ŇAgain, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.Ó   Matthew 5:33-36.

 

Our Saviour Christ, having restored the seventh commandment to its true sense and meaning, doth here proceed to do the like unto the third commandment; observing herein the same order that he did in the former; for first, He layeth down the false interpretation of the Scribes and Pharisees given to this commandment concerning swearing (v.33), and then delivereth the true doctrine of an oath (vv.34-36).

 

The corrupt sense given by the Scribes and Pharisees is propounded in the words of the Holy Ghost (Lev. 19:12; Deut. 5:11), Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shall perform thine oaths unto the Lord; which are not here taken in that true meaning wherein Moses set them down, but in the false interpretation of the Jewish teachers; whereof that we may the better judge, let us search out the true meaning of MosesŐ law concerning an oath; for which end we must first see what perjury is; then propound the kinds of perjury; and lastly, shew the grievousness of this sin.

 

I. In perjury there must be two things:

 

First, a man must affirm or avouch something against his own mind, his own meaning, purpose, intention or persuasion. When a man knows a thing to be true, and saith it is true; or knoweth a thing to be false, and saith it is false, and swears thereto, this is no perjury, because his speech is answerable to that which is in his mind; but when a man knows a thing to be true, and avoucheth it to be false; or knowing a thing to be false, avoucheth it to be true, upon his oath; this is perjury; because in so doing, he speaks against his mind and persuasion.

 

Secondly, in perjury, there must be an oath; it is not perjury to speak a thing that is false, unless he also swear to the thing he speaketh falsely, against his mind; and yet every oath maketh not direct perjury, unless it be a binding oath; for a man may swear to a thing that is unlawful, and after alter his mind, and not perform his oath, without the guilt of perjury; as if a child being under age, do bind himself by oath to marry without his parents consent; but coming to riper years, doth better consider of the matter, and subjects himself to his parentŐs disposing, who marry him to another. Now though he sinned in so swearing, yet he is not perjured, because the oath was not a binding oath; for a child under years hath no power to take an oath.

 

II. That we may yet better judge of this sin, we must know that there be three kinds of perjury:

 

1. First, when a man confirmeth by oath, that which he knows or thinks to be otherwise; as when he takes an oath that a thing is true, which he knows to be false; that a thing was thus, which he knows was otherwise.

 

2. Secondly, Deceitful swearing is perjury, when a man, either about things past or to come, swears contrary to the true knowledge and purpose of his own mind. Example of this we have in the Romish priests, who both defend in writing, and practice in action, this deceitful swearing; for being brought before the magistrate, and made to swear to this demand, or such like; Whether they said Mass, or knew where Mass was said at such a time?  They answer upon their oaths, that they did not nor knew not (though indeed they did), which is according to their doctrine, that unto dangerous interrogatories a man may frame a safe meaning unto himself, and swear to it; as in the former instance, they swore they knew not where Mass was said, meaning, to reveal it to the judge. But this is flat perjury; for their oath is given them to answer according to the meaning of the magistrateŐs demand; and if a man might lawfully frame a meaning to himself in swearing, he might easily delude all truth, and so should not an oath for comfirmation be the end of all strife (Heb. 6:16), but the breeder thereof, through surmise of false meaning in him that sweareth.

 

3. The third kind of perjury is the breaking of a binding oath; as when a man upon his oath promiseth to do a thing that is lawful, and doth it not; yet this is not always perjury: as first, if God after the oath taken, make the thing promised impossible to be done; as if a man swear to make another his heir of such and such lands; now dwelling by the seaside, the sea breaks out, drowns all his land before he dieth; is this man perjured, because he performed not his promise bound with an oath? No verily; for God made the thing impossible. Secondly, if a man be bound in conscience to break his oath; thus David swearing rashly to slay Nabal and his family (1 Sam. 25:22), was yet stayed from so doing by AbigailŐs counsel, and brake his oath, and gave God thanks for it (v. 32); for indeed his oath was unlawful, being the bond of iniquity; and the doing of it had been the doubling of his sin.

 

Here it may well be demanded whether those that are sworn to the statutes and laws of societies and incorporations be perjured if they break the same? Answer: The statutes of incorporations be of two sorts: some are of the foundation of societies, without which the incorporation cannot stand; and these (not being against the Word of God) cannot be broken without the guilt of perjury. Others, are statutes only of outward order and decency; as touching apparel, gesture and such like; as in some incorporations  the statutes require that every man therein should wear the round cap; hereunto many are sworn who always wear it not; now, though I say not that they are faultless altogether, yet they are not perjured; because this statute of order binds not a man simply, but either to obedience, or to pay the mulct [fine]; which if a man be content to pay, he satisfies the statute and benefits the society as much as if he kept the statute.

 

Having shewed what perjury is, with the kinds thereof, let us see whether we be free from it. After examination, it will appear that menŐs lives are full of perjury; for where is much swearing usually, there cannot but be much perjury; because they that swear in their common talk, do forget their oaths, as they do their communication. But say we are clear from perjury, yet are we in danger of GodŐs heavy judgments for the breach of our vow in baptism; wherein we promise to believe in God, and to serve Him, forsaking the world, the flesh and the devil. Now the breach of this vow is as ill as perjury; for therefore may baptism be called a sacrament, because of the oath and vow which a Christian makes to God therein; for the word sacrament properly, betokeneth the oath which a soldier maketh to his captain for his fidelity. The breaking of JoshuaŐs oath unto the Gibeonites, by Saul, caused three yearŐs dearth (2 Sam. 21:1), and was not satisfied but with the blood of seven of SaulŐs kindred. And ZedekiahŐs perjury to the king of Babylon (Jer. 52:3) was one cause of the LordŐs fierce wrath against Jerusalem and the princes thereof. Now shall one manŐs perjury cause such judgments, and shall we not think that among other sins this our perjury unto God, in breaking our vow in baptism, bringeth upon us GodŐs heavy wrath, by plague, famine and unseasonable weather? Wherefore let the consideration hereof persuade us to repentance, and to a more conscionable care of performing our vow unto God.

