Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Ques. 101. May we then swear religiously by the name of God?
Ans. Yes; when the magistrate demands it of the subjects; or when necessity requires us thereby to confirm fidelity and truth to the glory of God, and the safety of our neighbor; for suck an oath is founded on God’s word, and therefore was justly used by the saints, both in the Old and New Testament.
Ques. 102. May we also swear by saints or by any other creatures?
Ans. No; for a lawful oath is calling upon God, as the only one who knows the heart, that he will bear witness to the truth, and punish me if I swear falsely; which honor is due to no creature.
Heid. Catechism. Lord’s Day 37.
God consciousness . . . .
The sweet singer of old sang as he plucked on his harp, “I have set the Lord always before me; he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
He also sang, “When thou saidst, seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.”
It was Asaph who had gone into the sanctuary to pray, and there learned to confess, “Nevertheless, I am continually with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”
In this new dispensation we have a far more intimate fellowship with God through His indwelling Spirit in our hearts, for we dwell in His house as sons and daughters, members of the family of God, heirs of the glory soon to be revealed.
While the Bridegroom tarries the bride-to-be-adorns herself for her Husband. She is always conscious of Him in all that she does, chooses her clothing according to His wishes, and tries to model her life according to His desires, as she awaits His coming in eager anticipation.
God consciousness is an essential part of our lives.
For our Lord instructs us, “Be holy, for I am holy!” Again, “be perfect, for your heavenly Father is perfect!”
“Honor, glorify Me in your lives!”
Thus He commands us, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”
We must remember that also in our oaths.
The oath is always a holy undertaking for the child of God.
There is repeated reference to the oath in Scripture. God swears an oath to assure us of the certainty of His promise that Hie will be our God and the God of our seed after us. Since He can swear by no one greater than Himself, “He sware by Himself, saying, Surely, blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee” (Heb. 6:13-18). Abraham also had occasion to use the oath. The spies who promised Rahab her life and her- safety appealed to the oath to seal their promise. Many other examples could be cited. Jesus essentially used the oath when He confirmed His testimony with an emphatic, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” Paul used the oath more than once, as, for example, in Romans 9:1: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.”
No oath may ever be taken lightly.
What makes the oath such a holy undertaking is the fact that it places us face to face with God. It reminds me that there are three persons involved in what I say: I myself, the other party, and God. Declaring that God is my witness I place my words in the mouth of God as if He speaks them!
Moreover, the oath reminds us that God is Truth. He knows the truth, lives the truth, speaks only the truth, and maintains Himself as the only true and living God. He always discerns accurately and justly between honesty and dishonesty, between the truth and the lie, for He knows the heart, and judges accordingly.
Besides that, we consciously place ourselves under the righteous judgment of the living God, as we express when we declare, “God do so to me and more also, if that which I say is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” God is our court of appeal. We confess that when we speak the truth He will approve and bless, but if we speak the lie He will punish us accordingly.
Jesus warns us in the sermon on the mount, “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 oath. 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 God’s 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. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh from evil” (Matt. 5:33-37). James repeats this in his epistle (James 5:12), and adds, “Lest ye fall into condemnation.”
Jesus points out to us that the law of Moses condemns the false oath, or perjury. It makes one shudder when he hears a witness take the oath in the court of law, and then deliberately twist the facts, expecting God to confirm the lie.
Jesus also condemns the careless use of the oath. The Jews of Jesus’ day used the oath rather freely in their conversations; but, avoiding the name of God, they swore by the temple, by Jerusalem, or some other object. That to their minds was not as serious as using God’s name. But Jesus points out to them and to us that this is exactly the same and just as serious as if they used the name of God. Even in our day appeal is sometimes made to God’s attributes, such as “Goodness knows”; or reference is made to God’s dwelling place, as “Heaven knows.” Jesus warns, why not use the name of God? This is the same thing! And this becomes the more serious when God is called upon to confirm the lie, defend some half truth or “white” lie, or even some insignificant matter.
All this Scripture brands as sin against the third commandment.
“Swear not at ah!”
Jesus lays down the principle of the kingdom of heaven, that our lives should be in such intimate communion with God that there is no need for an oath among us.
Left to ourselves, we have a dishonest, deceitful, lying nature, of which we are reminded in Romans 3:13-18. But our hearts and lips have been touched by cleansing coals of the altar of Jesus’ cross, so that according to the new man in Christ we love the Lord our God with our whole being. Thus we love the truth and speak the truth in love. We trust one another as saints in Christ Jesus. It is the renewed child of God, and he only, who can make proper use of the oath when this is demanded of him. Since his life is a vow he is never reluctant or unwilling to submit to the oath, nor careless about this, but always deeply aware that God condemns the untruth, and blesses us when we speak the truth according to the conviction of our hearts.
From this follows that our yes and our no are as much an oath as if they were confirmed by God with the calling upon His name. When we make public confession of our faith before the congregation we are asked to answer sincerely to certain prescribed questions. That yes is our oath. When marriage vows are spoken our “I do” or our yes is written in the records of God as a permanent promise “until death us do part.” When parents present their children for baptism their yes is their oath that they will bring up their children in the doctrine taught in their church, and that they will do so to the utmost of their power. When ministers, elders, and deacons are ordained in their respective offices their response to the questions put to them is as binding as if they were to add, “So help me God,” or “God is my witness,” or any other oath.
“Let your communication be Yea yea, and Nay nay!”
In the awareness that “Thou, Lord seest me,” we should always say yes to God, yes to His Christ, and yes to His Word, but always say no to the devil, to the world, and to our own sinful flesh. That yes should always be a definite, unequivocal yes, and that no should always be a very positive no, always bearing in mind the words of Jesus, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Yet we so often fail to live in a proper God consciousness. Shame on us!
There are sometimes people within the church institute whose yes is inspired by a false enthusiasm. They are the fair weather Christians, who for a time are most enthusiastic about their place in the church, that is, as long as everything runs smoothly. Evidently a scribe such as that came to Jesus with the enthusiastic assurance, “Lord, I will follow thee wherever thou goest.” Jesus responds by warning him that, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head.” Our zeal for God must be rooted in a holy faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit, able to endure even unto the end.
There are also those who confess a half-hearted yes-but, which is virtually a no. They were in the majority in the kingdom of Israel at the time of Elijah. They served Baal, yet they also wanted to maintain a bit of Jehovah worship. Just in case. They halted between two opinions. There were many of those also in Jesus’ day. They were the self-righteous Pharisees, who boasted that they were the true people of the Lord, basing their boast on their outward piety. Their number increases as the end of the ages draws still closer. Let us beware!
Then there are also the neither-nor Christians. Jesus describes them in the Book of Revelation as being lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. These are members of the church, who attend the services more or less regularly, partake of the sacraments, but show little interest, much less enthusiasm, concerning the things of the kingdom. They either labor for the bread that perishes, or they find their pleasure in the sports and entertainments of the world. If present at all, their spiritual life is at a very low ebb.
Let your Yea be yea and your Nay nay, lest ye fall into condemnation!
But who is capable of these things! Daily we need to flee to the cross with the publican’s prayer upon our lips!
At the same time our plea must be, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”