Verse 24. "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 splendour 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 Rom. i. 9; ix. 1, and the note on this latter passage.
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.