 

III. The grievousness of this sin of perjury, which the Lord here forbids, appears by these three sins which are contained in it: First, the uttering, or maintaining of a lie. Secondly, the calling on God to be a witness unto a lie; wherein men do, as much as in them lieth, set the devil himself, the father of lies, in the room of God, and so greatly rob Him of His honour and majesty. Thirdly, in perjury a man prays for a curse upon himself, wishing God to be a witness of his speech, and a judge to revenge if he swear falsely; so as herein a man is his own utter enemy, and as much as in him lieth, doth cast both body and soul to hell.

 

Question: Seeing this sin of perjury is so great, whether may such a man be put to his oath, as is certainly thought will perjure himself, if he be put to swear? I answer, men that put others to swear, are either private persons, or public magistrates; a private man for his own private cause, may not put such a man to his oath; for he should have greater care of GodŐs glory, and of the other manŐs soul, than of his private gain; and therefore ought rather depart from his temporal right, than suffer his brother to so dishonour God, and to hurt his own soul. But if a magistrate be to put such a man to his oath, as is verily though will perjure himself, he may lawfully do it; but yet he is first, to advertise the party of the weight of an oath, and of the fearful sin of perjury; and then, if the order of law and justice so require, he may minister an oath unto him, leaving the event to God; for the execution of justice must not stay on manŐs misdemeanour, nor wait till they make conscience of sin; for if it did, no commonwealth could stand, no war could be made. Moses and the Levites executed vengeance upon the idolatrous Jews, without waiting for their repentance.

 

But shall perform thine oaths unto the Lord.

These words are not set down in any of MosesŐ books, but are a collection from the former law of Moses, gathered by the Jewish teachers; which collection, though it be not expressly set down, yet is it the very sense of the law; for if a man cannot without perjury break a lawful binding oath, then the law which forbiddeth perjury, bindeth man to perform all that he hath lawfully sworn unto God.

 

Here then in this collection of the Jewish teachers, is set down an excellent point touching the straitness of the bond of an oath. In every lawful oath, there is a double bond: First, it binds one man to another, for the performing of the thing he sweareth to do. Secondly, it binds a man unto God; for he that sweareth, invocates God as a witness and a judge of the truth in his assertion; and he stands bound unto God, till the thing sworn unto be performed, if it be lawful and possible. And herein the Pharisees are good teachers, and from this their collection, we learn sundry points:

 

First, that if a man take an oath, though he were constrained therein by fear, yet it must be kept, if it be of things lawful and possible; because in an oath a man stands bound unto the Lord; as if a man swear unto a thief for the saving of his life, that he will bring him some money, or other booty of his own goods; this he is to perform, because the loss is private; but if he were sworn further, not to detect the thief, that were a bond of iniquity tending to the hurt of the commonwealth; and therefore such an oath a man ought not to take; and if he do so swear, yet he must not keep it, but repent of his rash oath.

 

Secondly, if a man be brought to swear by error, being overtaken of another, yet if it were of things lawful, within his power, it must be kept; so did Joshua to the Gibeonites, and the breach thereof by Saul was grievously punished (2 Sam. 21:3), as we shewed before.

 

Thirdly, if a man swear unto a lawful promise, and it fall out that the keeping of his oath procure him great temporal losses; yet the oath must be kept because therein he is bound unto God. This David noteth for a property of him that must rest in GodŐs holy mountain, to keep his promise whereunto he is bound by an oath, though it turn to his own hindrance (Psa. 15:4).

 

Fourthly, here we may see that the doctrine and practice of the church of Rome is wicked and damnable. They teach that the bishop of Rome, by the power of the keys, may free a man in conscience from the bond of a lawful oath. Indeed if the bond were only between  man and man, it were something; but being between God and man, he that will dispense therewith, must be above, or at least equal to God Himself. The PhariseesŐ doctrine was far better, who taught that menŐs oaths must be performed unto God, without dispensing therewith. And therefore our English priests who before have sworn to the supremacy of the state, and now are reconciled to the pope, are flatly perjured persons, and so to be held.

 

But howsoever the Pharisees make this one good collection, yet they err grossly in their further meaning and expounding of this law; for when as when God forbiddeth a man to forswear himself, hence they gather: First, that it was lawful to swear ordinarily in common talk, even by the name of God, so that they sware truly, and did not forswear themselves. That this was their meaning will appear in ChristŐs answer. Secondly, hence they gathered that the law spake nothing of indirect oaths; for they made two kinds of oaths: direct, by the name of God, and indirect by their creatures. And as they held that a man might swear directly by the name of God without sin in common talk, so they taught that swearing indirectly by the creatures, as by heaven, by the temple, the head, altar, and such like, was nothing; neither the breaking thereof was any perjury (Matt. 23:16). And like unto these Jews and popish teachers, who hold that men may not only swear by the name of God, but by holy things, as by the rood, the mass; saints and angels, if they be not abused.

 

 

ŇBut I say unto you, swear not at allÓ etc (v.34)

 

Here Christ confuteth the false interpretation of the Jewish teachers. And His answer is propounded full generally: swear not at all; then particularly in the words following to the 38th verse.

 

 

I. The words of His general answer are somewhat hard, and perverted by many; therefore that we may come to the true sense thereof, two points are to be considered: first, what it is to swear, then how far forth Christ forbiddeth swearing.

 

1. For the first, we shall best conceive of an oath by the parts thereof. In an oath be two things: confession and imprecation.

 

(1) Confession is threefold; though for outward form the words of an oath be few: (i) A man confesseth that that which he sweareth is true in his conscience. (ii) That God is a witness not only of the outward action and speech, but also of his particular conscience; and (iii) That God is an omnipotent judge of all, and of him that sweareth, able to justify him, if he swear truly, or otherwise to condemn him eternally, if he swear falsely.

