Preface to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians
It is a general opinion among learned men that this epistle was written about a year after the former: and this seems to be supported by the words, 2 Corinthians 9:2 : Achaia was ready a year ago; for the apostle having given instructions for that collection, to which he refers in these words at the close of the preceding epistle, they would not have had the forwardness there mentioned till a year had elapsed. As the apostle had purposed to stay at Ephesus till pentecost, 1 Corinthians 16:8; and he stayed some time in Asia after his purpose to leave Ephesus and go to Macedonia, Acts 9:21, Acts 9:22; and yet making here his apology for not wintering in Corinth, as he thought to do, 1 Corinthians 16:6; this epistle must have been written after the winter, and consequently when a new year was begun. It therefore, says Dr. Whitby, seems to have been written after his second coming to Macedonia, mentioned Acts 20:3. For,
(1.) It was written after he had been at Troas, and had left that place to return to Macedonia: now that was at his second going thither; see 2 Corinthians 2:12.
(2.) It was written when Timothy was with him: now, when he left Ephesus to go into Macedonia, Timothy went not with him, but was sent before him, Acts 19:22; but at his second going through Macedonia, Timothy was with him, Acts 20:4.
(3.) He speaks of some Macedonians who were likely to accompany him, 2 Corinthians 9:4. Now, at his second going from Macedonia, there accompanied him Aristarchus, Secundus, and Gaius of Thessalonica, the metropolis of Macedonia, Acts 20:4.
(4.) The postscript says that this epistle was written from Philippi, where Paul was till the days of unleavened bread, Acts 20:6; it therefore seems to have been sent from thence to them by Titus, and some other person, not long before St. Paul's coming to them; which he speaks of as instant, 2 Corinthians 13:1; and that which he was now ready to do, 2 Corinthians 12:14; and did, according to Dr. Lightfoot, in his journey from Philippi to Troas; he sailing about from Philippi to Corinth, to make good his promise; whilst the rest that were with him, Acts 20:4, went directly the next cut to Troas, and there waited for him. See Whitby.
That the first epistle had produced powerful effects among the Corinthians is evident from what the apostle mentions in this. Titus had met him in Macedonia, and told him of the reformation produced by this epistle, see 2 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 7:6; that the Church had excommunicated the incestuous man; that the epistle had overwhelmed them with great distress; had led them to a close examination of their conduct and state; and had filled them with respect and affection for their apostle, etc. Hearing this, St. Paul wrote this second epistle, to comfort, to commend them, and to complete the work which he had begun, by causing them to finish the contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem; and also to vindicate his own apostolic character, and to unmask the pretended apostle, who had led them so long astray. See the preceding Introduction.
Its principal divisions are: -
I. The preface, 2 Corinthians 1:1-7.
II. The Narration, comprehending an account of what had happened to himself; his answer to their questions concerning the incestuous person, with different other matters; among which, the following are the chief: -
(1.) The persecution which he had suffered in Asia, and from which he had been miraculously rescued, 2 Corinthians 1:8-14.
(2.) His purpose to pay them a visit, 2 Corinthians 1:15-24.
(3.) Concerning the sorrow which they had suffered on account of the excommunication of the incestuous person, 2 Corinthians 2, 7.
(4.) His own vindication against the false apostle; in which he gives an account of his doctrine, 2 Corinthians 3:6-18. His conduct, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. His bodily infirmities, 2 Corinthians 4:7; and 2 Corinthians 5.
(5.) Strongly exhorts them to a holy life, 2 Corinthians 6, 7.
IV. His Defence against the false apostle and his calumniators in general, 2 Corinthians 10-12.
V. Miscellaneous matters, 2 Corinthians 13:1-14.
It may be remarked, once for all, that none of these or such artificial divisions are made by the apostle himself, no more than the divisions into chapters and verses. All these are the work of man, and certainly contribute nothing to a proper understanding of the epistle itself. The apostle appears to have sat down, and, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, he wrote on the different subjects treated of in the epistle just in the order that these things occurred to his mind, without intending particular heads, divisions or subdivisions. And, as he probably wrote the whole with very little intermission of time, his sense will be best apprehended by those who carefully read over the whole at one sitting.
