cleanly, handsomely, and innocently used, as not
to defile or discompose the mind of the speaker, nor to wrong or
harm the hearer, nor to derogate from any worthy subject of
discourse, nor to infringe decency, to disturb peace, to violate any
of the grand duties incumbent on us (piety, charity, justice,
sobriety), but rather sometimes may yield advantage in those
respects; it cannot well absolutely and universally be condemned:
and when not used upon improper matter, in an unfit manner, with
excessive measure, at undue season, to evil purpose, it may be
allowed. It is bad objects, or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its
indifference and innocence; it is the abuse thereof, to which (as
all pleasant things are dangerous, and apt to degenerate into baits
of intemperance and excess) it is very liable, that corrupteth it;
and seemeth to be the ground why in so general terms it is
prohibited by the Apostle. Which prohibition to what cases, or what
sorts of jesting it extendeth, we come now to declare.

II. 1. All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly
about holy things (things nearly related to God and religion),
making such things the matters of sport and mockery, playing and
trifling with them, is certainly prohibited, as an intolerably vain
and wicked practice. It is an infallible sign of a vain and light
spirit, which considereth little, and cannot distinguish things, to
talk slightly concerning persons of high dignity, to whom especial
respect is due; or about matters of great importance, which deserve
very serious consideration. No man speaketh, or should speak, of
his prince, that which he hath not weighed whether it will consist
with that veneration which should be preserved inviolate to him.
And is not the same, is not much greater care to be used in regard
to the incomparably great and glorious Majesty of Heaven? Yes,
surely, as we should not without great awe think of Him; so we
should not presume to mention His name, His word, His institutions,
anything immediately belonging to Him, without profoundest reverence
and dread. It is the most enormous sauciness that can be imagined,
to speak petulantly or pertly concerning Him; especially considering
that whatever we do say about Him, we do utter it in His presence,
and to His very face. "For there is not," as the holy psalmist
considered, "a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it
altogether." No man also hath the heart to droll, or thinks
raillery convenient, in cases nearly touching his life, his health,
his estate, or his fame: and are the true life and health of our
soul, are interests in God's favour and mercy, are everlasting glory
and bliss affairs of less moment? are the treasures and joys of
paradise, or the damages and torments in hell, more jesting matters?
No, certainly no: in all reason therefore it becometh us, and it
infinitely concerneth us, whenever we think of these things, to be
in best earnest, always to speak of them in most sober sadness.

The proper objects of common mirth and sportful divertisement are
mean and petty matters; anything at least is by playing therewith
made such: great things are thereby diminished and debased;
especially sacred things do grievously suffer thence, being with
extreme indecency and indignity depressed beneath themselves, when
they become the subjects of flashy wit, or the entertainments of
frothy merriment: to sacrifice their honour to our vain pleasure,
being like the ridiculous fondness of that people which, as AElian
reporteth, worshipping a fly, did offer up an ox thereto. These
things were by God instituted, and proposed to us for purposes quite
different; to compose our hearts, and settle our fancies in a most
serious frame; to breed inward satisfaction, and joy purely
spiritual; to exercise our most solemn thoughts, and employ our
gravest discourses: all our speech therefore about them should be
wholesome, apt to afford good instruction, or to excite good
affections; "good," as St. Paul speaketh, "for the use of edifying,
that it may minister grace unto the hearers."

If we must be facetious and merry, the field is wide and spacious;
there are matters enough in the world besides these most august and
dreadful things, to try our faculties and please our humour with;
everywhere light and ludicrous things occur; it therefore doth argue
a marvellous poverty of wit, and barrenness of invention (no less
than a strange defect of goodness, and want of discretion), in those
who can devise no other subjects to frolic upon besides these, of
all most improper and perilous; who cannot seem ingenious under the
charge of so highly trespassing upon decency, disclaiming wisdom,
wounding the ears of others, and their own consciences. Seem
ingenious, I say; for seldom those persons really are such, or are
capable to discover any wit in a wise and manly way. 'Tis not the
excellency of their fancies, which in themselves are usually sorry
and insipid enough, but the uncouthness of their presumption; not
their extraordinary wit, but their prodigious rashness, which is to
be admired. They are gazed on, as the doers of bold tricks, who
dare perform that which no sober man will attempt: they do indeed
rather deserve themselves to be laughed at, than their conceits.
For what can be more ridiculous than we do make ourselves, when we
thus fiddle and fool with our own souls; when, to make vain people
merry, we incense God's earnest displeasure; when, to raise a fit of
present laughter, we expose ourselves to endless wailing and woe;
when, to be reckoned wits, we prove ourselves stark wild? Surely to
this case we may accommodate that of a truly great wit, King
Solomon: "I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth

2. All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causelessly or
needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice
in any kind of our neighbour (provoking his displeasure, grating on
his modesty, stirring passion in him), is also prohibited. When
men, to raise an admiration of their wit, to please themselves, or
gratify the humours of other men, do expose their neighbour to scorn
and contempt, making ignominious reflections upon his person and his
actions, taunting his real imperfections, or fastening imaginary
ones upon him, they transgress their duty, and abuse their wits;
'tis not urbanity, or genuine facetiousness, but uncivil rudeness or
vile malignity. To do thus, as it is the office of mean and base
spirits (unfit for any worthy or weighty employments), so it is full
of inhumanity, of iniquity, of indecency and folly. For the
weaknesses of men, of what kind soever (natural or moral, in quality
or in act), considering whence they spring, and how much we are all
subject to them, and do need excuse for them, do in equity challenge
compassion to be had of them; not complacency to be taken in them,
or mirth drawn from them; they, in respect to common humanity,
should rather be studiously connived at, and concealed, or mildly
excused, than wilfully laid open, and wantonly descanted upon; they
rather are to be deplored secretly, than openly derided.

The reputation of men is too noble a sacrifice to be offered up to
vainglory, fond pleasure, or ill-humour; it is a good far more dear
and precious, than to be prostituted for idle sport and
divertisement. It becometh us not to trifle with that which in
common estimation is of so great moment--to play rudely with a thing
so very brittle, yet of so vast price; which being once broken or
cracked, it is very hard and scarce possible to repair. A small,
transient pleasure, a tickling the ears, wagging the lungs, forming
the face into a smile, a giggle, or a hum, are not to be purchased
with the grievous distaste and smart, perhaps with the real damage
and mischief of our neighbour, which attend upon contempt. This is
not jesting, surely, but bad earnest; 'tis wild mirth, which is the
mother of grief to those whom we should tenderly love; 'tis
unnatural sport, which breedeth displeasure in them whose delight it
should promote, whose liking it should procure: it crosseth the
nature and design of this way of speaking, which is to cement and
ingratiate society, to render conversation pleasant and sprightly,
for mutual satisfaction and comfort.

True festivity is called salt, and such it should be, giving a smart
but savoury relish to discourse; exciting an appetite, not
irritating disgust; cleansing sometimes, but never creating a sore:
and [Greek], (if it become thus insipid), or unsavoury, it is
therefore good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under
foot of men. Such jesting which doth not season wholesome or
harmless discourse, but giveth a haut gout to putrid and poisonous
stuff, gratifying distempered palates and corrupt stomachs, is
indeed odious and despicable folly, to be cast out with loathing, to
be trodden under foot with contempt. If a man offends in this sort,
to please himself, 'tis scurvy malignity; if to delight others, 'tis
base servility and flattery: upon the first score he is a buffoon
to himself; upon the last, a fool to others. And well in common
speech are such practisers so termed, the grounds of that practice
being so vain, and the effect so unhappy. The heart of fools, saith
the wise man, is in the house of mirth; meaning, it seems,
especially such hurtfully wanton mirth: for it is (as he further
telleth us) the property of fools to delight in doing harm ("It is
as sport to a fool to do mischief"). Is it not in earnest most
palpable folly, for so mean ends to do so great harm; to disoblige
men in sport; to lose friends and get enemies for a conceit; out of
a light humour to provoke fierce wrath, and breed tough hatred; to
engage one's self consequently very far in strife, danger, and
trouble? No way certainly is more apt to produce such effects than
this; nothing more speedily inflameth, or more thoroughly engageth
men, or sticketh longer in men's hearts and memories, than bitter
taunts and scoffs: whence this honey soon turns into gall; these
jolly comedies do commonly terminate in woeful tragedies.