 

(2) Imprecation, the second thing in an oath, is a prayer to God for two things: (i) first, that God would be a witness with him that sweareth, to testify that he sweareth truly, and according to his conscience; so Paul did (Rom. 9:1), I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not; my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost. (ii) Secondly, a  man prays that God would become a judge to curse him with eternal wrath, if he swore falsely; (2 Cor. 1:23), I call God for a record unto my soul; and the form of swearing in the old time, was the using of this imprecation: God do so to me and more also, if I do not thus and thus (2 Kin. 6:31).

 

2. We see what it is to swear. Now we come to shew how far forth Christ forbiddeth swearing in these words: Swear not at all. The Anabaptists gather hence that all swearing is forbidden, and so did some heretics in the primitive church; yea, and some of the ancient fathers (that otherwise deserved well of the church) thought that the Lord in the Old Testament did only permit swearing, as He did some other things that were evil, which he approved not, and that now Christ did quite take away the same. But this opinion is false and erroneous; for swearing is commanded (Deut. 10:20) as a part of GodŐs worship. Now if Christ should here forbid it, He should be against Himself, condemning that which He Himself approved. Again, the apostle Paul used it, as is plain to be seen in the most of his epistles; and (Heb. 6:16), An oath for confirmation is called the ordinance of God, for the ending of all strife. Others (as the papists) say that Christ here sets down a counsel of perfection, not forbidding all swearing, but rather wishing that men could so live in faith, love and truth, that there should be no use of an oath. But this cannot be true; for ChristŐs words are not persuasive, but prohibitory, expressly forbidding swearing. And yet we must know that ChristŐs meaning is not here to forbid all swearing simply, but all swearing after the Jewish manner and custom; that is, in common talk and communication, as is plain in the last words of this answer, when he saith, Let your communication be yea, yea. For this is a rule to be observed in the interpretation of Scripture, that things generally spoken, must particularly be understood according to the circumstances of the present matter in hand; as when Paul saith (1 Cor. 9:22), that he became all things to all men; if it should be taken generally, we might say that with blasphemers he became a blasphemer, etc., but that speech must be restrained to the use of things indifferent; in all which he yielded to the weakness of all, that he might win some; and so here, Swear not at all, must be restrained to the Jewish custom which was to swear by the name of God in their common talk, and by other creatures, both which Christ doth utterly forbid.

 

(1) Here first, we learn that ordinary swearing is unlawful, either by the name of God, or by other creatures. This is the common sin of our age in all sorts and degrees. Some swear by their faith; others by their troth, before God, by the cross of the coin (having money in their hands), by the fire that is GodŐs angel (as they used to speak), others by bread, drink; and look how many occasions men have offered unto them, so many oaths have they framed unto themselves.

 

(2) Secondly, here is condemned all minced oaths; as by my fay, maskins, and yea marry; for the ground thereof was this popish oath, by Mary.

 

(3) Thirdly, here are condemned all gross oaths by the parts of ChristŐs body, as by His heart, blood, sides and such like.

 

Yea, men have their excuses for common swearing; as first, that they swear the truth, and nothing else. But the truth of their oath cannot dispense with the commandment of God, forbidding all swearing in ordinary communication. Others that be more simple, say, they swear by good things. But this makes their sin the greater; for the goodness of a thing doth aggravate the offence in the abuse thereof. Others say that they cannot be believed upon their bare word. Answer: But ChristŐs commandment must not be broken to win credit in our speeches; that credit is dear bought, which is got by pawning the soul to the devil. God must be obeyed for the matter of our communication, though no man will believe us. Others, as soldiers and young gallants use to swear to testify their courage and gentry; these men shew that they love the praise of men more than the praise of God. But that will be found in the end but sorry reputation, which is gained by transgression; their glory will be their shame, and their end damnation (Phil. 3:19), nay, their base minds and cowardliness are herein evident, that they glory in their slavish bondage unto sin and Satan. These excuses will not free men from the guilt of condemnation at the day of judgment; for common swearing is a shameful taking of GodŐs name in vain. Now the Lord hath said that He will not hold them guiltless that take His name in vain (Exod. 20:7). Those therefore that have this way offended, must betime repent of this impiety, and learn to fear the name of God, making conscience of an oath, and let their communication be yea, yea, and nay, nay, as Christ here commandeth. The wicked act of Jezabel covering bloody impiety under hypocrisy (1 Kin. 21:9) in proclaiming a fast, when she would have Naboth slain for blasphemy, shews that the custom of those times was to have public humiliation for such sins, lest the wrath of God should come upon our land. And when good king Hezekiah heard the grievous blasphemy which Rabshakeh uttered against the Lord (2 Kin. 19:1), he fell to his prayers, and to humble himself before God. Shall this good king do this for another manŐs blasphemy, and shall we not do the like for our own, but continue in swearing without all remorse? Our common swearers are devils incarnate, yea, worse than the devil himself, for the devils believe God and tremble (Jam. 2:19); but they tear God in pieces, and are never moved. If men abuse earthly princes in their names and titles, they are imprisoned, banished or hanged, and that justly; now shall this be done to them that impeach the dignity of mortal men, and shall not GodŐs wrath be hot against that people who live in the continual blasphemy of His name? Let us therefore fear to open our mouths in any kind of common swearing, though it be by the basest creature that God hath made; for the least creature is better than we can be allowed to abuse by our oaths.

 

(4) Lastly, here is forbidden all cursing of ourselves in our common talk, as when men say, If it be not so, I would I were hanged; I would this bread might be my bane, and such like; for every imprecation is part of an oath; as we may see in the oaths specified in Scripture: (1 Sam. 25:22), So and more also do God to the enemies of David etc., and (2 Kin. 6:31), If I do not so and so, God do so and so to me. Now as we are not to swear in our common talk, so neither ought we to use imprecation therein; for being part of an oath, it ought not to be the matter of our common speech.

