And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, And in righteousness.
Of this commandment there are two main propositions: 1. Thou shalt take 'the name of God'--else it should have been, Thou shalt not take it at all; 2. Thou shalt take it orderly, and not 'in vain.' Of the first: Thou shalt take it to those ends and uses to which God lendeth it. Of which one is, 'Thou shalt swear by it;' which is limited by two ways.
First, by what: 'The Lord giveth.'
Secondly, how: 'In truth, judgment, justice.' As in the former Commandments so in this, there be two extremes. 1. The one of the Anabaptists, which hold all swearing unlawful, contrary to the first, 'Thou shalt swear.' 2. The other of the licentious Christian, which holds, at least in practice, A man may swear how and in what sort he list; by creatures, &c. contrary to 'The Lord liveth,' &c. falsely, rashly, lewdly; contrary too 'In truth judgment, justice.'
[71/72] That it is lawful to swear, it appeareth by the Law, Deuteronomy the sixth chapter. And thirteenth verse: by the Prophets--Jeremy here. Esay more earnestly: 'I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth and shall not return, That every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall swear to Me.' David: Laudabuntur omnes, qui jurant per Eum. By the practice of the saints not only under Moses, but under the law of nature. Abraham sweareth, Isaac sweareth, Jacob sweareth. Now our Saviour Christ came 'not to destroy the law and the Prophets' in those things wherein they agree with the law of nature: therefore, not to take away an oath.
Whereas they object first, that it standeth not with Christian profession, but was tolerated as an imperfect thing under the law:
We answer, it cannot be reckoned an imperfection to swear. For that not only Abraham, the pattern of human perfection, both sware himself and put his servant to an oath, but even the Angels, nearer than we perfection, 'sware' both under the law, and under the Gospel. And not only they, but even God Himself in Whom are all perfections, so that it cannot be imagined an imperfections.
Besides, the holy Apostles, the most perfect Christians have in urgent causes done the like: 'I called God for a record against mine own soul:' and, 'By our rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord;' which place cannot be avoided, having in the Greek the word N_ never used but in an oath only.
Whereas secondly they object our Saviour's saying, 'I say unto you, swear not at all,' the ancient writers answer, that our Saviour Christ in the very name same place, not reproving the other part, Reddes autemm Domino juramenta tua, meant not to take all oaths away, but must be understood according to the Pharisees' erroneous gloss of this commandment, which He intendeth to overthrown by opposing to Dictum est antiquis, Ego autem dico; which was of two sorts: 1. For the first, it seemeth they understood it of perjury alone; so that if a man forsware not himself, he might swear any oath. Ando so Christ reproveth not only false, but all rash and unadvised swearing.
2. Secondly, it seemeth they had this conceit: so a man [72/73] sware not by the great name of God all was well, he might swear by any creature at his pleasure; and so Christ willeth not to swear at all by any creatures.
Though indeed we hold in divinity that jurare of and by itself considered is an act forbidden no less than occidere, and that as it is an absolute countermand, Non occidere, and yet the magistrate by due course of justice executing a malefactor is commended, so is it likewise Non jurabis; and yet being, as we term it, vestium debitis circumstantiis, Laudabuntur omnes qui jurant per Eum, as King David saith.
Lastly, there is also a bar in the word jurare. For God in His law, ever putting it passively, that is rather, Thou shalt be sworn, or called to an oath, than Thou shalt swear, actively; our Saviour Christ here utterly condemneth the active voluntary swearing of men of their own heads, which was indeed never permitted, howsoever the Pharisees glossed the matter if the matter were true and so it were by Jehovah.
So that an oath is lawful; but with this condition limited, that the party do therein habere se passive, come to it not of his own accord, but pressed, as St. Augustine well saith, vel authoritate deferentis, vel durite non credentis, as to the lifting of a burden, as to the entering of 'a bond.'
'Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth;' or, as Moses saith, by 'God's Name.' Which clause first doth limit by what we are able to swear, and doth exclude 1. Swearing by those which are 'no gods;' either idols forbidden in the law, (either to swear by them alone, or to join God and them together) 2. Or creatures, which our saviour Christ forbiddeth.
And sure, as to swear by them is derogatory to ourselves, seeing thereby we make them our betters, for that every one that sweareth 'sweareth by a greater than himself;' so it is highly injurious to the Majesty of God, seeing to swear by a creature is to ascribe unto it power to see and know all things, and to do vengeance on perjury: which in divinity to think or say, is manifest blasphemy.