Especially this scurrilous and scoffing way is then most detestable
when it not only exposeth the blemishes and infirmities of men, but
abuseth piety and virtue themselves; flouting persons for their
constancy in devotion, or their strict adherence to a conscientious
practice of duty; aiming to effect that which Job complaineth of,
"The just upright man is laughed to scorn;" resembling those whom
the psalmist thus describeth, "Who whet their tongue like a sword,
and bend their arrows, even bitter words, that they may shoot in
secret at the perfect;" serving good men as Jeremy was served--"The
word of the Lord," saith he, "was made a reproach unto me, and a
derision daily."

This practice doth evidently in the highest degree tend to the
disparagement and discouragement of goodness; aiming to expose it,
and to render men ashamed thereof; and it manifestly proceedeth from
a desperate corruption of mind, from a mind hardened and emboldened,
sold and enslaved to wickedness: whence they who deal therein are
in Holy Scripture represented as egregious sinners, or persons
superlatively wicked, under the name of scorners ([Greek], pests, or
pestilent men, the Greek translators call them, properly enough in
regard to the effects of their practice); concerning whom the wise
man (signifying how God will meet with them in their own way) saith,
"Surely the Lord scorneth the scorners." '[Greek] (scoffers, or
mockers), St. Peter termeth them, who walk according to their own
lusts; who not being willing to practise, are ready to deride
virtue; thereby striving to seduce others into their pernicious

This offence also proportionably groweth more criminal as it
presumeth to reach persons eminent in dignity or worth, unto whom
special veneration is appropriate. This adjoineth sauciness to
scurrility, and advanceth the wrong thereof into a kind of
sacrilege. 'Tis not only injustice, but profaneness, to abuse the
gods. Their station is a sanctuary from all irreverence and
reproach; they are seated on high, that we may only look up to them
with respect; their defects are not to be seen, or not to be touched
by malicious or wanton wits, by spiteful or scornful tongues: the
diminution of their credit is a public mischief, and the State
itself doth suffer in their becoming objects of scorn; not only
themselves are vilified and degraded, but the great affairs they
manage are obstructed, the justice they administer is disparaged

In fine, no jesting is allowable which is not thoroughly innocent:
it is an unworthy perverting of wit to employ it in biting and
scratching; in working prejudice to any man's reputation or
interest; in needlessly incensing any man's anger or sorrow; in
raising animosities, dissensions, and feuds among any.

Whence it is somewhat strange that any men from so mean and silly a
practice should expect commendation, or that any should afford
regard thereto; the which it is so far from meriting, that indeed
contempt and abhorrence are due to it. Men do truly more render
themselves despicable than others when, without just ground, or
reasonable occasion, they do attack others in this way. That such a
practice doth ever find any encouragement or acceptance, whence can
it proceed, but from the bad nature and small judgment of some
persons? For to any man who is endowed with any sense of goodness,
and hath a competence of true wit, or a right knowledge of good
manners (who knows. . . . inurbanum lepido seponere dicto), it
cannot but be unsavoury and loathsome. The repute it obtaineth is
in all respects unjust. So would it appear, not only were the cause
to be decided in a court of morality, because it consists not with
virtue and wisdom; but even before any competent judges of wit
itself. For he overthrows his own pretence, and cannot reasonably
claim any interest in wit, who doth thus behave himself: he
prejudgeth himself to want wit, who cannot descry fit matter to
divert himself or others: he discovereth a great straitness and
sterility of good invention, who cannot in all the wide field of
things find better subjects of discourse; who knows not how to be
ingenious within reasonable compass, but to pick up a sorry conceit
is forced to make excursions beyond the bounds of honesty and

Neither is it any argument of considerable ability in him that haps
to please this way: a slender faculty will serve the turn. The
sharpness of his speech cometh not from wit so much as from choler,
which furnisheth the lowest inventions with a kind of pungent
expression, and giveth an edge to every spiteful word: so that any
dull wretch doth seem to scold eloquently and ingeniously. Commonly
also satirical taunts do owe their seeming piquancy, not to the
speaker or his words, but to the subject, and the hearers; the
matter conspiring with the bad nature or the vanity of men who love
to laugh at any rate, and to be pleased at the expense of other
men's repute; conceiting themselves extolled by the depression of
their neighbour, and hoping to gain by his loss. Such customers
they are that maintain the bitter wits, who otherwise would want
trade, and might go a-begging. For commonly they who seem to excel
this way are miserably flat in other discourse, and most dully
serious: they have a particular unaptness to describe any good
thing, or commend any worthy person; being destitute of right ideas,
and proper terms answerable to such purposes: their representations
of that kind are absurd and unhandsome; their eulogies (to use their
own way of speaking) are in effect satires, and they can hardly more
abuse a man than by attempting to commend him; like those in the
prophet, who were wise to do ill, but to do well had no knowledge.

3. I pass by that it is very culpable to be facetious in obscene
and smutty matters. Such things are not to be discoursed on either
in jest or in earnest; they must not, as St. Paul saith, be so much
as named among Christians. To meddle with them is not to disport,
but to defile one's self and others. There is indeed no more
certain sign of a mind utterly debauched from piety and virtue than
by affecting such talk. But further--

4. All unseasonable jesting is blamable. As there are some proper
seasons of relaxation, when we may desipere in loco; so there are
some times, and circumstances of things, wherein it concerneth and
becometh men to be serious in mind, grave in demeanour, and plain in
discourse; when to sport in this way is to do indecently or
uncivilly, to be impertinent or troublesome.

It comporteth not well with the presence of superiors, before whom
it becometh us to be composed and modest, much less with the
performance of sacred offices, which require an earnest attention,
and most serious frame of mind.

In deliberations and debates about affairs of great importance, the
simple manner of speaking to the point is the proper, easy, clear,
and compendious way: facetious speech there serves only to obstruct
and entangle business, to lose time, and protract the result. The
shop and exchange will scarce endure jesting in their lower
transactions: the Senate, the Court of Justice, the Church do much
more exclude it from their more weighty consultations. Whenever it
justleth out, or hindereth the despatch of other serious business,
taking up the room or swallowing the time due to it, or indisposing
the minds of the audience to attend it, then it is unseasonable and
pestilent. [Greek] (to play, that we may be seriously busy), is the
good rule (of Anacharsis), implying the subordination of sport to
business, as a condiment and furtherance, not an impediment or clog
thereto. He that for his sport neglects his business, deserves
indeed to be reckoned among children; and children's fortune will
attend him, to be pleased with toys, and to fail of substantial

'Tis again improper (because indeed uncivil, and inhuman) to jest
with persons that are in a sad or afflicted condition; as arguing
want of due considering or due commiserating their case. It appears
a kind of insulting upon their misfortune, and is apt to foment
their grief. Even in our own case (upon any disastrous occurrence
to ourselves), it would not be seemly to frolic it thus; it would
signify want of due regard to the frowns of God, and the strokes of
His hand; it would cross the wise man's advice, "In the day of
prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider."

It is also not seasonable, or civil, to be jocund in this way with
those who desire to be serious, and like not the humour. Jocularity
should not be forcibly obtruded, but by a kindly conspiracy (or
tacit compact) slip into conversation; consent and complaisance give
all the life thereto. Its design is to sweeten and ease society;
when to the contrary it breedeth offence or encumbrance, it is worse
than vain and unprofitable. From these instances we may collect
when in other like cases it is unseasonable, and therefore culpable.

