Gospel Words: Swear Not at All

Matthew 5:33‑37  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Here again the teaching of our Lord far transcends what was said of old. His presence brought in the light of God, and it was addressed to a new and divine nature in those who believe. It dealt with the root of every question, not merely with the fruit or overt acts.
“Again ye heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not swear falsely, but shalt render to the Lord thine oaths. But I say to you, Swear not at all; neither by (in) the heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his feet's footstool; nor by (toward) Jerusalem, for it is the great King's city. Nor shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your word be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; but what exceedeth these is of evil (or, the evil one).”
Thus the Lord goes far beyond perjury or breaking a vow. He prohibits swearing altogether in the intercourse of daily life. Our word therein is to be, Yea, yea, or Nay, nay. That which is more than these has no sanction from God, and is therefore of evil, or the evil one, the enemy of God and man. All such asseveration as the Lord illustrates from the facts of Jewish habit arose from the constant experience of men in deceiving or evading. They therefore resorted to such means of insuring the truth. But these efforts defeated themselves; for we know from a reliable Jewish contemporary of the N.T. inspired writers that oaths by earth, heaven, sun, stars, and the entire universe, were not counted binding. Only those obliged the conscience which were by God's name direct and express; nay others might be transgressed. As the Lord supposed in those He addresses poverty of spirit and purity of heart, He proscribed absolutely all such swearing as offensive to God and incompatible with the place of His sons.
Nor is it only Jews then, but professing Christians now, that show themselves as indifferent to the Lord's authority as if He had never thus solemnly uttered His mind. Among Protestants there is some little care to avoid profanity by adopting light and foolish exclamations, or by repeating heathen terms derived from their Greek or Latin reading, forgetting that if the idols are nothing, the demons behind them are real and evil. Romanists are much less scrupulous. It is sad to think how perverts go farther in excuse for their blasphemous phrases than those born and bred in their vain superstitions.
Take the following proof from the late Cardinal Newman's “Lectures on certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Submitting to the Catholic Church “: “Listen to their conversation; listen to the conversation of any multitude, or any private party; what strange oaths mingle with it! God's heart, and God's eyes, and God's wounds, and God's blood: you cry out, ‘How profane!' Doubtless; but do you not see that the special profaneness above Protestant oaths lies, not in the words but simply in the speaker, and is the necessary result of that insight into the invisible world which you have not? You use the vague words, ‘Providence,' or ‘the Deity,' or ‘good luck,' or ‘nature'; where we, whether now or of old, realize the Creator in His living works, instruments, and personal manifestations, and speak of the ‘Sacred Heart,' or ‘the Mother of Mercies,' or ‘our Lady of Walsingham,' or ‘St. George for Merry England,' or ‘loving St. Francis,' or ‘dear St. Philip.' Your people would be as varied and fertile in their adjurations and invocations as a Catholic populace, if they believed as we” (Ninth Lecture, p. 232).
It is grace alone which delivers from Popery and even Protestantism, and makes it a divine joy to be a Christian, neither more nor less. Irreverence of every sort, worldly or superstitious, becomes intolerably evil in one's eyes; and it is the first of duties for the believer to hear these words of Christ and reduce them to practice. But is it not an awful instance of Satan's blinding power, that while none but the vilest of Protestants would think of excusing his own ungodly badinage, a grave clergyman in his new born (or at least early open) apology for the shameless fooling of Papists should plead so barefacedly, not only for such ebullitions in word, but for turning the Last Judgment into a play of fireworks, and argue for it that “they are making one continuous and intense act of faith” (p. 237)?
But we must carefully remember, that our Lord in no way forbids an oath before the magistrate or judge. This is not of evil; but of good, being of divine authority. For men swear by a greater, and the oath is a term to all dispute as making matters sure. To refuse it is to deny God's authority in any who represent Him in earthly things, and hence called by His name and translated “judges,” as in Ex. 21:6; 22:8, 9, 286Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever. (Exodus 21:6)
8If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbor's goods. 9For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbor. (Exodus 22:8‑9)
28Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people. (Exodus 22:28)
. See also Psa. 82:1, 61<<A Psalm of Asaph.>> God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. (Psalm 82:1)
6I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. (Psalm 82:6)
. The principle is asserted in Lev. 5:11And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. (Leviticus 5:1), to which the Lord, far from setting aside on the mount, bowed when adjured by the high priest (Matt. 26:63, 6463But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. 64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26:63‑64)), though silent before.
These were not judicial adjuration, which does not fall under people's swearing. It was rather being sworn in God's name. Nor did our Lord any more than His servant prohibit such appeals to God as in Rom. 1:99For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; (Romans 1:9), 1 Cor. 15:31, 231I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. (1 Corinthians 15:31)
2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:2)
Cor. 1:23, Gal. 1:2020Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. (Galatians 1:20), or the like. The scruple of Friends or Separatists has no foundation in scripture. But how and where do you stand, my reader? Have you owned yourself a lost sinner, and the Lord Jesus the only, the willing, and the perfect Savior? Believe in Him, and thou shalt be saved. So said Paul and Silas to the Philippian jailer, suddenly arrested, and not to him only, but also to his house. And the same night he was baptized, and all his straightway. Why not you too? The same Lord is open to you. May you exult as he did, having believed with all his house in God, the God of all grace.