Howbeit yet the Fathers--well weighing that speech of St. Paul's, where he speaketh on this wise, 'By our rejoicing which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord,' &c. wherein his oath is not immediately by the name of God, but by a secondary thing issuing from it--have thought it not absolutely [73/74] necessary that in every oath the name of God should be expressly mentioned, but sufficient if reductive. It is ruled in divinity that such things as presently are reduced to God will bear an oath. In which respect, to swear by the Holy Gospel, considering our rejoicing will bear an oath, and that in the Gospel our matter of rejoicing is principally contained, hath in the Primitive Church been holden lawful. As in the Council of Constantinople. Especially seeing there is no direct contestation used, but rather by way of oppignoration, engaging unto God our salvation, faith, rejoicing, part in His Gospel and promises, the contents, &c. if we utter an untruth.
II. Secondly, the form and manner of swearing. Which is of three sorts: 1. Either by contestation as here, 'The Lord liveth,' 'Before God,' or, 'God knoweth' it is so, 'God is my witness.' 2. Or by a more earnest asservation; 'As sure as God liveth.' 3. Or by detestation and execration, as in other places. And that again is of two sorts: 1. By imprecation of evil; 'God be my Judge,' 'God behold it and rebuke it,' 'God do so and so unto me,' 'I call God a record against my soul.' 2. Or by oppignoration or engaging of some good which we would not lose: as, 'Our rejoicing in Christ,' our salvation, God's help, &c.
Both are oft and may be joined together, if it be thought meet. 'God is my witness' that thus it is, and 'God be my Judge' if thus it be not. Wherein as in prayer when all means fail, we acknowledge that God can help as well as with second causes, so we confess that He can discover our truth and falsehood, and can punish the same by ways and means to Him known, though no creature in the world beside know the thing or can take hold of us.
'Thou shalt swear, in truth, judgment, justice.' The three enclosures and companions of a Christian oath are
(Truth (Falsehood (matter
In (Judgment against (Lightness the (matter and
(Justice (Unlawfulness (manner both.
1. 'In truth:' Ye shall not swear by My name falsely.' Which vice forbidden we call perjury. Each action, we say, is to light super debitam materiam. The due and own matter [74/75] of swearing is a truth. If it fall or light super indebitam materiam, as falsehood, it proveth a sin.
At all times are we bound 'to speak to our neighbour;' but because men are naturally given to have their 'mouth' fraught with 'vanity,' in solemn matters to be sure to bring the truth from us God is set before us. If then when we confess the truth we 'give glory to God,' so if when God being set before us we testify an untruth, it is exceeding contumelious to Him; it is to make Him one that knoweth not all things, or that can be deceived, or that if He know cannot do any harm, or, which is worst, which will willingly be used to bolster out our lives. Perjerare est divers Deo, Descende de Cælo, et assere mecum mendacium hoc.
In an oath of promise, we are to swear 'in truth.' 'He that sweareth an oath, and by it bindeth his soul with a bond, shall not violate his word, but do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth:'Reddes autem Domino juramenta. Yea, by the very light of nature Pharaoh willeth Joseph, 'Go and bury thy father, seeing he made thee swear to do so.' Against which oath men are two ways faulty: 1. If at the swearing, they purpose not, as David saith, 'I have sworn and am utterly purposed'--such is the nature of an oath; 2. If they then purpose, but after a damage being like to ensue, they disappoint their former oath. Touching which we see that when Joshua and the Israelites had sworn to the men of Gibeon, though that oath cost them four great and fair cities, which should otherwise have come to their possession, they would not break through. As contrariwise, Zedekias having given his oath of allegiance to the King of Babylon, when he regarded it not but rose against him not withstanding, God sendeth him word, 'he shall never prosper for so doing.' And to say truth, there is nothing more forcible to move us herein, than to consider God's own practice; Who having 'sworn' for our benefit, though by many our unkindnesses and hard usages provoked, yet, as Himself saith, 'will not break His covenant, nor alter the thing that is gone out of His lips.' Which is it that keepeth us all from perishing; even the immutable truth of God's oath, that we the rather may take it to imitation.
In an oath of proof, the charge ought to be that we speak [75/76] 'nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord.' That 'we say the truth and lie not, our consciences bearing us witness in the Holy Ghost;' which if we do not being charged by a judge, we 'bear' our own 'iniquity.'
Against which oath men are two ways faulty: 1. If either they swear to that which they know to be false; as if a man find and deny it, 'swearing falsely.' 2. Or if they presume to swear directly in a matter wherein themselves are doubtful, or have no sure ground of. As if a man swear, and 'the thing be hid from him.'
The breach of these two sorts of oaths, in regard of the truth, is called perjury, and both in old time and now we greatly complain of it in two places: 1. the one they call Juramenta Officinarum, when men in their shops, so they may utter to their gain, care not how untruly they abuse the name of God, men which, as the Wise Man saith, reckon our life 'as a market,' wherein they 'must be getting on every side,' though it be evil means; or, as the Apostle saith, that do in practice seem to hold that 'gain is godliness;' for all the world as the profane man in the comedy, juramentum rei servanda non perdendæ conditum, that 'oaths were made to thrive by.' Full little knew those men that whatsoever is gotten by false swearing, must by God's law both be restored in the whole sum, and add an overplus beside; else no atonement can be made for them. And if that atonement be not made, shall not prosper. For He will send the flying book into their house, a curse appropriate to those that both swear and steal--that is, steal by swearing--which shall consume both the goods, and the very stone, timber and all, of the house itself.