5. To affect, admire, or highly to value this way of speaking
(either absolutely in itself, or in comparison to the serious and
plain way of speech), and thence to be drawn into an immoderate use
thereof, is blamable. A man of ripe age and sound judgment, for
refreshment to himself, or in complaisance to others, may sometimes
condescend to play in this, or any other harmless way; but to be
fond of it, to prosecute it with a careful or painful eagerness, to
dote and dwell upon it, to reckon it a brave or a fine thing, a
singular matter of commendation, a transcendent accomplishment,
anywise preferable to rational endowments, or comparable to the
moral excellencies of our mind (to solid knowledge, or sound wisdom,
or true virtue and goodness), this is extremely childish, or
brutish, and far below a man. What can be more absurd than to make
business of play, to be studious and laborious in toys, to make a
profession or drive a trade of impertinency? What more plain
nonsense can there be, than to be earnest in jest, to be continual
in divertisement, or constant in pastime; to make extravagance all
our way, and sauce all our diet? Is not this plainly the life of a
child that is ever busy, yet never hath anything to do? Or the life
of that mimical brute which is always active in playing uncouth and
unlucky tricks; which, could it speak, might surely pass well for a
professed wit?

The proper work of man, the grand drift of human life, is to follow
reason (that noble spark kindled from Heaven; that princely and
powerful faculty, which is able to reach so lofty objects, and
achieve so mighty works), not to soothe fancy, that brutish, shallow
and giddy power, able to perform nothing worthy much regard. We are
not (even Cicero could tell us) born for play and jesting, but for
severity, and the study of graver and greater affairs. Yes, we were
purposely designed, and fitly framed, to understand and contemplate,
to affect and delight in, to undertake and pursue most noble and
worthy things; to be employed in business considerably profitable to
ourselves, and beneficial to others. We do therefore strangely
debase ourselves, when we do strongly bend our minds to, or set our
affections upon, such toys.

Especially to do so is unworthy of a Christian; that is, of a person
who is advanced to so high a rank, and so glorious relations; who
hath so excellent objects of his mind and affections presented
before him, and so excellent rewards for his care and pains proposed
to him; who is engaged in affairs of so worthy nature, and so
immense consequence: for him to be zealous about quibbles, for him
to be ravished with puny conceits and expressions, 'tis a wondrous
oversight, and an enormous indecency.

He indeed that prefers any faculty to reason, disclaims the
privilege of being a man, and understands not the worth of his own
nature; he that prizes any quality beyond virtue and goodness,
renounces the title of a Christian, and knows not how to value the
dignity of his profession. It is these two (reason and virtue) in
conjunction which produce all that is considerably good and great in
the world. Fancy can do little; doth never anything well, except as
directed and wielded by them. Do pretty conceits or humorous talk
carry on any business, or perform any work? No; they are
ineffectual and fruitless: often they disturb, but they never
despatch anything with good success. It is simple reason (as dull
and dry as it seemeth) which expediteth all the grand affairs, which
accomplisheth all the mighty works that we see done in the world.
In truth, therefore, as one diamond is worth numberless bits of
glass; so one solid reason is worth innumerable fancies: one grain
of true science and sound wisdom in real worth and use doth outweigh
loads (if any loads can be) of freakish wit. To rate things
otherwise doth argue great weakness of judgment, and fondness of
mind. So to conceit of this way signifieth a weak mind; and much to
delight therein rendereth it so--nothing more debaseth the spirit of
a man, or more rendereth it light and trifling.

Hence if we must be venting pleasant conceits, we should do it as if
we did it not, carelessly and unconcernedly; not standing upon it,
or valuing ourselves for it: we should do it with measure and
moderation; not giving up ourselves thereto, so as to mind it or
delight in it more than in any other thing: we should not be so
intent upon it as to become remiss in affairs more proper or needful
for us; so as to nauseate serious business, or disrelish the more
worthy entertainments of our minds. This is the great danger of it,
which we daily see men to incur; they are so bewitched with a humour
of being witty themselves, or of hearkening to the fancies of
others, that it is this only which they can like or favour, which
they can endure to think or talk of. 'Tis a great pity that men who
would seem to have so much wit, should so little understand
themselves. But further--

6. Vainglorious ostentation this way is very blamable. All
ambition, all vanity, all conceitedness, upon whatever ground they
are founded, are absolutely unreasonable and silly; but yet those
being grounded on some real ability, or some useful skill, are wise
and manly in comparison to this, which standeth on a foundation so
manifestly slight and weak. The old philosophers by a severe father
were called animalia gloriae (animals of glory), and by a satirical
poet they were termed bladders of vanity; but they at least did
catch at praise from praiseworthy knowledge; they were puffed up
with a wind which blew some good to mankind; they sought glory from
that which deserved glory if they had not sought it; it was a
substantial and solid credit which they did affect, resulting from
successful enterprises of strong reason, and stout industry: but
these animalculae gloriae, these flies, these insects of glory,
these, not bladders, but bubbles of vanity, would be admired and
praised for that which is nowise admirable or laudable; for the
casual hits and emergencies of roving fancy; for stumbling on an odd
conceit or phrase, which signifieth nothing, and is as superficial
as the smile, as hollow as the noise it causeth. Nothing certainly
in nature is more ridiculous than a self-conceited wit, who deemeth
himself somebody, and greatly pretendeth to commendation from so
pitiful and worthless a thing as a knack of trifling.

7. Lastly, it is our duty never so far to engage ourselves in this
way as thereby to lose or to impair that habitual seriousness,
modesty and sobriety of mind, that steady composedness, gravity and
constancy of demeanour, which become Christians. We should
continually keep our minds intent upon our high calling, and grand
interests; ever well tuned, and ready for the performance of holy
devotions, and the practice of most serious duties with earnest
attention and fervent affection. Wherefore we should never suffer
them to be dissolved into levity, or disordered into a wanton frame,
indisposing us for religious thoughts and actions. We ought always
in our behaviour to maintain, not only [Greek] (a fitting decency),
but also [Greek] (a stately gravity), a kind of venerable majesty,
suitable to that high rank which we bear of God's friends and
children; adorning our holy profession, and guarding us from all
impressions of sinful vanity. Wherefore we should not let ourselves
be transported into any excessive pitch of lightness, inconsistent
with or prejudicial to our Christian state and business. Gravity
and modesty are the senses of piety, which being once slighted, sin
will easily attempt and encroach upon us. So the old Spanish
gentleman may be interpreted to have been wise who, when his son
upon a voyage to the Indies took his leave of him, gave him this odd
advice, "My son, in the first place keep thy gravity, in the next
place fear God;" intimating that a man must first be serious, before
he can be pious.

To conclude, as we need not be demure, so must we not be impudent;
as we should not be sour, so ought we not to be fond; as we may be
free, so we should not be vain; as we may well stoop to friendly
complaisance, so we should take heed of falling into contemptible
levity. If without wronging others, or derogating from ourselves,
we can be facetious, if we can use our wits in jesting innocently,
and conveniently, we may sometimes do it: but let us, in compliance
with St. Paul's direction, beware of "foolish talking and jesting
which are not convenient."

"Now the God of grace and peace . . . . make us perfect in every
good work to do His will, working in us that which is well pleasing
in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and
ever. Amen."


"But above all things, my brethren, swear not."
St. James v. 12.

Among other precepts of good life (directing the practice of virtue
and abstinence from sin) St. James doth insert this about swearing,
couched in expression denoting his great earnestness, and apt to
excite our special attention. Therein he doth not mean universally
to interdict the use of oaths, for that in some cases is not only
lawful, but very expedient, yea, needful, and required from us as a
duty; but that swearing which our Lord had expressly prohibited to
His disciples, and which thence, questionless, the brethren to whom
St. James did write did well understand themselves obliged to
forbear, having learned so in the first catechisms of Christian
institution; that is, needless and heedless swearing in ordinary
conversation, a practice then frequent in the world, both among Jews
and Gentiles; the which also, to the shame of our age, is now so
much in fashion, and with some men in vogue; the invoking God's
name, appealing to His testimony, and provoking His judgment upon
any slight occasion, in common talk, with vain incogitancy, or
profane boldness. From such practice the Holy Apostle exhorteth in
terms importing his great concernedness, and implying the matter to
be of highest importance; for, [Greek], saith he, "(Before all
things), my brethren, do not swear;" as if he did apprehend this sin
of all others to be one of the most heinous and pernicious. Could
he have said more? would he have said so much, if he had not
conceived the matter to be of exceeding weight and consequence? And
that it is so, I mean now, by God's help, to show you, by proposing
some considerations, whereby the heinous wickedness, together with
the monstrous folly, of such rash and vain swearing will appear; the
which being laid to heart will, I hope, effectually dissuade and
deter from it.