 

Here two questions must be scanned:

 

(1) First, when a man may lawfully swear; and when not? For ChristŐs speech forbidding ordinary swearing seems to grant that there is a time when a man may lawfully take an oath. There be two times and cases wherein a man may lawfully take an oath: First, when the magistrate ministereth an oath unto a man upon a just occasion; for the magistrate hath the power of God in this case, and therefore when he justly requires it of man, then may he lawfully swear. Secondly, when a manŐs own calling general or particular, necessarily requires an oath; and this is in four cases: 1. When the taking of an oath serveth to maintain, procure or win unto God any part of His glory, or to preserve the same from disgrace. In this regard, Paul moved with a godly zeal, useth an oath in sundry of his epistles, for the confirmation of his doctrine, that the churches to whom he writes might be established in the truth, and so glorify God the more. 2. When his oath serveth to maintain or further his own or otherŐs salvation, or preservation in soul or body; in this case (2 Cor. 1:23), Paul calls God for a record unto his soul that he came not to Corinth to spare them. And David to further himself in the way of salvation (Psa. 119:106), bound himself by an oath, that he would keep GodŐs commandments. 3. When the oath serves to confirm and establish peace and society between party and party, country and country, kingdom and kingdom. Thus did Abraham and Abimelech sware each to other (Gen, 21:23); and Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:53); and by virtue hereof do subjects bind themselves by oath in allegiance to their princes, and soldiers to their governors. 4. When a man by oath and not otherwise, may either free himself from temporal losses, or procure to himself temporal benefits which be of great weight and moment; for an oath for confirmation is among men the end of all strife. Now we know that much strife and controversy doth arise about worldly affairs. And in this regard a man by oath may lawfully purge himself of infamy and slander. In these four cases, a man may lawfully swear, not only publicly before the magistrate, but also privately, so it be with due reverence and good conscience. But in common talk, or on light occasion, a man cannot lawfully swear, either by small or great oath, for that is to take the name of God in vain.

 

(2) How must a man take an oath, when by just occasion he is called to swear? Answer: To this question the prophet Jeremiah answereth (Jer. 4:2), Thou shalt swear, the Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; where three virtues are required in an holy manner of swearing:

 

(i) First, truth, and that respecting two things: as well the matter whereto we swear, for God may not be brought for a witness to a lie; as also the mind of him that sweareth; for his oath must be according to his mind, without fraud or deceit, and with intent to perform that truly which he promises thereupon.

 

(ii) Secondly, justice or righteousness, which also respects two things: first, the thing sworn to, that must be just and lawful, and according to GodŐs Word; secondly, the conscience of the swearer; for a man must not swear for a trifle though the thing be true, but either by the authority of the magistrate, or upon some necessary cause of his lawful calling; and against this virtue do those sin that swear usually in their common talk, though the thing be true; for trifles and light matters are not a just cause of an oath.

 

(iii) Thirdly, judgement, as well of the oath, as of his own person. For the oath; he that sweareth rightly ought to know the nature of an oath, and be able to judge of the matter whereabout he sweareth, and also discern rightly of the persons before whom, of time, place, and other circumstances. And for his own person, a man that sweareth ought to see in his conscience that he is fit to take an oath, and thereby to worship and glorify God; for he that sweareth ought to have his heart smitten with fear and awe towards God, as in all other parts of his worship (Deut. 10:20), the fear of God and swearing by His name are joined together; and a profane man that hath no fear of God in his heart ought not to swear.

 

And thus much of ChristŐs general answer to their false interpretation.

 

 

ŇNeither by heaven, for it is the throne of God, nor yet by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great kingÓ etc. (vv.34-36)

 

Here our Saviour Christ cometh particularly to forbid swearing in four several kinds of oaths used among the Jews, under which He includeth all indirect oaths by the creatures. And withal observe that he addeth several reasons in prohibiting these several kinds of indirect oaths; as that a man must not swear by heaven, because it is the throne of God etc. Now as I take it, Christ doth not directly forbid swearing by the creatures in this place; for His intent is to forbid ordinary swearing in common speech, whether it be by God, or by the creatures; which here he nameth, because the Jews counted them but light oaths. Yet here this point must needs be scanned: Whether it be lawful at any time to swear by the creatures. Sundry papists, and those of the best account both for learning and devotion, make two kinds of oaths in swearing by the creatures: first, when a man swears by the creature, and puts it in the place of God, making it a judge and witness to his conscience of the truth of the thing whereof he sweareth; and this do all condemn as wicked and unlawful, both Protestants and papists. Secondly, when the creature is named, but yet the oath is directed to God in the mind of the swearer, under the name of the creature, as the creature is in relation to God a sign of His presence. And this kind of swearing is taken for lawful, not only of all papists, but of many Protestant divines which be of good account in our age. Yet with reverence to them all, I see no reason in the Word of God to warrant this kind of swearing by the creature, with direction to God in the mind of him that sweareth. Indeed a man may name the creature in his oath (as Paul did, I call God to record to my conscience) and yet swear by God; for it is one thing to name the creature in swearing, and another thing to swear by the creature.

 

Reasons against this sort of swearing by the creatures are these:

 

(1) First, an oath is a part of GodŐs worship, as hath before been shewed. Now every part of GodŐs worship must be referred to God directly; so we pray and give thanks to God directly, and not in the creature, and so we ought to swear; but in indirect swearing by the creatures, the oath is directly referred to the creature, and indirectly unto God, namely, in the creature; which is not lawful.

 

(2) Secondly, a man must (Heb. 6:16) swear by him that is greater than himself, and therefore (v.13) God sware by Himself, because there was no greater to swear by; where it seemeth the Holy Ghost takes it for granted that there is no lawful swearing by the creatures; because they are not greater than man, and so there must be but one only direct kind of swearing, by God Himself.