St. Paul encourages them to trust in God in all adversities, from a consideration of the support which he had granted them already in times of afflictions; and expresses his strong confidence of their fidelity, 2 Corinthians 1:1-7. Mentions the heavy tribulation which he had passed through in Asia; as also his deliverance, 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. Shows in what the exultation of a genuine Christian consists, 2 Corinthians 1:12. Appeals to their own knowledge of the truth of the things which he wrote to them, 2 Corinthians 1:13, 2 Corinthians 1:14. Mentions his purpose of visiting them; and how sincere he was in forming it; and the reason why he did not come, as he had purposed, 2 Corinthians 1:15-24.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:Paul, an apostle - Paul, commissioned immediately by Jesus Christ himself, according to the will of God, to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. See on 1 Corinthians 1:1 (note).
In all Achaia - The whole of the Peloponnesus, or that country separated from the main land by the Isthmus of Corinth. From this we may learn that this epistle was not only sent to the Church at Corinth, but to all the Churches in that country.
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.Grace be to you and peace - See Romans 1:7.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;Blessed be God - Let God have universal and eternal praise:
1. Because he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the gift of his endless love to man, John 1:16.
2. Because he is the Father of mercies, ὁ Πατηρ των οικτιρμων, the source whence all mercy flows, whether it respect the body or the soul, time or eternity; the source of tender mercy; for so the word implies. See on Romans 12:1 (note). And,
3. Because he is the God of all comfort - the Fountain whence all consolation, happiness, and bliss flow to angels and to men.
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.Who comforteth us - Who shows himself to be the God of tender mercy, by condescending to notice us, who have never deserved any good at his hand; and also the God of all consolation, by comforting us in all our tribulation - never leaving us a prey to anxiety, carking care, persecution, or temptation; but, by the comforts of his Spirit, bearing us up in, through, and above, all our trials and difficulties.
That we may be able to comfort them - Even spiritual comforts are not given us for our use alone; they, like all the gifts of God, are given that they may be distributed, or become the instruments of help to others. A minister's trials and comforts are permitted and sent for the benefit of the Church. What a miserable preacher must he be who has all his divinity by study and learning, and nothing by experience! If his soul have not gone through all the travail of regeneration, if his heart have not felt the love of God shed abroad in it by the Holy Ghost, he can neither instruct the ignorant nor comfort the distressed. See 2 Corinthians 1:6.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.The sufferings of Christ - Suffering endured for the cause of Christ: such as persecutions, hardships, and privations of different kinds.
Our consolation also aboundeth - We stood as well, as firmly, and as easily, in the heaviest trial, as in the lightest; because the consolation was always proportioned to the trial and difficulty. Hence we learn, that he who is upheld in a slight trial need not fear a great one; for if he be faithful, his consolation shall abound, as his sufferings abound. Is it not as easy for a man to lift one hundred pounds' weight, as it is for an infant to lift a few ounces? The proportion of strength destroys the comparative difficulty.
And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.And whether we be afflicted - See on 2 Corinthians 1:4 (note).
Which is effectual - There is a strange and unusual variation in the MSS. and versions in this passage. Perhaps the whole should be read thus: For if we be afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; and if we be comforted, it is also for your encouragement, which exerted itself by enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer.
This transposition of the middle and last clauses is authorized by the best MSS. and versions. The meaning seems to be this: While ye abide faithful to God, no suffering can be prejudicial to you; on the contrary, it will be advantageous; God having your comfort and salvation continually in view, by all the dispensations of his providence: and while you patiently endure, your salvation is advanced; sufferings and consolations all becoming energetic means of accomplishing the great design, for all things work together for good to them that love God. See the variations in Griesbach.
And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.And our hope of you is steadfast - We have no doubt of your continuing in the truth; because we see that you have such a full, experimental knowledge of it, that no sufferings or persecutions can turn you aside. And we are sure that, as ye suffer, so shall ye rejoice.
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:Our trouble which came to us in Asia - To what part of his history the apostle refers we know not: some think it is to the Jews lying in wait to kill him, Acts 20:3; others, to the insurrection raised against him by Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen, Acts 19:23; others, to his fighting with beasts at Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 15:32, which they understand literally; and others think that there is a reference here to some persecution which is not recorded in any part of the apostle's history.