I. Let us consider the nature of an oath, and what we do when we
adventure to swear.

It is (as it is phrased in the Decalogue, and elsewhere in Holy
Scripture) an assuming the name of God, and applying it to our
purpose; to countenance and confirm what we say.

It is an invocation of God as a most faithful Witness, concerning
the truth of our words, or the sincerity of our meaning.

It is an appeal to God as a most upright Judge whether we do
prevaricate in asserting what we do not believe true, or in
promising what we are not firmly resolved to perform.

It is a formal engagement of God to be the Avenger of our
trespassing in violation of truth or faith.

It is a binding our souls with a most strict and solemn obligation,
to answer before God, and to undergo the issue of His judgment about
what we affirm or undertake.

Such an oath is represented to us in Holy Scripture.

Whence we may collect, that swearing doth require great modesty and
composedness of spirit, very serious consideration and solicitous
care, that we be not rude and saucy with God, in taking up His name,
and prostituting it to vile or mean uses; that we do not abuse or
debase His authority, by citing it to aver falsehoods or
impertinences; that we do not slight His venerable justice, by
rashly provoking it against us; that we do not precipitately throw
our souls into most dangerous snares and intricacies.

For let us reflect and consider: What a presumption is it without
due regard and reverence to lay hold on God's name; with unhallowed
breath to vent and toss that great and glorious, that most holy,
that reverend, that fearful and terrible name of the Lord our God,
the great Creator, the mighty Sovereign, the dreadful Judge of all
the world; that name which all heaven with profoundest submission
doth adore, which the angelical powers, the brightest and purest
Seraphim, without hiding their faces, and reverential horror, cannot
utter or hear; the very thought whereof should strike awe through
our hearts, the mention whereof would make any sober man to tremble?
[Greek], "For how," saith St. Chrysostom, "is it not absurd that a
servant should not dare to call his master by name, or bluntly and
ordinarily to mention him, yet that we slightly and contemptuously
should in our mouth toss about the Lord of angels?

"How is it not absurd, if we have a garment better than the rest,
that we forbear to use it continually, but in the most slight and
common way do wear the name of God?"

How grievous indecency is it, at every turn to summon our Maker, and
call down Almighty God from heaven, to attend our leisure, to vouch
our idle prattle, to second our giddy passions, to concern His
truth, His justice, His power in our trivial affairs!

What a wildness is it, to dally with that judgment upon which the
eternal doom of all creatures dependeth, at which the pillars of
heaven are astonished, which hurled down legions of angels from the
top of heaven and happiness into the bottomless dungeon: the which,
as grievous sinners, of all things we have most reason to dread; and
about which no sober man can otherwise think than did that great
king, the holy psalmist, who said, "My flesh trembleth for Thee, and
I am afraid of Thy judgments!"

How prodigious a madness is it, without any constraint or needful
cause, to incur so horrible a danger, to rush upon a curse; to defy
that vengeance, the least touch of breath whereof can dash us to
nothing, or thrust us down into extreme and endless woe?

Who can express the wretchedness of that folly, which so entangleth
us with inextricable knots, and enchaineth our souls so rashly with
desperate obligations?

Wherefore he that would but a little mind what he doeth when he
dareth to swear, what it is to meddle with the adorable name, the
venerable testimony, the formidable judgment, the terrible vengeance
of the Divine Majesty, into what a case he putteth himself, how
extreme hazard he runneth thereby, would assuredly have little heart
to swear, without greatest reason, and most urgent need; hardly
without trembling would he undertake the most necessary and solemn
oath; much cause would he see [Greek], to adore, to fear an oath:
which to do, the divine preacher maketh the character of a good man.
"As," saith he, "is the good, so is the sinner; and he that
sweareth, as he that feareth an oath."

In fine, even a heathen philosopher, considering the nature of an
oath, did conclude the unlawfulness thereof in such cases. For,
"seeing," saith he, "an oath doth call God for witness, and
proposeth Him for umpire and voucher of the things it saith;
therefore to induce God so upon occasion of human affairs, or, which
is all one, upon small and slight accounts, doth imply contempt of
Him: wherefore we ought wholly to shun swearing, except upon
occasions of highest necessity."

II. We may consider that swearing, agreeably to its nature, or
natural aptitude and tendency, is represented in Holy Scripture as a
special part of religious worship, or devotion towards God; in the
due performance whereof we do avow Him for the true God and Governor
of the world; we piously do acknowledge His principal attributes and
special prerogatives; His omnipresence and omniscience, extending
itself to our most inward thoughts, our secretest purposes, our
closest retirements; His watchful providence over all our actions,
affairs, and concerns; His faithful goodness, in favouring truth and
protecting right; His exact justice, in patronising sincerity, and
chastising perfidiousness; His being Supreme Lord over all persons,
and Judge paramount in all causes; His readiness in our need, upon
our humble imploration and reference, to undertake the arbitration
of matters controverted, and the care of administering justice, for
the maintenance of truth and right, of loyalty and fidelity, of
order and peace among men. Swearing does also intimate a pious
truth and confidence in God, as Aristotle observeth.

Such things a serious oath doth imply, to such purposes swearing
naturally serveth; and therefore to signify or effectuate them,
Divine institution hath devoted it.

God in goodness to such ends hath pleased to lend us His great name;
allowing us to cite Him for a witness, to have recourse to His bar,
to engage His justice and power, whenever the case deserveth and
requireth it, or when we cannot by other means well assure the
sincerity of our meaning, or secure the constancy of our

Yea, in such exigencies He doth exact this practice from us, as an
instance of our religious confidence in Him, and as a service
conducible to His glory. For it is a precept in His law, of moral
nature, and eternal obligation, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God;
Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave, and shalt swear
by His name." It is the character of a religious man to swear with
due reverence and upright conscience. For, "The king," saith the
psalmist, "shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by Him
shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be
stopped." It is a distinctive mark of God's people, according to
that of the prophet Jeremy, "And it shall come to pass, if they will
diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name . . .
then shall they be built in the midst of my people." It is
predicted concerning the evangelical times, "Unto Me every knee
shall bow, every tongue shall swear:" and, "That he who blesseth
himself in the earth, shall bless himself by the God of Truth; and
he that sweareth in the earth, shall swear by the God of Truth."

As therefore all other acts of devotion, wherein immediate
application is made to the Divine Majesty, should never be performed
without most hearty intention, most serious consideration, most
lowly reverence; so neither should this grand one, wherein God is so
nearly touched, and His chief attributes so much concerned: the
which indeed doth involve both prayer and praise, doth require the
most devotional acts of faith and fear.

We therefore should so perform it as not to incur that reproof:
"This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me
with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

When we seem most formally to avow God, to confess His omniscience,
to confide in His justice, we should not really disregard Him, and
in effect signify that we do not think He doth know what we say, or
what we do.

If we do presume to offer this service, we should do it in the
manner appointed by himself, according to the conditions prescribed
in the prophet, "Thou shalt swear, the Lord liveth, in truth, in
judgment, and in righteousness:" in truth, taking heed that our
meaning be conformable to the sense of our words, and our words to
the verity of things; in judgment, having with careful deliberation
examined and weighed that which we assert or promise; in
righteousness, being satisfied in conscience that we do not therein
infringe any rule of piety toward God, of equity toward men, or
sobriety and discretion in regard to ourselves.

The cause of our swearing must be needful, or very expedient; the
design of it must be honest and useful to considerable purposes
(tending to God's honour, our neighbour's benefit, our own welfare);
the matter of it should be not only just and lawful, but worthy and
weighty; the manner ought to be grave and solemn, our mind being
framed to earnest attention, and endued with pious affections
suitable to the occasion.