 

(3) Thirdly (Deut. 6:13), Thou shalt swear by His name. There it seemeth He prescribeth a form of swearing wherein the name of God in some plain manner is expressed; but in indirect oaths, another besides him that sweareth cannot tell whether he swear by God or not, because the oath is by the creature, and directed only to God in the mind of him that sweareth.

 

(4) Fourthly (Matt. 23:21), He that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by God; whence I gather that  an indirect oath is superfluous, because it is sufficient that a man swear by God only, and not by the creature also.

 

By these reasons I have been moved to dislike of indirect oaths. Now let us see what is said in behalf of them.

 

(1) First, it is said (Gen. 42:16), that Joseph, a man commended for his faith, sware by the life of Pharoah; therefore man may swear by the creatures. Answer: It may well be expounded; not to be an oath, but an alleviation to this effect: as surely as Pharaoh liveth. But say it is an oath, yet this fact proveth not the lawfulness of this kind of swearing; for no man is so good but he may be tainted with the impieties of the place wherein he liveth, especially being so wicked a place as PharaohŐs court was.

 

(2) Second reason: (2 Kin. 2:4), the prophet Elisha sweareth ElijahŐs soul. Answer: That place proveth not the point in hand; for the question is of indirect oaths, where the name of God is concealed. But in that place GodŐs name is prefixed, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth. Again, that phrase may be taken for a solemn alleviation only, as it is well translated: as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.

 

(3) Reason 3: (Song. 3:5) There (say they) Christ Himself sweareth by the creatures; the roes and the hinds of the field. Answer: Those words are not an oath, but an admiration; for Christ chargeth the enemies of His church not to trouble her; and He confirmeth His charge by a testimony from the brute beasts, which may be done without an oath; for it is all one as if He had said, If you do trouble my church, the roes and hinds of the field shall be witness against you, because you do that which they would not do, if they had reason as you have. Now the creatures may be made witnesses unto an admiration, as (Deut. 32:1), Moses calleth heaven and earth to winess; and so doth the Lord (Isa. 1:2). But when a man sweareth by a thing, the same is made a witness to his conscience, which no creature can be.

 

(4) Reason 4: Paul (say they) (1 Cor. 15:31), sware by their rejoicing, which is a gift of God. Answer: Those words are not an oath, but an obtestation to testify the constancy which he shewed in his ministry, and they declared in the confession of their faith. Now a testimony may be drawn from a creature, as we shewed before. But (say they) the word there used is a note of an oath. Answer: Not always; for sometimes it betokens an asseveration, as in other authors might be shewed; so that I take it there ought not to be any indirect oaths wherein GodŐs name is concealed, and the creature sworn by made a pledge of GodŐs presence.

 

Now I come to the reasons for which Christ forbids these indirect oaths. The sum of them in general is this: Because GodŐs name, which must not be taken in vain, is set in every one of His creatures, even the least hair of a manŐs head (for therein a man may see the wisdom and power of God), therefore we may not swear in our common talk, no not by the least creature that God hath made.

 

Hence we learn sundry instructions:

 

(1) First, that it is not lawful to swear by faith, troth, bread, drink and such like; for faith (to insist on one) is a gift of God, which beareth GodŐs name in it; for the matter of our faith is Christ, so as when we swear by it, we swear by Christ, whose name we may not take in vain; and therefore we may not swear at all by any such oaths. Again, God hath set His name on every creature, He hath imprinted in them the signs of His power, wisdom, justice and mercy (Rom. 1:20), The invisible things of God are seen by His works; and (Acts 14:17), Rain from heaven and fruitful seasons were witnesses unto the Gentiles of GodŐs goodness unto them; which serveth first, to condemn the world of great ingratitude; for we have set before our eyes, we daily taste and handle the good creatures of God; yet who beholds in them His wisdom, mercy and goodness, that thereby he might take occasion to pray His name? For men are like to brute beast who use the benefit of the creatures, but yet never think on God the Creator; and like unto the swine, who eateth up the mast, but never looketh up to the tree from whence it cometh; yea, some are so shameless that they deny God by their works, though not in word.

 

(2) Secondly, this teacheth us carefully to meditate upon the creatures of God, labouring therein to see GodŐs wisdom, justice and mercy, and the rest of His attributes; that thereby we may take occasion to praise His name  (Psa. 139:14), I will praise thee, for I am wonderfully and fearfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. Here the prophet doth profess: First, that he did meditate on the creatures of God seriously; then that his meditation made him to fear and to be astonished; and thirdly, to pray to God (Psa. 92:5,6), Oh how glorious are thy works; therein importing that he did meditate thereon; but the unwise (saith he) knoweth it not, and a fool doth not understand this; wherein he sheweth that it is a great point of folly to see GodŐs creatures, and not to behold the wonderful power and goodness of God in them. (Psa. 145:5), I will meditate upon all thy wondrous works; (v.10), All thy works praise thee, O Lord. His example we should follow. And whereas GodŐs judgments are among us, we must labour in them to see GodŐs indignation against our sins, and His mercy in chastening us for our amendment, that we might not be condemned with the world.

 

(3) Thirdly, if every creature carry in it some stamp of GodŐs name, then what should the reasonable creature do? Should not men much more bear GodŐs image? Yes, verily, both in thought, will, affection and action. We must therefore seek to repair in us GodŐs image decayed in Adam; and above all things take heed we carry not about us the image of the devil in any sin; for if we do, we are far worse than the dumb creatures.

 

(4) Fourthly, whereas every creature bears about some part of GodŐs image, this serves to strip the ignorant sort of their false plea; who think God will hold them excused because they are not book-learned. But they must know that they deceive themselves, for sith they are ignorant of the wisdom, mercy and power of God, and of many other things in God, which the very unreasonable creatures might have taught them if they had beheld the same and meditated thereon; they may justly fear, lest these silly creatures stand up in judgment against them at the last day.