We were pressed out of measure, above strength - The original is exceedingly emphatic: καθ' ὑπερβολην εβαρηθημεν ὑπερ δυναμιν· we were weighed down beyond what is credible, even beyond what any natural strength could support. There is no part of St. Paul's history known to us which can justify these strong expressions, except his being stoned at Lystra; which if not what is here intended, the facts to which he refers are not on record. As Lystra was properly in Asia, unless he mean Asia Minor, and his stoning at Lystra did most evidently destroy his life, so that his being raised was an effect of the miraculous power of God; he might be supposed to refer to this. See the notes on Acts 14:19, etc. But it is very likely that the reference is to some terrible persecution which he had endured some short time before his writing this epistle; and with the outlines of which the Corinthians had been acquainted.
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:We had the sentence of death in ourselves - The tribulation was so violent and overwhelming, that he had no hope of escaping death.
That we should not trust in ourselves - The tribulation was of such a nature as to take away all expectation of help but from God alone.
But in God which raiseth the dead - This is very like the business at Lystra; and would be sufficient to fix the apostle's reference to that fact could the time and other circumstances serve.
Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;Who delivered us from so great a death - For the circumstances were such that no human power could avail.
Will yet deliver us - Having had such a signal evidence of His interposition already, we will confide in him with an unshaken confidence that he will continue to support and deliver.
Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.Ye also helping together by prayer - Even an apostle felt the prayers of the Church of God necessary for his comfort and support.
What innumerable blessings do the prayers of the followers of God draw down on those who are the objects of them!
The gift bestowed - by the means of many persons - The blessings communicated by means of their prayers.
Thanks may be given by many - When they who have prayed hear that their prayers are so particularly answered, then all that have prayed will feel themselves led to praise God for his gracious answers. Thus, the prayers of many obtain the gift; and the thanksgiving of many acknowledge the mercy.
The gift, or χαρισμα, which the apostle mentions, was his deliverance from the dangers and deaths to which he was exposed.
For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.For our rejoicing is this - Ἡ καυχησις. Our boasting, exultation, subject of glorying.
The testimony of our conscience - Μαρτυριον της συνειδησεως· That testimony or witness which conscience, under the light and influence of the Spirit of God, renders to the soul of its state, sincerity, safety, etc.
In simplicity - Ἁπλοτητι· from α, denoting unity or together, and πελω, to be; or from α, negative, and πολυς, many; not compounded, having one end in view, having no sinister purpose, no by end to answer. Instead of ἁπλοτητι, many MSS. and versions have ἁγιοτητι, holiness.
In godly sincerity - Ειλικρινειᾳ Θεου· The sincerity of God: that is, such a sincerity as comes from his work in the soul. Ειλικρινεια, sincerity, and ειλικρινης, sincere, come from ειλη, the splendor, or bright shining of the sun; and here signifies such simplicity of intention, and purity of affection, as can stand the test of the light of God shining upon it, without the discovery being made of a single blemish or flaw.
Not with fleshly wisdom - The cunning and duplicity of man, who is uninfluenced by the Spirit of God, and has his secular interest, ease, profit, pleasure, and worldly honor in view.
But by the grace of God - Which alone can produce the simplicity and godly sincerity before mentioned, and inspire the wisdom that comes from above.
We have had our conversation - Ανεστραφημεν· We have conducted ourselves. The word properly refers to the whole tenor of a man's life - all that he does says, and intends; and the object or end he has in view, and in reference to which he speaks, acts, and thinks; and is so used by the best Greek writers. The verb αναστρεφω is compounded of ανα, again, and στρεφω, to turn; a continual coming back again to the point from which he set out; a circulation; beginning, continuing, and ending every thing to the glory of God; setting out with Divine views, and still maintaining them; beginning in the Spirit, and ending in the Spirit; acting in reference to God, as the planets do in reference to the sun, deriving all their light, heat, and motion from him; and incessantly and regularly revolving round him. Thus acted Paul; thus acted the primitive Christians; and thus must every Christian act who expects to see God in his glory. The word conversation is not an unapt Latinism for the Greek term, as conversatio comes from con, together, and verto, I turn; and is used by the Latins in precisely the same sense as the other is by the Greeks, signifying the whole of a man's conduct, the tenor and practice of his life: and conversio astrorum, and conversiones caelestes, is by Cicero used for the course of the stars and heavenly bodies. - De Leg. c. 8: Caelum una conversione atque eadem, ipse circum se torquetur et vertitur. - CIC de Univers., c. 8: "The heaven itself is, with one and the same revolution, whirled about, and revolves round itself."
