Front Page Titles (by Subject) Reasons for not taking the Oath - The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke, vol. 4
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Reasons for not taking the Oath - Sir William Clarke, The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke, vol. 4 
The Clarke Papers. Selections from the Papers of William Clarke, Secretary to the Council of the Army, 1647-1649, and to General Monck and the Commanders of the Army in Scotland, 1651-1660, ed. C.H. Firth (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1901). 4 vols.
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Reasons for not taking the Oath
May 30, 1659.
Tho. St. Nicholas, Clerk.
My Lord President,
xxxi. f. 133.Seing I am call’d on by the Councill to give my oath as a Councellour that in this place and station whereunto I am called by the Parliament,1 I shall through the grace of God endeavour to mainteyne the Commonwealth as it is now declared by Parliament, and bee faithfull to the trust committed to mee, I desire to knowe if I bee any of those with whome others of the Councill are dissatesfyed, for in that case I would rather withdrawe, for it was not a place I did either desire, intend, seeke nor expect; and being satisfied in that I desire next to knowe the meaning of the oath, and I shall ingeniously tell you my apprehensions annent it. I doe conceive that government is the ordinance of God, and that hee hath left all formes of it as lawfull and free unto the people their choyce of any particular forme, which he calls κτισις ανθρωπου2 ordinance of man, and bids us submitt to every ordinance of man; and whether formes of government be imposed by a strong hand of Providence or be chosen by the people and their rulers or presentatives, as Hushai said, I have freedome to live and act under them, and for the publique interest, till they continue such as are subservient to or consistent with the maine ends of goverment; and when either that some divine hand of providence or the people’s choice makes a change, tho’ I have not hitherto had freedome to have a hand and to act in the fieri of a change, yet I have freedome to act and serve the same publique interest of God and his people in the facto esse, or under the new forme after the chainge, and if I had not that freedome I would not have come hither but sent my excuse.
Next, I wish the oath were spared, or at least explained, because I feare the prejudice and the preparative of it, seing sundry godly men scruple at promissarie oathes in reference to civill goverment, and are troubled with the multitude of bygone oathes of that kynd, and thinkes they see no precept or example in the word of such as these untill the time of Israel’s captivity, though there be mencion of a covenant or agreement between the King and the people; and experience hath taught us that it is the best men that scruples, and the worst men that swallowes them downe, and that there is more reall security to the State in the principles and interests of good men then in all the ingagements and oathes of others. And if this preparative should descend in refference to all other imployments and trusts, it will close a doore upon many good men and open a doore wide to many bad, as in 1652 the Tender required of men in Scotland did. And that it will seeme incongruous to presse strictly engagements or oathes to the mainteynance of any civill forme which God hath left lawfull, indifferent, and free to his people in such a time as this is, wherein because of different judgments in matters of religion, there is such a lattitude of freedome from being constrayned or restrained unto any divine formes. And further, because some hath a scruple that the fettering any forme of government, and bynding it on the earth with such iron bands, is a lymitting and provoking of the most High to exercise his absolute dominion in putting up and casting downe, and giveing the kingdomes of the earth to whome hee will. Like as some scruples all such oathes, because any forme of government is but a subordinate meane unto the ends of government, and soe is quallified according to one subservencie unto the ends thereof and is mutable when it is inconsistent or destructive thereunto, or when the overpowering hand of our Soveraigne Lord changes the same at his arbitrament, and soe the obligacion to mainteyne any forme should be thus subordinat, quallified, and condicioned, secundum materiam subjectam et naturam rei juratæ. And that in these nations most part of their oathes use to have the first part thereof in referrence to religion which quallified the other clauses. And some of them did expresse their mainteynance of one goverment to be quallified with this, ‘in the defence and preservacion of religion.’ And seing government is not a bare notion in abstract, but hath its efficacie and requires its mainteynance in concretum with the Governours, who may pervert the forme to the effects contrary to the ends of government, and that this goverment is said to be such for the preservacion of the good old Cause (the essentialls whereof I thinke to consist in the being for God and godlynesse and godly men according to the word, and in being against Satan and wickednesse and wicked men according to the word, tho’ it gits various and particular shapes and denominacions from the parties engaged for or against it, or from the helpes or hinderances of it) soe they thinke all obligacion to mainteyne this government should be with subordinacion to this good old Cause, and with this condicion and quallificacion, to endure till the government is not destructive to the ends thereof, and it is not changed either by God’s strong hand on the people and the rulers also.
And that any absolute oath to mainteyne any forme of government in another sence is to turne what is subordinate to be the maine, and what is the meane to be the end, what is condicionall to be absolute, and what is mutable to be immutable, and so to change the nature of things, whereas wee should be absolute for God, and but condicionall under him for any, in soe farr as they are for God, and under him, and not against him, and soe in all relacions, to marry in the Lord, to obey parents in the Lord, to mainteyne Governors in the Lord—now which of these two is the sence of this your oath I desire to knowe, and whether you take it in an absolute or a quallified sence, for I have freedome to take it in the one sence, and not in the other. And I request you not to make any person’s respect or affection to this or that forme of government, wherein good men may have different judgments, but their respect and affection to the maine cause of being for God, godlynesse, and good men, the characteristick marke of those you will intrust and imploy; and remember your security lyes more in the quallificacions of persons then in formes, and that the way of the ruine of the Cause by unquallified instruments shewes what must be the way of your remedy under God. Contraria contrariis. And godlynesse hes such a heed of purging in itt that ungodly men thinkes their standing depend upon the suppressing of it. And wee finde the counsells of the flesh and spirit with in our bosome cannot agree, as little will the spirit in the one and the flesh in the other agree, being in counsells without us; wee would be sure of them we would trust our life to, much more would we be sure of these wee should trust God’s cause unto. Pardon my troubling you thus long; I doe it for cleering others and myselfe, seing I conceive from the practises of this1 nation in these many late changes, that you doe not intend to obleige your selfe to mainteyne this forme or any other longer then it is consistent with the Cause, and continued by the legislative power of the nation, and by the hand of God’s sovereigne dominion and providence, in which sence I am willing to take it, in submission to every ordinance of man, and subjeccion to every ordinance of God, and in subservience to the true good old Cause before expressed, and in refference to the present station and place whereunto I am called by the Parliament.
And soe after the President and the Counsell did declare it, that they tooke in the same sence and required it in noe other sence from mee, and told sundrie changes of goverment made by God’s overruling hand recorded in Scripture, then I did take it.
[1 ]Johnston of Warriston was elected by the Parliament a Member of the Council of State, May 16, 1659. This speech is probably by him.
[2 ]1 Peter, ii. 13.
[1 ]Seems to show that the author was not an Englishman.