 

(5) And lastly, seeing God hath set His image in every creature, we must labour to use them all in an holy manner as meat, drink, apparel and suck like. We must beware we abuse them not unto our lusts any manner of way, for the abuse redounds unto the Lord whose name they bear, and we know God will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

 

 

Now I come more particularly to the several reasons annexed to the several prohibitions.

 

I. The first particular prohibition is this: Thou shalt not swear by heaven; and the reason followeth: for it is the throne of God. This reason is to be scanned. A throne is a chair of estate wherein earthly princes use to sit in judgment, and shew themselves in glory and majesty. Now heaven is not properly a throne but by resemblance, because that God doth in heaven and from heaven shew His glory and majesty unto men. In heaven the saints and angels behold the unspeakable glory of God. And from heaven doth God shew His exceeding power, even in spreading the heavens like a curtain above the earth, in setting therein the sun, the moon and stars, most glorious creatures; in giving particular motions  unto them by sending rain from heaven with storms, lightnings and thunder. Again, He sheweth His justice from heaven, by pouring down His judgments thence: (2 Pet. 2:5,6) as the flood upon the world of the ungodly; fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah. As the apostle saith (Rom. 1:18), The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Again, GodŐs mercy and goodness is manifested from heaven. Thence cometh every good gift (Jam. 1:17); yea, thence our Saviour Christ descended for the work of our redemption. Thence also the Holy Ghost descended in ChristŐs baptism; and the FatherŐs voice was heard from thence, pointing out that Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. And thence shall Christ come again in glory at the last day to be glorified in His saints; all which do magnify unto us the glory of the throne.

 

Is the throne of God in heaven, and not on earth? Then must we learn to conceive of God as of an heavenly King. In the chapter following, we are taught to call Him our Heavenly Father (Matt. 6:9), and therefore when we speak or think of God, or do worship unto Him in prayer or thanksgiving, we must not conceive of Him in any carnal sort, but in an heavenly manner. The second commandment forbidding the representation of God in any similitude, may teach us that we must not conceive of God after any earthly or carnal manner. Indeed the popish church approving of the images of the Trinity (as before was shewed) do thereby teach the people to conceive of God, as of an old man sitting in heaven, with a crown upon His head, because He is called the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:22); but all such carnal conceits of God are here forbidden.

 

That we may then conceive aright of God, two rules must be remembered: First, we must not frame in our minds any image of God at all as that He should be like unto man, or any other creature; but we must conceive of Him both in His works as our Creator, Governor and Preserver; and also in His properties, as most wise, just, holy, merciful, and such like. Secondly, we must conceive that God is one in substance, and three in person; we must not confound the persons nor divide the substance, but conceive of one God in three persons, and three persons in one and the same Godhead. These two rules being well observed, will keep our hearts from those vain conceits of God which many frame to themselves when they think of Him in their minds.

 

Secondly, seeing GodŐs throne is in heaven, therefore our conversation must be there also; for where God is and His throne, there ought our hearts to be. Now we shall have our conversation in heaven by doing two things: First, by a continual elevation of our minds unto heaven, morning and evening, and at all times when we have occasion. We are commanded to pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17), and that we do, so oft as in the duties of our ordinary calling, we desire in our hearts the blessing and assurance of God; for the sighs and groans of the soul are prayers approved before God; we must therefore lift up our heart to God, as David did (Psa. 25:1). Secondly, we must set our affections on God, as on heavenly things, as our love, our joy, and fear, yea, our care must be of coming to heaven; for where can we be in a more happy place than before GodŐs throne in heaven, where God sets out His glory and majesty to His creature?

 

Thirdly, hence we may learn to conceive aright of the providence of God; for God sitting in His majesty in heaven, and being infinite in wisdom, power and greatness, doth by a most careful providence see, know and govern all things that are done upon the earth. This is notably set forth unto us (Psa. 11:4), The LordŐs throne is in heaven, His eyes will consider, His eyelids will try the children of men. The words are very significant, importing that God from heaven doth most narrowly see into all menŐs dealings and affairs; which teacheth us when we shall be in any distress, either in body, minds, goods, or friends, to behave ourselves in an holy manner, for God sees our case; and therefore first we must make our moan unto Him, and humbly entreat for that grace and mercy at His hands whereof we stand in need. David maketh this a ground of much comfort in affliction (Psa. 102:19,20): Out of heaven (saith he) did the Lord behold the earth, that He might hear the mourning of the prisoner, and deliver the children of death.

 

Lastly, this serveth to terrify every sinner; for the Lord sits in heaven with a piercing eye, beholding all thy doings whosoever thou art; and therefore when a man sinneth, though he hide the same from men, yet the Lord sees him, and will reprove him and judge him. Let us therefore make conscience of all sin, and fear to do evil, either by thought, word or deed, seeing we are before the judge that sits upon this throne.

 

 

II. The second particular prohibition is  against swearing by the earth; the reason is, because it is the LordŐs footstool. The earth is the LordŐs footstool, not properly, but by resemblance; because as the footstool is nothing in glory to the throne, no more be those glimpses of glory which God shews here on earth, comparable to that surpassing dignity and glory wherein God manifests Himself in heaven.

 

1. Is the earth the LordŐs footstool? Then is He not included in heaven, but is present also upon earth. God is not in one place alone, but He is everywhere at one and the same time. Here then we have a plain proof of GodŐs infinite greatness and omnipresence, in regard of His essence and Godhead; for Christ compares Him to a king, who is of that bigness that He fills heaven with His glory, and of that height, that the earth below is His footstool, according as He saith (Jer. 23:24), I fill heaven and earth. This point David proves at large (Psa. 139:7,8), Whither shall I go from thy presence? etc., shewing plainly that there is no place whereof it can be truly said that God in essence is not there present. The consideration whereof teacheth us:

 

(1) First, to understand aright the saying of Paul (Acts 17:28), In Him we live, move and have our being. We are not in God as parts of God, for His essence is most simple; and yet it is true that we are in God, because His essence is everywhere; it is in us, forth of us, and about us; and being in us and about us, gives us living, being and moving.