In the world - Both among Jews and Gentiles have we always acted as seeing Him who is invisible.
More abundantly to you-ward - That is, We have given the fullest proof of this in our conduct towards you; You have witnessed the holy manner in which we have always acted; and God is witness of the purity of the motives by which we have been actuated; and our conscience tells us that we have lived in uprightness before him.
For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;Than what ye read - Viz. In the first epistle which he had sent them.
Or acknowledge - To be the truth of God; and which he hoped they would continue to acknowledge, and not permit themselves to be turned aside from the hope of the Gospel.
As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.Have acknowledged us in part - Απο μερους may signify here not in part, but some of you; and it is evident, from the distracted state of the Corinthians, and the opposition raised there against the apostle, that it was only a part of them that did acknowledge him, and receive and profit by his epistles and advice.
We are your rejoicing, etc. - You boast of us as the ministers of Christ through whom ye have believed; as we boast of you as genuine converts to the Christian faith, and worthy members of the Church of God.
And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit;And in this confidence - Under the conviction or persuasion that this is the case; that ye exult in us, as we do in you;
I was minded - I had purposed to come to you before, as he had intimated, 1 Corinthians 16:5; for he had intended to call on them in his way from Macedonia, but this purpose he did not fulfill; and he gives the reason, 2 Corinthians 1:23.
A second benefit - He had been with them once, and they had received an especial blessing in having the seed of life sown among them by the preaching of the Gospel; and he had purposed to visit them again that they might have a second blessing, in having that seed watered. Instead of χαριν, grace or benefit, several MSS. read χαραν joy, pleasure; but the word grace or benefit, seems to express the apostle's meaning best.
And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea.To pass by you into Macedonia - He had purposed to go to Macedonia first, and then from Macedonia return to them, and probably winter in Corinth. Therefore we must understand the δι' ὑμων, by you, as implying that he would sail up the Aegean Sea, leaving Corinth to the west; though he might have taken it in his way, and have gone by land through Greece up to Macedonia. Some think that the meaning is, that he purposed to take Achaia in his way to Macedonia, without calling at Corinth; but Achaia was out of his way considerably, and he could scarcely go through Achaia without passing close by Corinth. I consider the words, therefore, as implying that he purposed not to call at Corinth at that time, but to pass by it, as before stated.
When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?Did I use lightness? - When I formed this purpose, was it without due consideration? and did I abandon it through fickleness of mind?
That with me there should be yea, etc. - That I should act as carnal men, who change their purposes, and falsify their engagements, according as may seem best to their secular interest?
But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.But as God is true - Setting the God of truth before my eyes, I could not act in this way: and as sure as he is true, so surely were my purposes sincere; and it was only my uncertainty about your state that induced me to postpone my visit. See 2 Corinthians 1:23.
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.For the Son of God, etc. - If I could have changed my purpose through carnal or secular interests then I must have had the same interest in view when I first preached the Gospel to you, with Silvanus and Timotheus. But did not the whole of our conduct prove that we neither had, nor could have such interest in view?
For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.For all the promises of God - Had we been light, fickle, worldly-minded persons; persons who could only be bound by our engagements as far as comported with our secular interest; would God have confirmed our testimony among you? Did we not lay before you the promises of God? And did not God fulfill those promises by us - by our instrumentality, to your salvation and his own glory? God is true; therefore every promise of God is true; and consequently each must have its due fulfillment. God will not make use of trifling, worldly men, as the instruments by which he will fulfill his promises; but he has fulfilled them by us; therefore we are just and spiritual men, else God would not have used us.
In him are yea, and in him amen - All the promises which God has made to mankind are yea - true in themselves, and amen - faithfully fulfilled to them who believe in Christ Jesus. The promises are all made in reference to Christ; for it is only on the Gospel system that we can have promises of grace; for it is only on that system that we can have mercy. Therefore, the promise comes originally by Christ, and is yea; and it has its fulfillment through Christ, and is amen; and this is to the glory of God, by the preaching of the apostles.
