The Scripture passage to which we shall call attention in this essay is very important for our life of sanctification in the midst of the world, which lies in the lie and error. We need the teaching and admonition of Jesus, also of this passage, to live a godly life in our day by day problems, which must be solved in faith. The teaching of this passage is necessary for us, and we must indeed heed it, shall we ever anew enter in through the strait gate and the narrow way that leads to life. In a word Jesus’ teaching is intensely practical. Let it not be forgotten!
This Scripture passage from the mouth of our Savior reads as follows: “Again, ye have heard that it was said to 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 the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.”
In the quotation in the former paragraph we have underscored those parts which are Jesus’s quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures. They are; and . It will help the reader to also read those passages. It will cause us to see in bold relief, what Jesus intends to bring out with these quotations in our text.
In order the gain the proper perspective of this Scripture passage it is well to bear in mind, that Jesus is here addressing the subjects of the Kingdom, in whose hearts the new and everlasting Covenant of grace and mercy is established. At least that is the viewpoint from which they are addressed. They are looked at and addressed as the poor in spirit, as those who mourn for their sins, as those who are meek and lowly in heart, as those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and who are therefore blessed! They are viewed as those who possess this blessedness, but who must still receive it in an ever increasing measure by means of the Word of God, by the warnings and admonitions of the Gospel, and through the Holy Spirit. They do have righteousness, but they must receive more and more until they arrive at the perfection set before them in the life to come. Then shall they be perfect even as their Father in heaven.
Such is the general viewpoint of Jesus in this entire chapter.
Now in view of this perfection at which we must arrive more and more in this life, and unto which we shall completely have arrived in the life to come, it is of the utmost importance, it is an indispensible ordinance of God, that we do not forget the law of the Kingdom as to its Spiritual nature. Christ has not come to destroy the law, but He has come to fulfill it even unto the last iota and tittle. Only then can heaven and earth pass away when the law has perfectly been written in the hearts of all the children of God. When the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God and no one shall any more say to his neighbor: know the Lord! then shall the end come of this present world in which the Gospel and the law is being written in our hearts. Therefore let us not forget the warning finger while it is today. Such is the warning note in this Sermon on the Mount.
This warning note is also implied and expressed in the Scripture passage under consideration. When Jesus warns against the improper use of the oath He is instructing us to walk in the perfection of His Kingdom, according to the Spiritual nature of the law.
Let us try to see this.
In the first place, we would like to observe, that Jesus has no dispute with Moses’ statement inconcerning the oath and its use. He is not contending with Moses, whom He has come to fulfill, but He is contending with what the Scribes and Pharisees have made of this Word of God in Moses, distorting it, as they did with all of the Scriptures, to their own destruction! Not seeing the spiritual meaning of this Word of God for the regenerated child of God, being blind for the Kingdom of heaven and its righteousness of the heart, they simply so construed the precept of Moses concerning the oath, that it allowed them room for all the evil of their hearts; they simply did not enter the Kingdom themselves and they forbade those to enter who would. It is with this corrupting of the Word of God that Jesus takes issue here. Wherefore He says, speaking of these evil teachers, you have heard it said to you by the Scribes that it was said to Moses of ancient times, that we must perform our oaths to the Lord. But according to Jesus they do not interpret this correctly in their pulpits and schools. They do not understand Moses’ precepts at all. That and that only is Jesus’ dispute in this passage.
Positively Jesus points out to us, that, when we “perform our oaths unto the Lord,” it means, that we have truth in inward parts; it implies that the truth dwells in our hearts, that we hate the lie and love truth and equity. And that from the abundance of pure hearts our speech indicates that we are lovers of the truth, that we walk the strait and narrow gateway that leads to life. Only such a man performs his vows unto the Most High. Such a man has the last iota and tittle of the law in his heart. He does not think little of the law, but sings: O, how love I Thy law! He has heard the Gospel with its precepts and performs them in his life. O, the blessedness of the man so doing.
Such is briefly the meaning of Jesus’ teaching and admonition in this Scripture passage.
Why does Jesus underscore the positive meaning of this word of Moses “to perform unto the Lord our vows?”
The answer to this must be sought, as to its occasion, in the fact, that due to the Jewish casuistry and cataloguing of great and smaller commandments they also applied this rule of the “greater and lesser” to the oaths, and spoke of greater and lesser oaths. Thus they corrupted the oath itself; they lost sight of the very seriousness of the oath itself. Life had lost its very meaning because it was not under the tension of the law of the Kingdom. With such a corruption of the foundations the righteous could do nothing. The wicked simply rode high and handsome while the righteous were led astray and could not arrive at the end of the law, Christ, the righteousness for everyone believing. This evil must stop and therefore Christ says: but I say unto you, Swear not at all!
Jesus does not mean to teach that the oath as such is sinful, but He does mean to teach that in His Kingdom where truth is loved the rule of life is: Swear not at all! Here the truth is to be spoken in love. Here men will not need to resort to the bolstering of statements with all kinds (?) of oaths. Yes will be yes and no will be no. Hence, swear not at all.
The Jews of Jesus’ day, the Scribes and Pharisees, had a righteousness that did not allow for swearing by the Name of God, but it did permit of swearing by many creatures. When our eyes are opened by grace, it is at once obvious that this evil practice of swearing by creatures did not change the nature of this Oath one wee bit. It was still swearing by the Name, might, truthfulness and justice of God.
Such is the evident intent of these words of Jesus when he says do not swear by “heaven,” “the earth,” “Jerusalem” or “our head.” It is sinful to swear by all of these things.
Why is this sinful?
Because one can never so swear by the creature or he at once swears by the Creator. Back of everything created stands the Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth. He so rules and upholds all things by His almighty power and Counsel, that all things live and move and have their being in Him. Such is the folly of swearing by the creature, in general, when trying to avoid swearing by God, the Creator.
Thus it is in general we said.
But Jesus does not simply leave this matter by the rash oath that general. He makes the folly stand out very clearly by applying the Scriptures to this question.
Hence, we have the quotations to which we referred earlier in this essay, and which are found in the written text as quoted above.
Says Jesus: Do not swear by heaven. Why not? Because heaven is: throne of God. It is quite clear from the original Greek, that such is the emphasis of the text. The thought is: Heaven is the throne of God, and he who swears by heaven swears by Him, who sitteth on the Throne. Wherefore do this not.
Says Jesus: Do not swear by the earth. Why not? Because the footstool of God’s feet it is. He who swears by the earth swears by God. Do this not. Swear not at all.
Again, says Jesus: Swear not by Jerusalem. Why not? Because it is the city of the great King, the Lord of Hosts is His name. Do it not.
Finally, Jesus says: Do not swear by your head. Why not? Because he who swears by his head swears by God who makes the hairs white and black. Do it not.
Walk the strait and narrow gateway that leads to life; let each speak truth with his neighbor, being each others members. Then and then only will we be performing our vows to the Most High. Love will reign in our lives and not sin and folly. We will then seek the Kingdom of heaven and His righteousness and all the other things will be added unto us. God will provide. The Lord will judge His people.
Will we then never need to use the oaths? The use of the oath will not be the rule in our lives, but it will be the exception. Then only will it be used when the glory of God demands it, the salvation of a neighbor depends upon it, or when the magistrate demands it. For the rest: Swear not at all. Let your Yea be yea, and your Nay be nay, for what is above this comes from the evil one.