 

(2) Secondly, this teacheth us to conceive aright GodŐs holy providence, to wit that God in regard of His substance, is in every place, giving being, life and moving to all things that be, live and move; preserving them and killing them at His pleasure, and doing whatsoever He will.

 

(3) Thirdly, this consideration of GodŐs essential presence, serves to kindle in our hearts that fear of God which is the ground of true obedience in all estates. If God shall lay upon us any affliction, either in body or mind, friends or goods, let us then consider the essential presence of God, laying that cross upon us, and it will strike into our hearts a reverend fear of God, and move us to patience, meekness and contentment; yea, it will cause us to humble ourselves under His hand; for the cause why men fly not to God by humbling themselves in their afflictions, is because they think God is far off. Again, if in prosperity we consider GodŐs essential presence with us, giving unto us all good things, it will make us thankful; so much we do unto man, when we be in his presence that hath bestowed a favour upon us, we readily address ourselves to thankfulness; and shall we not do so to God? In a word, this holy meditation of GodŐs presence will make us to humble ourselves unto God, and to rest contented with His good will and pleasure.

 

(4) Fourthly, if God in essence be present everywhere, then it is needless to make choice of places in regard of holiness for the worship of God; for one place is no more near to God than another; which confutes the vanity of popish pilgrimages to chief places for religious worship; and it checketh also the blind opinion of many among us who think the church is the only place of prayer and other parts of GodŐs worship; whereupon they never regard to pray in their private houses. But God is in thee, and in thy house, as well as in the church, and therefore thou mayest lift up pure hands unto God in all places, and must pray at home as well as in the church (always provided that thou honour GodŐs ordinance in the public assemblies).

 

(5) Fifthly, if God be everywhere, then we must labour to have hearts affected with this persuasion, that wheresoever we be, God is present with us. This lesson God taught Abraham (Gen. 17:1), Walk before me, and be upright; and this Enoch had learned long before (Gen. 5:24), and therefore was reported of that he had pleased God (Heb. 11:5). Now where this persuasion taketh place, it will strike the heart with a reverent fear and awe towards God, making a man thus to reason: God is present with me, how then should I do this evil in His sight? Oh that this thought did run in our minds in the time of temptation, then by GodŐs grace we should fear to sin, and endeavour to walk before God in all holy obedience, as His servants have done. Many are shameless in sinning, which comes from the want of this persuasion of GodŐs presence, which should strike this fear into their hearts, as we may see (Gen. 20:11; Psa. 10:3,4,11; Psa. 94:6,7).

 

(6) Sixthly, this knowledge of GodŐs presence serves to quiet and strengthen their hearts that are troubled with fear of the devil, thus they must reason with themselves: The Lord my God is present with me, both in power and essence; He can bind Satan, and He will keep those that trust in Him from the snare of the hunter; wherefore then should I be afraid?

 

2. Secondly, is the earth the LordŐs footstool? Then while we live here upon the earth, our lives ought to be a daily practice of humiliation and repentance. When good subjects come before the chair of estate, especially if the prince be present, then they bow their bodies, to testify their loyal subjection unto their prince. Shall man do this to man, and shall not we, whose dwelling is at the LordŐs footstool, much more humble ourselves? When DavidŐs wroth was kindled against Nabal, Abigail, NabalŐs wife, being wiser than her husband, went to meet David with a present, and as soon as she saw him (1 Sam. 25:23,24,28) she lighted off her ass, and fell down upon her face, and bowed herself unto the ground, and fell at his feet, and besought him humbly to forget the trespass, and to stay his hand from blood; so likewise when Jacob met his brother Esau (Gen. 33:3), He bowed himself seven times, to move him to compassion towards him and his family. How much more then ought we to bow ourselves before the Lord, who have ten thousandfold more deserved His wrath than Nabal did DavidŐs or Jacob EsauŐs? And besides, our humble walking before Him at His footstool here on earth, may give us assurance that one day He will place us on His throne in glory in the heavens. But if we walk proudly before Him in the practice of sin, being at His footstool, let us know that He hath feet like unto fiery brass burning in a furnace (Rev. 1:15), under which He will trample all His enemies, and make them His footstool (Psa. 110:1).

 

 

III. The third inhibition is from swearing by Jerusalem; the reason is, for it is the city of the great king; that is, the city of God, the King of Kings; for God had chosen the Jews to be His peculiar people, and Jerusalem for His holy city where He had His temple and sacrifices for His solemn worship. Now here observe that at this time the temple was made a den of thieves, and many of the Scribes, and Jewish teachers were notable heretics, erring against the foundation of religion; yea, the people were rebellious and wicked, as Stephen plainly telleth them (Acts 7:51); and yet Christ here calleth Jerusalem the city of God; and so the people GodŐs people; though they for their parts had forsaken God. The reason hereof is this: because neither the Jews, nor any other do then presently cease to be the people of God, when they by sin cut themselves off from God and forsake Him; but then do they cease to be GodŐs people when God forsakes them, and cuts them off from Him; like as in the state of matrimony, when either man or wife commits adultery, the party breaks the bond of marriage, and as much as in him lieth, cuts off himself from the other; but yet while the innocent party retains matrimonial affection towards the party offending, and gives not a bill of divorce, they still remain man and wife. This appears in these Jews, whom neither Christ Himself did then forsake when they rejected Him (for He prayed for them when they crucified Him), nor yet His apostles, till they saw in them manifest signs of incurable obstinacy (Acts 13:46).