From what the apostle says here, and the serious and solemn manner in which he vindicates himself, it appears that his enemies at Corinth had made a handle of his not coming to Corinth, according to his proposal, to defame his character, and to depreciate his ministry; but he makes use of it as a means of exalting the truth and mercy of God through Christ Jesus; and of showing that the promises of God not only come by him, but are fulfilled through him.
Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;Now he which stablisheth us with you - It is God that has brought both us and you to this sure state of salvation through Christ; and he has anointed us, giving us the extraordinary influences of the Holy Ghost, that we might be able effectually to administer this Gospel to your salvation. Through this unction we know and preach the truth, and are preserved by it from dissimulation and falsity of every kind.
Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.Who hath also sealed us - Not only deeply impressed His truth and image upon our hearts; but, by the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, attested the truth of our extraordinary unction or calling to the ministry.
And given the earnest of the Spirit - Τον αρραβωνα του Πνευματος. From this unction and sealing we have a clear testimony in our souls, the Divine Spirit dwelling constantly in us, of our acceptance with God, and that our ways please him. The αρῥαβων of the apostle is the same as the ערבן erabon of Moses, Genesis 38:17, Genesis 38:18, Genesis 38:20, which we there translate pledge. The word properly signifies an earnest of something promised; a part of the price agreed for between a buyer and seller, by giving and receiving of which the bargain was ratified; or a deposit, which was to be restored when the thing promised was given. From the use of the term in Genesis, which the apostle puts here in Greek letters, we may at once see his meaning above, and in Ephesians 1:14; the Holy Spirit being an earnest in the heart, and an earnest of the promised inheritance means a security given in hand for the fulfillment of all God's promises relative to grace and eternal life. We may learn from this, that eternal life will be given in the great day to all who can produce the arrhabon, or pledge. He who is found then with the earnest of God's Spirit in his heart, shall not only be saved from death, but have that eternal life of which it is the pledge, the earnest, and the evidence. Without this arrhabon there can be no glory. See the whole case of Judah and Tamar, Genesis 38:15 (note), etc., and the notes there.
Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.I call God for a record upon my soul - The apostle here resumes the subject which he left 2 Corinthians 1:16, and in the most solemn manner calls God to witness, and consequently to punish, if he asserted any thing false, that it was through tenderness to them that he did not visit Corinth at the time proposed. As there were so many scandals among them, the apostle had reason to believe that he should be obliged to use the severe and authoritative part of his function in the excommunication of those who had sinned, and delivering them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, etc.; but to give them space to amend, and to see what effect his epistle might produce, (not having heard as yet from them), he proposed to delay his coming. It is plain, as several commentators have observed,
2. Himself despised, and treated as a person who, because of the consciousness he had of his own worthlessness, dared not to come, 1 Corinthians 4:18. His letters, say they, are weighty and powerful - full of boastings of what he can and what he will do; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible, 2 Corinthians 10:10.
3. This being the state in which his reputation was then at Corinth, and he having promised to come to them, 1 Corinthians 16:5, he could not but think it necessary to vindicate his failing them by reasons which should be both convincing and kind, such as those contained in the preceding verses. See Dodd and others.
Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.Not for that we have dominion over your faith - I will not come to exercise my apostolical authority in punishing them who have acted sinfully and disorderly; for this would be to several of you a cause of distress, the delinquents being friends and relatives; but I hope to come to promote your joy, to increase your spiritual happiness, by watering the seed which I have already sowed. This I think to be the meaning of the apostle. It is certain that the faith which they had already received was preached by the apostles; and, therefore, in a certain sense, according to our meaning of the term, they had a right to propound to them the articles which they ought to believe; and to forbid them, in the most solemn manner, to believe any thing else as Christianity which was opposed to those articles. In that sense they had dominion over their faith; and this dominion was essential to them as apostles. But shall any others - persons who are not apostles, who are not under the unerring and infallible influence of the Holy Ghost, arrogate to themselves this dominion over the faith of mankind; not only by insisting on them to receive new doctrines, taught nowhere by apostles or apostolic men; but also threatening them with perdition if they do not credit doctrines which are opposed to the very spirit and letter of the word of God? These things men, not only not apostles, but wicked, profligate, and ignorant, have insisted on as their right. Did they succeed? Yes, for a time; and that time was a time of thick darkness; a darkness that might be felt; a darkness producing nothing but misery, and lengthening out and deepening the shadow of death. But the light of God shone; the Scriptures were read; those vain and wicked pretensions were brought to the eternal touchstone: and what was the consequence? The splendor of truth pierced, dissipated, and annihilated them for ever!