Otherwise, if we do venture to swear, without due advice and care,
without much respect and awe, upon any slight or vain (not to say
bad or unlawful) occasion, we then desecrate swearing, and are
guilty of profaning a most sacred ordinance: the doing so doth
imply base hypocrisy, or lewd mockery, or abominable wantonness and
folly; in bodily invading and vainly trifling with the most august
duties of religion. Such swearing therefore is very dishonourable
and injurious to God, very prejudicial to religion, very repugnant
to piety.

III. We may consider that the swearing prohibited is very noxious
to human society.

The great prop of society (which upholdeth the safety, peace, and
welfare thereof, in observing laws, dispensing justice, discharging
trusts, keeping contracts, and holding good correspondence mutually)
is conscience, or a sense of duty toward God, obliging to perform
that which is right and equal; quickened by hope of rewards and fear
of punishments from Him: secluding which principle, no worldly
confederation is strong enough to hold men fast, or can further
dispose many to do right, or observe faith, or hold peace, than
appetite or interest, or humour (things very slippery and uncertain)
do sway them.

That men should live honestly, quietly, and comfortably together, it
is needful that they should live under a sense of God's will, and in
awe of the divine power, hoping to please God, and fearing to offend
Him, by their behaviour respectively.

That justice should be administered between men, it is necessary
that testimonies of fact be alleged; and that witnesses should
apprehend themselves greatly obliged to discover the truth,
according to their conscience, in dark and doubtful cases.

That men should uprightly discharge offices serviceable to public
good, it doth behove that they be firmly engaged to perform the
trusts reposed in them.

That in affairs of very considerable importance men should deal with
one another with satisfaction of mind, and mutual confidence, they
must receive competent assurances concerning the integrity,
fidelity, and constancy each of other.

That the safety of governors may be preserved, and the obedience due
to them maintained secure from attempts to which they are liable (by
the treachery, levity, perverseness, timorousness, ambition, all
such lusts and ill humours of men), it is expedient that men should
be tied with the strictest bands of allegiance.

That controversies emergent about the interests of men should be
determined, and an end put to strife by peremptory and satisfactory
means, is plainly necessary for common quiet.

Wherefore for the public interest and benefit of human society it is
requisite that the highest obligations possible should be laid upon
the consciences of men.

And such are those of oaths, engaging them to fidelity and constancy
in all such cases, out of regard to Almighty God, as the infallible
patron of truth and right, the unavoidable chastiser of
perfidiousness and improbity.

To such purposes, therefore, oaths have ever been applied, as the
most effectual instruments of working them; not only among the
followers of true and perfect religion, but even among all those who
had any glimmering notions concerning a Divine Power and Providence;
who have deemed an oath the fastest tie of conscience, and held the
violation of it for the most detestable impiety and iniquity. So
that what Cicero saith of the Romans, that "their ancestors had no
band to constrain faith more strait than an oath," is true of all
other nations, common reason not being able to devise any engagement
more obliging than it is; it being in the nature of things [Greek],
and [Greek], the utmost assurance, the last resort of human faith,
the surest pledge that any man can yield of his trustiness. Hence
ever in transactions of highest moment this hath been used to bind
the faith of men.

Hereby nations have been wont to ratify leagues of peace and amity
between each other (which therefore the Greeks call [Greek]).

Hereby princes have obliged their subjects to loyalty: and it hath
ever been the strongest argument to press that duty, which the
Preacher useth, "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and
that in regard of the oath of God."

Hereby generals have engaged their soldiers to stick close to them
in bearing hardships and encountering dangers.

Hereby the nuptial league hath been confirmed; the solemnisation
whereof in temples before God is in effect a most sacred oath.

Hereon the decision of the greatest causes concerning the lives,
estates, and reputations of men have depended; so that, as the
Apostle saith, "an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all

Indeed, such hath the need hereof been ever apprehended, that we may
observe, in cases of great importance, no other obligation hath been
admitted for sufficient to bind the fidelity and constancy of the
most credible persons; so that even the best men hardly could trust
the best men without it. For instance,

When Abimelech would assure to himself the friendship of Abraham,
although he knew him to be a very pious and righteous person, whose
word might be as well taken as any man's, yet, for entire
satisfaction, he thus spake to him: "God is with thee in all that
thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God, that thou wilt
not deal falsely with me."

Abraham, though he did much confide in the honesty of his servant
Eliezer, having entrusted him with all his estate, yet in the affair
concerning the marriage of his son he could not but thus oblige him:
"Put," saith he, "I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and I will
make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the
earth, that thou wilt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters
of the Canaanites."

Laban had good experience of Jacob's fidelity; yet that would not
satisfy, but, "The Lord," said he, "watch between me and thee, when
we are absent one from another. If thou shalt afflict my daughters,
or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is
with us; see, God is witness between thee and me. The God of
Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge
betwixt us."

So did Jacob make Joseph swear that he would bury him in Canaan:
and Joseph caused the children of Israel to swear that they would
translate his bones. So did Jonathan cause his beloved friend David
to swear that he would show kindness to him and to his house for
ever. The prudence of which course the event showeth, the total
excision of Jonathan's family being thereby prevented; for "the
king," 'tis said, "spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, because
of the Lord's oath that was between them."

These instances declare that there is no security which men can
yield comparable to that of an oath; the obligation whereof no man
wilfully can infringe without renouncing the fear of God and any
pretence to His favour.

Wherefore human society will be extremely wronged and damnified by
the dissolving or slackening these most sacred bands of conscience;
and consequently by their common and careless use, which soon will
breed a contempt of them, and render them insignificant, either to
bind the swearers, or to ground a trust on their oaths.

As by the rare and reverent use of oaths their dignity is upheld and
their obligation kept fast, so by the frequent and negligent
application of them, by the prostituting them to every mean and
toyish purpose, their respect will be quite lost, their strength
will be loosed, they will prove unserviceable to public use.

If oaths generally become cheap and vile, what will that of
allegiance signify? If men are wont to play with swearing anywhere,
can we expect they should be serious and strict therein at the bar
or in the church. Will they regard God's testimony, or dread His
judgment, in one place, or at one time, when everywhere upon any,
upon no occasion they dare to confront and contemn them? Who then
will be the more trusted for swearing? What satisfaction will any
man have from it? The rifeness of this practice, as it is the sign,
so it will be the cause of a general diffidence among man.

Incredible therefore is the mischief which this vain practice will
bring in to the public; depriving princes of their best security,
exposing the estates of private men to uncertainty, shaking all the
confidence men can have in the faith of one another.

For which detriments accruing from this abuse to the public every
vain swearer is responsible; and he would do well to consider that
he will never be able to make reparation for them. And the public
is much concerned that this enormity be retrenched.

IV. Let us consider, that rash and vain swearing is very apt often
to bring the practiser of it into that most horrible sin of perjury.
For "false swearing," as the Hebrew wise man saith, "naturally
springeth out of much swearing:" and, "he," saith St. Chrysostom,
"that sweareth continually, both willingly and unwillingly, both
ignorantly and knowingly, both in earnest and in sport, being often
transported by anger and many other things, will frequently
forswear. It is confessed and manifest, that it is necessary for
him that sweareth much to be perjurious." [Greek], "For," saith he
again, "it is impossible, it is impossible for a mouth addicted to
swearing not frequently to forswear." He that sweareth at random,
as blind passion moveth, or wanton fancy prompteth, or the temper
suggesteth, often will hit upon asserting that which is false, or
promising that which is impossible: that want of conscience and of
consideration which do suffer him to violate God's law in swearing
will betray him to the venting of lies, which backed with oaths
become perjuries. If sometime what he sweareth doth happen to be
true and performable, it doth not free him of guilt; it being his
fortune, rather than his care or conscience, which keepeth him from

V. Such swearing commonly will induce a man to bind himself by oath
to unlawful practices; and consequently will entangle him in a
woeful necessity either of breaking his oath, or of doing worse, and
committing wickedness: so that "swearing," as St. Chrysostom saith,
"hath this misery attending it, that, both trangressed and observed,
it plagueth those who are guilty of it."