 

This point must be remembered as serving to rectify our judgments touching the state of a church or people that have many grievous wants and faults among them, both for doctrine and manners; for though a people do what in them lieth, to cut off themselves from God, yet till God cut them off from Him, they cease not to be His people; and therefore we must not judge them to be no people of God till we see that God hath cut them off. And to apply this to our own church: put the case that we had forsaken God, and had amongst us all those abuses which some would fasten upon us, as making us to be no church; yet this proves us not to be no church, neither ought we for all this to be so reputed; for though we have deserved indeed that God should cut us off, yet seeing He vouchsafeth unto us the doctrine of life and the pledges of salvation, it cannot be truly said that we are no church. If it be said that by this reason we will make the church of Rome to be GodŐs church, because they have some signs of GodŐs favour, as baptism and the Word, though grievously corrupted. Answer: Though I doubt not but God hath His company in the midst of popery, yet if we understand by the church of Rome, a company of men who profess and hold the pope for their head, and embrace the doctrine established by the Council of Trent, then (I say) they are no church; for Christ hath cut them off, and given them a bill of divorcement in His holy Word (Rev. 18:4), Come out of her my people.

 

Hence also we are taught to carry a charitable opinion of such particular persons as go on in sin without remorse; for though they for their part have forsaken God, yet we know not whether God hath forsaken them; He may in mercy call them to repentance, and therefore we must not rashly give sentence of judgment against them.  Question: But what if a man give himself to the devil by covenant, as many have done, and do daily; may we not then give sentence against them, or they against themselves? Answer: No verily; for though this case be most fearful, yet they have not absolute power over themselves. Manasseh (2 Chr. 33:6,12), king of Judah, had most wickedly forsaken God, and bound himself in league to the devil; but yet when he humbled himself being in affliction, and prayed to God, he was received to mercy. SaulŐs case was fearful (Acts 8:3), while he made havoc of the church; and yet the Lord converted him when he went to persecute. This must not embolden any to go on in sin, for the Lord will not be merciful to such (Deut. 29:19,20).

 

 

IV. Neither shalt thou swear by thine head.

This is the last form of swearing forbidden by Christ. The reason is, because thou canst not make one hair white or black; that is, thou shalt not swear by thine head, because thou hast not power over thine own head, thou art not able to make thine head; nay, thou canst not make one hair of thine head; nay (which is less), thou canst not give to any hair his natural colour, by making it white or black.

 

Where observe the honour given to God not only to make the hairs of manŐs head, but even to give natural colour to every one of them. Man can not do the least of these things.

 

1. This teacheth us, first, that there is a particular providence of God, whereby He disposeth of all things, even of the least and basest things that be in the world; for what is more base than the hairs of a manŐs head? And what is less to be regarded than the colour thereof? And yet the LordŐs providence reacheth hereunto. This is a matter of endless comfort to GodŐs children; for when we are once persuaded of the particular providence of God over so base and light things, we shall easily be resolved that all things which befall us in this life, whether in prosperity or adversity, come by GodŐs special providence; which will move us to a patient bearing of all miseries, and to contentment in every estate, because it is the LordŐs sending; yea, this will be a notable comfort in any affliction to know that God is the author thereof.

 

2. Secondly, Hath not man power over the least creature, no not over the hair of his head? Then doubtless he may not lawfully swear by any creature, though he have relation to God therein; for if he might lawfully swear by a creature, it were because he might present that creature unto God, as a pledge of his presence, wherein he desires God to punish him, if he fail in his oath. This is granted of those that defend this form of swearing; but a man may not lay down any creature as a pawn before God, and appoint the Lord to punish him therein; because the creature is not in manŐs power; every creature is the LordŐs, and we may not appoint Him how He shall punish us for our perjury. If it be said that the oath made by the creature is a binding oath, which must be kept, for Christ calls it an oath (Matt. 23:20), and therefore a man may lawfully use it. Answer: The reason is not good; for the oath bindeth and must be kept, because indirectly a man swears by God, and so in substance it is an oath; but yet the manner of it is unlawful, because an oath being part of GodŐs worship, ought to be directed unto God immediately. When an infidel swears by his false gods (as Laban by the god of Nahor (Gen. 31:53)), that is an oath, and it binds his conscience, because in his intent he sware by the true God; and yet the form of it is unlawful, because he puts that in the room of God, that which is not God.

 

3. Thirdly, is the hair of the head the creature of God, and the natural colour His workmanship? Then all abuse hereof must needs be unlawful; as, first, the custom of those men or women who, being ashamed of GodŐs workmanship in their own hair, do beautify their heads with bought hair, sometimes of dead persons. This is an odious thing, and such persons take GodŐs name in vain, as much as they which swear by their head at every word; for be they what they will be, God in some sort hath set His own name in the natural colour of their hair, which none ought to be ashamed of. Secondly, the painting of faces, and colouring of the hair, is another abuse of GodŐs name set therein. This practice was abhorred of the heathen, who in their writings have branded Poppea NeroŐs wife, because she used an ointment made of assesŐ milk to make her face fair and bright. What then shall we say of our ladies and gentlewomen, who paint their faces with Spanish white, and colour their hair? These doubtless believe not GodŐs Word, which preferreth the fear of God before favour and beauty (Prov. 31:30). But yet methinks they should be ashamed to be followers of Jezabel (2 Kin. 9:30). Thirdly, the wearing of long hair is another abuse thereof in the younger sort. It began indeed among the aged, but now it is become a trick of youth, and is the badge of a proud heart; for how can they say they glorify God thereby, when the apostle saith (1 Cor. 11:14) it is a shame for a man to have long hair. Well, sith God hath set His name therein, we must beware how we make it an instrument of sin. If it be said to wear long hair is our English fashion; I answer, but indeed it is a foreign trick, and therefore as unlawful as foreign attire, which God condemns (Zeph. 1:8). Our ancient English fashion (except it were among the aged) was to wear short hair; and in every country, the most ancient and grave fashions ought to be followed; not only in the use of the hair, but in apparel also, that therein men may shew the grace of their heart; for manŐs attire is GodŐs ordinance, borrowed from His creatures, wherein God hath set His name; and therefore we ought not to deface it, with the stamp of pride and vanity; but rather shew therein, that liberty and modesty, that may honour GodŐs name.