British Protestants have learned, and Europe is learning that the Sacred Writings, and they alone, contain what is necessary to faith and practice; and that no man, number of men, society, church, council, presbytery, consistory, or conclave, has dominion over any man's faith. The word of God alone is his rule, and to its Author he is to give account of the use he has made of it.
For by faith ye stand - You believe not in us, but in God. We have prescribed to you on his authority, what you are to believe; you received the Gospel as coming from Him, and ye stand in and by that faith.
The subjects in this chapter which are of the most importance have been carefully considered in the preceding notes. That alone of the apostle's oath has been passed by with general observations only. But, that it is an oath has been questioned by some. An oath, properly speaking, is an appeal to God, as the Searcher of the hearts for the truth of what is spoken; and an appeal to Him, as the Judge of right and wrong, to punish the falsity and perjury. All this appears to be implied in the awful words above: I call God for a record upon my soul; and this is not the only place in which the apostle uses words of the same import. See Romans 1:9; Romans 9:1, and the note on Romans 9:1 (note).
On this subject I have spoken pretty much at large at the end of the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy; but as it appears that there I have made a mistake in saying that the people called Quakers hold up their hand in a court of justice, when called upon to make affirmation, I take this opportunity to correct that expression, and to give the form of the oath, for so the law considers it, which the statute (7 and 8 of William III., cap. 34, sec. 1) required of this sect of Christians: "I, A. B., do declare in the presence of almighty God, the witness of the truth of what I say." Though this act was only intended at first to continue in force for seven years, yet it was afterwards made perpetual. See Burn, vol. iii., page 654.
A more solemn and more awful form of an oath was never presented nor taken by man than this; no kissing of the book, holding up of the hand, nor laying hand on the Bible, can add either solemnity or weight to such an oath! It is as awful and as binding as any thing can be; and him, who would break this, no obligation can bind.
But the religious people in question found their consciences aggrieved by this form, and made application to have another substituted for it; in consequence of this the form has undergone a little alteration, and the solemn affirmation which is to stand instead of an oath taken in the usual manner, as finally settled by the 8th Geo., cap. 6, is the following: "I, A. B., do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm." Burn, vol. iii., page 656.
It may be well to examine this solemn affirmation, and see whether it does not contain the essential principles of an oath; and whether it should not be reputed by all people, as being equal to any oath taken in the common form, and sufficiently binding on every conscience that entertains the belief of a God, and the doctrine of a future state. The word solemnly refers to the presence and omniscience of God, before whom the affirmation is made; and the word sincerely to the consciousness that the person has of the uprightness of his own soul, and the total absence of guile and deceit; and the word truly refers to the state of his understanding as to his knowledge of the fact in question. The word declare refers to the authority requiring, and the persons before whom this declaration is made; and the term affirm refers back to the words solemnly, sincerely, and truly, on which the declaration and affirmation are founded. This also contains all that is vital to the spirit and essence of an oath; and the honest man, who takes or makes it, feels that there is no form used among men by which his conscience can be more solemnly bound. As to the particular form, as long as it is not absurd or superstitious, it is a matter of perfect indifference as to the thing itself as long as the declaration or affirmation contains the spirit and essence of an oath; and that the law considers this as an oath, is evident from the following clause: "That if any one be convicted of having wilfully or falsely made this declaration or affirmation, such offender shall incur the same penalties and forfeitures as are enacted against persons convicted of wilful and corrupt perjury." I believe it may be said with strict truth, that few instances can be produced where this affirmation, which I must consider as a most solemn oath, was corruptly made by any accredited member of that religious society for whose peace and comfort it was enacted. And when this most solemn affirmation is properly considered, no man of reason will say that the persons who take it are not bound by a sufficient and available oath.