Of this perplexity the Holy Scripture affordeth two notable
instances: the one of Saul, forced to break his rash oaths; the
other of Herod, being engaged thereby to commit a most horrid

Had Saul observed his oaths, what injury had he done, what mischief
had he produced, in slaughtering his most worthy and most innocent
son, the prop and glory of his family, the bulwark of his country,
and the grand instrument of salvation to it; in forcing the people
to violate their cross oath, and for prevention of one, causing many
perjuries? He was therefore fain to desist, and lie under the guilt
of breaking his oaths.

And for Herod, the excellent father thus presseth the consideration
of his case: "Take," saith he, "I beseech you, the chopped off head
of St. John, and his warm blood yet trickling down; each of you bear
it home with you, and conceive that before your eyes you hear it
uttering speech, and saying, Embrace the murderer of me, an oath.
That which reproof did not, this an oath did do; that which the
tyrant's wrath could not, this the necessity of keeping an oath did
effect. For when the tyrant was reprehended publicly in the
audience of all men, he bravely did bear the rebuke; but when he had
cast himself into the necessity of oaths, then did he cut off that
blessed head."

VI. Likewise the use of rash swearing will often engage a man in
undertakings very inconvenient and detrimental to himself. A man is
bound to perform his vows to the Lord, whatever they be, whatever
damage or trouble thence may accrue to him, if they be not unlawful.
It is the law, that which is gone out of thy lips, thou shalt keep
and perform. It is the property of a good man, that he sweareth to
his own hurt, and changeth not. Wherefore 'tis the part of a sober
man to be well advised what he doth swear or vow religiously, that
he do not put himself into the inextricable strait of committing
great sin, or undergoing great inconvenience; that he do not rush
into that snare of which the wise man speaketh, "It is a snare to a
man to devour that which is holy (or, to swallow a sacred
obligation), and after vows to make inquiry," seeking how he may
disengage himself the doing which is a folly offensive to God, as
the Preacher telleth us. "When," saith he, "thou vowest a vow unto
God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay
that which thou hast vowed." God will not admit our folly in vowing
as a plea for non-performance; He will exact it from us both as a
due debt, and as a proper punishment of our impious folly.

For instance, into what loss and mischief, what sorrow, what regret
and repentance, did the unadvised vow of Jephthah throw him; the
performance whereof, as St. Chrysostom remarketh, God did permit,
and order to be commemorated with solemn lamentation, that all
posterity might be admonished thereby, and deterred from such
precipitant swearing.

VII. Let us consider that swearing is a sin of all others
peculiarly clamorous, and provocative of Divine judgment. God is
hardly so much concerned, or in a manner constrained, to punish any
other sin as this. He is bound in honour and interest to vindicate
His name from the abuse, His authority from the contempt, His holy
ordinance from the profanation, which it doth infer. He is
concerned to take care that His providence be not questioned, that
the dread of His majesty be not voided, that all religion be not
overthrown by the outrageous commission thereof with impunity.

It immediately toucheth His name, it expressly calleth upon Him to
mind it, to judge it, to show himself in avenging it. He may seem
deaf, or unconcerned, if, being so called and provoked, He doth not
declare Himself.

There is understood to be a kind of formal compact between Him and
mankind, obliging Him to interpose, to take the matter into His
cognisance, being specially addressed to Him.

The bold swearer doth importune Him to hear, doth rouse Him to mark,
doth brave Him to judge and punish his wickedness.

Hence no wonder that "the flying roll," a quick and inevitable
curse, doth surprise the swearer, and cut him off, as it is in the
prophet. No wonder that so many remarkable instances do occur in
history of signal vengeance inflicted on persons notably guilty of
this crime. No wonder that a common practice thereof doth fetch
down public judgments; and that, as the prophets of old did
proclaim, "because of swearing the land mourneth."

VIII. Further (passing over the special laws against it, the
mischievous consequences of it, the sore punishments appointed to
it), we may consider, that to common sense vain swearing is a very
unreasonable and ill-favoured practice, greatly misbecoming any
sober, worthy, or honest person; but especially most absurd and
incongruous to a Christian.

For in ordinary conversation what needful or reasonable occasion can
intervene of violating this command? If there come under discourse
a matter of reason, which is evidently true and certain, then what
need can there be of an oath to affirm it, it sufficing to expose it
to light, or to propose the evidences for it? If an obscure or
doubtful point come to be debated, it will not bear an oath; it will
be a strange madness to dare, a great folly to hope the persuading
it thereby. What were more ridiculous than to swear the truth of a
demonstrable theorem? What more vain than so to assert a disputable
problem: oaths (like wagers) are in such cases no arguments, except
silliness in the users of them.

If a matter of history be started, then if a man be taken for
honest, his word will pass for attestation without further
assurance; but if his veracity or probity be doubted, his oath will
not be relied on, especially when he doth obtrude it. For it was no
less truly than acutely said by the old poet, [Greek], "The man doth
not get credit from an oath, but an oath from the man." And a
greater author, "An oath," saith St. Chrysostom, "doth not make a
man credible; but the testimony of his life, and the exactness of
his conversation, and a good repute. Many often have burst with
swearing, and persuaded no man; others only nodding have deserved
more belief than those who swore so mightily." Wherefore oaths, as
they are frivolous coming from a person of little worth or
conscience, so they are superfluous in the mouth of an honest and
worthy person; yea, as they do not increase the credit of the
former, so they may impair that of the latter.

"A good man," as Socrates did say, "should apparently so demean
himself, that his word may be deemed more credible than an oath;"
the constant tenour of his practice vouching for it, and giving it
such weight, that no asseveration can further corroborate it.

He should [Greek], "swear by his good deeds," and exhibit [Greek],
"a life deserving belief," as Clemens Alex. saith: so that no man
should desire more from him than his bare assertion; but willingly
should yield him the privilege which the Athenians granted to
Xenocrates, that he should testify without swearing.

He should be like the Essenes, of whom Josephus saith, that
everything spoken by them was more valid than an oath; whence they
declined swearing.

He should so much confide in his own veracity and fidelity, and so
much stand upon them, that he should not deign to offer any pledge
for them, implying them to want confirmation.

"He should," as St. Jerome saith, "so love truth, that he should
suppose himself to have sworn whatsoever he hath said;" and
therefore should not be apt to heap another oath on his words.

Upon such accounts common reason directed even pagan wise men wholly
to interdict swearing in ordinary conversation, or about petty
matters, as an irrational and immoral practice, unworthy of sober
and discreet persons. "Forbear swearing about any matter," said
Plato, cited by Clem. Alex. "Avoid swearing, if you can, wholly,"
said Epictetus. "For money swear by no god, though you swear
truly," said Socrates. And divers the like precepts occur in other
heathens; the mention whereof may well serve to strike shame into
many loose and vain people bearing the name of Christians.

Indeed, for a true and real Christian, this practice doth especially
in a far higher degree misbecome him, upon considerations peculiar
to his high calling and holy profession.

Plutarch telleth us that among the Romans the flamen of Jupiter was
not permitted to swear, of which law among other reasons he assigned
this: "Because it is not handsome that he to whom divine and
greatest things are entrusted should be distrusted about small
matters." The which reason may well be applied to excuse every
Christian from it, who is a priest to the most High God, and hath
the most celestial and important matters concredited to him; in
comparison to which all other matters are very mean and
inconsiderable. The dignity of his rank should render his word
verbum honoris, passable without any further engagement. He hath
opinions of things, he hath undertaken practices inconsistent with
swearing. For he that firmly doth believe that God is ever present
with him, and auditor and witness of all his discourse; he that is
persuaded that a severe judgment shall pass on him, wherein he must
give an account for every idle word which slippeth from him, and
wherein, among other offenders, assuredly liars will be condemned to
the burning lake; he that in a great Sacrament (once most solemnly
taken, and frequently renewed) hath engaged and sworn, together with
all other divine commandments, to observe those which most expressly
do charge him to be exactly just, faithful, and veracious in all his
words and deeds; who therefore should be ready to say with David, "I
have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed to keep thy righteous
judgments," to him every word hath the force of an oath; every lie,
every breach of promise, every violation of faith doth involve
perjury: for him to swear is false heraldry, an impertinent
accumulation of one oath upon another; he of all men should disdain
to allow that his words are not perfectly credible, that his promise
is not secure, without being assured by an oath.

IX. Indeed, the practice of swearing greatly disparageth him that
useth it, and derogateth from his credit upon divers accounts.

It signifieth (if it signifieth anything) that he doth not confide
in his own reputation, and judgeth his own bare word not to deserve
credit: for why, if he taketh his word to be good, doth he back it
with asseverations? why, if he deemeth his own honesty to bear
proof, doth he cite Heaven to warrant it?

"It is," saith St. Basil, "a very foul and silly thing for a man to
accuse himself as unworthy of belief, and to proffer an oath for

By so doing a man doth authorise others to distrust him; for it can
be no wrong to distrust him who doth not pretend to be a credible
person, or that his saying alone may safely be taken: who, by
suspecting that others are not satisfied with his simple assertion,
implieth a reason known to himself for it.

It rendereth whatever he saith to be in reason suspicious, as
discovering him void of conscience and discretion; for he that
flatly against the rules of duty and reason will swear vainly, what
can engage him to speak truly? He that is so loose in so clear and
so considerable a point of obedience to God, how can he be supposed
staunch in regard to any other? "It being," as Aristotle hath it,
"the part of the same men to do ill things, and not to regard
forswearing." It will at least constrain any man to suspect all his
discourse of vanity and unadvisedness, seeing he plainly hath no
care to bridle his tongue from so gross an offence.

It is strange, therefore, that any man of honour or honesty should
not scorn, by such a practice, to shake his own credit, or to
detract from the validity of his word; which should stand firm on
itself, and not want any attestation to support it. It is a
privilege of honourable persons that they are excused from swearing,
and that their verbum honoris passeth in lieu of an oath: is it not
then strange, that when others dispense with them, they should not
dispense with themselves, but voluntarily degrade themselves, and
with sin forfeit so noble a privilege?

X. To excuse these faults, the swearer will be forced to confess
that his oaths are no more than waste and insignificant words,
deprecating being taken for serious, or to be understood that he
meaneth anything by them, but only that he useth them as expletive
phrases, [Greek], to plump his speech, and fill up sentences. But
such pleas do no more than suggest other faults of swearing, and
good arguments against it; its impertinence, its abuse of speech,
its disgracing the practiser of it in point of judgment and
capacity. For so it is, oaths as they commonly pass are mere
excrescences of speech, which do nothing but encumber and deform it;
they so embellish discourse, as a wen or a scab do beautify a face,
as a patch or a spot do adorn a garment.

To what purpose, I pray, is God's name hooked and haled into our
idle talk? why should we so often mention Him, when we do not mean
anything about Him? would it not, into every sentence to foist a dog
or a horse, to intrude Turkish, or any barbarous gibberish, be
altogether as proper and pertinent?

What do these superfluities signify, but that the venter of them
doth little skill the use of speech, or the rule of conversation,
but meaneth to sputter and prate anything without judgment or wit;
that his invention is very barren, his fancy beggarly, craving the
aid of any stuff to relieve it? One would think a man of sense
should grudge to lend his ear, or incline his attention to such
motley ragged discourse; that without nauseating he scarce should
endure to observe men lavishing time, and squandering their breath
so frivolously. 'Tis an affront to good company to pester it with
such talk.

XI. But further, upon higher accounts this is a very uncivil and
unmannerly practice.

Some vain persons take it for a genteel and graceful thing; a
special accomplishment, a mark of fine breeding, a point of high
gallantry; for who, forsooth, is the brave spark, the complete
gentleman, the man of conversation and address, but he that hath the
skill and confidence (O heavens! how mean a skill! how mad a
confidence!) to lard every sentence with an oath or a curse, making
bold at every turn to salute his Maker, or to summon Him in
attestation of his tattle; not to say calling and challenging the
Almighty to damn and destroy him? Such a conceit, I say, too many
have of swearing, because a custom thereof, together with divers
other fond and base qualities, hath prevailed among some people,
bearing the name and garb of gentlemen.

But in truth, there is no practice more crossing the genuine nature
of genteelness, or misbecoming persons well born and well bred; who
should excel the rude vulgar in goodness, in courtesy, in nobleness
of heart, in unwillingness to offend, and readiness to oblige those
with whom they converse, in steady composedness of mind and manners,
in disdaining to say or do any unworthy, any unhandsome things.

For this practice is not only a gross rudeness toward the main body
of men, who justly reverence the name of God, and detest such an
abuse thereof; not only further an insolent defiance of the common
profession, the religion, the law of our country, which disalloweth
and condemneth it, but it is very odious and offensive to any
particular society or company, at least, wherein there is any sober
person, any who retaineth a sense of goodness, or is anywise
concerned for God's honour: for to any such person no language can
be more disgustful; nothing can more grate his ears, or fret his
heart, than to hear the sovereign object of his love and esteem so
mocked and slighted; to see the law of his Prince so disloyally
infringed, so contemptuously trampled on; to find his best Friend
and Benefactor so outrageously abused. To give him the lie were a
compliment, to spit in his face were an obligation, in comparison to
this usage.

Wherefore 'tis a wonder that any person of rank, any that hath in
him a spark of ingenuity, or doth at all pretend to good manners,
should find in his heart or deign to comply with so scurvy a
fashion: a fashion much more befitting the scum of the people than
the flower of the gentry; yea, rather much below any man endued with
a scrap of reason or a grain of goodness. Would we bethink
ourselves, modest, sober, and pertinent discourse would appear far
more generous and masculine than such mad hectoring the Almighty,
such boisterous insulting over the received laws and general notions
of mankind, such ruffianly swaggering against sobriety and goodness.
If gentlemen would regard the virtues of their ancestors, the
founders of their quality--that gallant courage and solid wisdom,
that noble courtesy, which advanced their families and severed them
from the vulgar--this degenerate wantonness and forbidness of
language would return to the dunghill, or rather, which God grant,
be quite banished from the world, the vulgar following their

XII. Further, the words of our Lord, when He forbade this practice,
do suggest another consideration against it, deducible from the
causes and sources of it; from whence it cometh, that men are so
inclined or addicted thereto. "Let," saith He, "your communication
be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of
evil." The roots of it, He assureth us, are evil, and therefore the
fruit cannot be good: it is no grape which groweth from thorns, or
fig from thistles. Consult experience, and observe whence it doth

Sometimes it ariseth from exorbitant heats of spirit, or transports
of unbridled passion. When a man is keenly peevish, or fiercely
angry, or eagerly contentious, then he blustereth, and dischargeth
his choler in most tragical strains; then he would fright the
objects of his displeasure by the most violent expressions thereof.
This is sometime alleged in excuse of rash swearing: I was
provoked, the swearer will say, I was in passion; but it is strange
that a bad cause should justify a bad effect, that one crime should
warrant another, that what would spoil a good action should excuse a
bad one.

Sometimes it proceedeth from arrogant conceit, and a tyrannical
humour; when a man fondly admireth his own opinion, and affecting to
impose it on others, is thence moved to thwack it on with lusty

Sometimes it issueth from wantonness and levity of mind, disposing a
man to sport with anything, how serious, how grave, how sacred and
venerable soever.

Sometimes its rise is from stupid inadvertency, or heady
precipitancy; when the man doth not heed what he saith, or consider
the nature and consequence of his words, but snatcheth any
expression which cometh next, or which his roving fancy doth offer,
for want of that caution of the psalmist, "I said, I will take heed
to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with
a bridle, while the wicked is before me."

Sometimes (alas! how often in this miserable age!) it doth spring
from profane boldness; when men design to put affronts on religion,
and to display their scorn and spite against conscience, affecting
the reputation of stout blades, of gallant hectors, of resolute
giants, who dare do anything, who are not afraid to defy Heaven, and
brave God Almighty Himself.

Sometimes it is derived from apish imitation, or a humour to comply
with a fashion current among vain and dissolute persons.

It always doth come from a great defect in conscience, of reverence
to God, of love to goodness, of discretion and sober regard to the
welfare of a man's soul.

From such evidently vicious and unworthy sources it proceedeth, and
therefore must needs be very culpable. No good, no wise man can
like actions drawn from such principles. Further--

XIII. This offence may be particularly aggravated by considering
that it hath no strong temptation alluring to it, that it yieldeth
no sensible advantage, that it most easily may be avoided or

"Every sin," saith St. Chrysostom, "hath not the same punishment;
but those things which may easily be reformed do bring on us greater
punishment:" and what can be more easy than to reform this fault?
"Tell me," saith he, "what difficulty, what sweat, what art, what
hazard, what more doth it require beside a little care" to abstain
wholly from it? It is but willing, or resolving on it, and it is
instantly done; for there is not any natural inclination disposing
to it, any strong appetite to detain us under its power.

It gratifieth no sense, it yieldeth no profit, it procureth no
honour; for the sound of it is not very melodious, and no man surely
did ever get an estate by it, or was preferred to dignity for it.
It rather to any good ear maketh a horrid and jarring noise; it
rather with the best part of the world produceth displeasure,
damage, and disgrace. What therefore, beside monstrous vanity and
unaccountable perverseness, should hold men so devoted thereto?

Surely of all dealers in sin the swearer is palpably the silliest,
and maketh the worst bargains for himself, for he sinneth gratis,
and, like those in the prophet, "selleth his soul for nothing." An
epicure hath some reason to allege, an extortioner is a man of
wisdom, and acteth prudently in comparison to him; for they enjoy
some pleasure, or acquire some gain here, in lieu of their salvation
hereafter, but this fondling offendeth Heaven, and abandoneth
happiness, he knoweth not why or for what. He hath not so much as
the common plea of human infirmity to excuse him; he can hardly say
that he was tempted thereto by any bait.

A fantastic humour possesseth him of spurning at piety and
soberness; he inconsiderately followeth a herd of wild fops, he
affecteth to play the ape. What more than this can he say for

XIV. Finally, let us consider that as we ourselves, with all our
members and powers, were chiefly designed and framed to glorify our
Maker, the which to do is indeed the greatest perfection and noblest
privilege of our nature, so our tongue and speaking faculty were
given to us to declare our admiration and reverence of Him, to
exhibit our due love and gratitude toward Him, to profess our trust
and confidence in Him, to celebrate His praises, to avow His
benefits, to address our supplications to Him, to maintain all kinds
of devotional intercourse with Him, to propagate our knowledge,
fear, love, and obedience to Him, in all such ways to promote His
honour and service. This is the most proper, worthy, and due use of
our tongue, for which it was created, to which it is dedicated, from
whence it becometh, as it is so often styled, our glory, and the
best member that we have; that whereby we excel all creatures here
below, and whereby we are no less discriminated from them, than by
our reason; that whereby we consort with the blessed angels above in
the distinct utterance of praise and communication of glory to our
Creator. Wherefore, applying this to any impious discourse with
which to profane God's blessed name, with this to violate His holy
commands, with this to unhallow His sacred ordinance, with this to
offer dishonour and indignity to Him, is a most unnatural abuse, a
horrid ingratitude toward Him.

It is that indeed whereby we render this noble organ incapable of
any good use. For how, as the excellent father doth often urge, can
we pray to God for mercies, or praise God for His benefits, or
heartily confess our sins, or cheerfully partake of the holy
mysteries, with a mouth defiled by impious oaths, with a heart
guilty of so heinous disobedience.

Likewise, whereas a secondary very worthy use of our speech is to
promote the good of our neighbour, and especially to edify him in
piety, according to that wholesome precept of the Apostle, "Let no
corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is
good to the use of edifying, that it may administer grace unto the
hearers." The practice of swearing is an abuse very contrary to
that good purpose, serving to corrupt our neighbour, and to instil
into him a contempt of religion; or however grievously to scandalise

XV. I shall add but two words more. One is, that we would
seriously consider that our Blessed Saviour, who loved us so dearly,
who did and suffered so much for us, who redeemed us by His blood,
who said unto us, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," He thus
positively hath enjoined, "But I say unto you, Swear not at all;"
and how then can we find in our heart directly to thwart His word.

The other is, that we would lay to heart the reason whereby St.
James doth enforce the point, and the sting in the close of our
text, wherewith I conclude: "But above all things, my brethren,
swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any
other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay nay, lest ye fall
into condemnation," or, "lest ye fall under damnation." From the
which infinite mischief, and from all sin that may cause it, God in
mercy deliver us through our Blessed Redeemer Jesus, to whom for
ever be all glory and praise.


"To speak evil of no man."--Titus iii. 2.

These words do imply a double duty; one incumbent on teachers,
another on the people who are to be instructed by them.

The teacher's duty appeareth from reflecting on the words of the
context, which govern these, and make them up an entire sentence:
put them in mind, or, rub up their memory to do thus. It is St.
Paul's injunction to Titus, a bishop and pastor of the Church, that
he should admonish the people committed to his care and instruction,
as of other great duties (of yielding obedience to magistrates, of
behaving themselves peaceably, of practising meekness and equity
towards all men, of being readily disposed to every good work), so
particularly of this, [Greek], to revile or speak evil of no man.

Whence it is apparent that this is one of the principal duties that
preachers are obliged to mind people of, and to press upon them.
And if this were needful then, when charity, kindled by such
instructions and examples, was so lively; when Christians, by their
sufferings, were so inured to meekness and patience; even every one,
for the honour of his religion, and the safety of his person, was
concerned in all respects to demean himself innocently and
inoffensively; then is it now especially requisite, when (such
engagements and restraints being taken off, love being cooled,
persecution being extinct, the tongue being set loose from all
extraordinary curbs) the transgression of this duty is grown so
prevalent and rife, that evil-speaking is almost as common as
speaking, ordinary conversation extremely abounding therewith, that
ministers should discharge their office in dehorting and dissuading
from it.

Well indeed it were, if by their example of using mild and moderate
discourse, of abstaining from virulent invectives, tauntings, and
scoffings, good for little but to inflame anger, and infuse ill-
will, they would lead men to good practice of this sort: for no
examples can be so wholesome, or so mischievous to this purpose, as
those which come down from the pulpit, the place of edification,
backed with special authority and advantage.

However, it is to preachers a ground of assurance and matter of
satisfaction, that in pressing this duty they shall perform their
duty: their text being not so much of their own choosing, as given
them by St. Paul; they can surely scarce find a better to discourse
upon: it cannot be a matter of small moment or use, which this
great master and guide so expressly directeth us to insist upon.
And to the observance of his precept, so far as concerneth me, I
shall immediately apply myself.

It is then the duty of all Christian people (to be taught and
pressed on them) not to reproach, or speak evil of any man. The
which duty, for your instruction, I shall first endeavour somewhat
to explain, declaring its import and extent; then, for your further
edification, I shall inculcate it, proposing several inducements
persuasive to the observance of it.

I. For explication, we may first consider the object of it, no man;
then the act itself, which is prohibited, to blaspheme, that is, to
reproach, to revile, or (as we have it rendered) to speak evil.

No man. St. Paul questionless did especially mean hereby to hinder
the Christians at that time from reproaching the Jews and the pagans
among whom they lived, men in their lives very wicked and corrupt,
men in opinion extremely dissenting from them, men who greatly did
hate, and cruelly did persecute them; of whom therefore they had
mighty provocations and temptations to speak ill; their judgment of
the persons, and their resentment of injuries, making it difficult
to abstain from doing so. Whence by a manifest analogy may be
inferred that the object of duty is very large, indeed universal and
unlimited: that we must forbear reproach not only against pious and
virtuous persons, against persons of our own judgment or party,
against those who never did harm or offend us, against our
relations, our friends, our benefactors, in respect of whom there is
no ground or temptation of evil-speaking; but even against the most
unworthy and wicked persons, against those who most differ in
opinion and practice from us, against those who never did oblige us,
yea, those who have most disobliged us, even against our most bitter
and spiteful enemies. There is no exception or excuse to be
admitted from the quality, state, relation, or demeanour of men; the
duty (according to the proper sense, or due qualifications and
limits of the act) doth extend to all men: for, "Speak evil of no

As for the act, it may be inquired what the word [Greek] (to

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