2. The other they call Juramenta Tribunalium, much more fearful and heinous than the former; when a man--or rather as St. Augustine calleth him, detestanda bellua, no man, but 'a destestable beast'--shall so far presume as in 'the judgment' itself which is God's, before the magistrates which are 'gods' to profane 'the oath of God,' even as it were to come into God's own place, and there to offer Him villainy to His face. A crime so grievous as no nation, were it never so barbarous, but have thought it severely to be punished; some with loss [76/77] of tongue, some of fingers, some of ears, and some of life itself. And howsoever they man, the Prophet saith, the very book of the law which they have touched in testifying an untruth shall have wings given it, and shall pursue them, and cut them off on this side and on that side, till they and their name be rotted from the earth. It is a fearful thing to fall into God's hands on this wise; and of no one sin more dreadful examples. For it is indeed, facere Deum mendacii consortem. We hold it worse in divinity, to lay upon God that evil which we call malum culpæ, than the other which we term malum poenæ, which hath been inflicted on many an innocent good man. Consequently a less civil evil to crucify Christ by any bodily pain than to draw Him into the society of sin, which every perjured person doth as much as in him lieth. Yea, we say that the name of God being fearful to the devils themselves, and bringing them to tremble, that that party that treadeth that most glorious and fearful name under his feet, is in worse estate not only than the wickedest of men, the murderers of Christ, but even than the devil himself. And all this, that we conceive aright of in veritate.
In judicio. For thus far the Pharisees themselves come, to think perjury condemned. But our 'righteousness' is to 'exceed' theirs, and therefore we must seek yet farther.
This clause, we say, standeth against a double vanity, 1. As well in matter, if for a vain, light, trifling matter we swear; 2. As in manner also, if with a vain, light, unadvised mind or affection. For both the matter is to be weighty, grave, and judicial, and we are with due advice and judgment to come to the action.
Against which judicial swearing we complain of two evil kinds: 1. The one juramenta platearum, such as going through the streets, a man shall every day hear--yea, even out of the mouths of children--light, undiscreet, frivolous oaths; 2. The other juramenta popinarum, much worse yet than they, when men in tabling-houses, at their game, blaspheme the name of God most grievously; not content to swear by His whole, dismember Him and pluck Him in pieces, that they may have oaths enough. And that Person of the Holy Trinity, to Whom and to His Name, for taking our flesh [77/78] upon Him, and performing our redemption, even by God's own charge, a special regard is due; and that action of His, which among the rest is most venerable of all others, which is His death, Passion and shedding His blood.
For the matter. The very words of the Commandment teach us it is to be weighty, which speak of God's name as a thing to be lifted up with strength, as it were heavy; and we use not to remove things heavy but upon good occasion.
The nature of an oath is of a bond which none that is wise will easily enter; it is to be drawn from or pressed out of a man, upon necessary cause. Yea it is no further good than it is necessary. For so is our rule: Necassarium extra terminos necessitatis non est bonum; as, purging, blood-letting, which are no longer good than needful. The name of God is as a strong castle, which men fly not out to but when they have need. These shew that for every frivolous matter, and of no importance, we are not vainly to take up God's name. God's name is said to be 'holy,' and 'holy things' may not be put to common and vulgar uses. And in plain words, 'Ye shall not pollute My Name.' Polluting, by God's own wors, being nothing else but to make 'common.' Therefore they to be condemned that, no man urging them, upon no sufficient ground make it common.
For the manner, with great 'regard;' we must swear to the Lord with all our heart. They are highly praised that did so; that is, when they are to take an oath, they are to call together the powers of their soul, and with sad and serious deliberation to undertake it; that is, to do it in judicio. Therefore in the law, God maketh it the entry, 'Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt swear by His Name;' that is, with due fear and reverence thou shalt swear. For, as God's name is 'holy,' not for every common matter; so is it also 'reverend,' not with an unregarding affection to be taken in our mouths.
To this end is it that the Church of God excludeth such persons from oaths as are presumed that in 'judgment' they cannot or will take them: as persons already convict of perjury, that they will not; those that under years, that they cannot. To this end also there have ever been used ceremonies, that by that means there might be a reverend regard [78/79] stricken into the mind of the swearer. Therefore the very Angels, when they swear, do it not without ceremony, but with lifting up their hands 'to Heaven.' The Patriarchs, under the law of nature, not without ceremony, but laying their 'hand' on 'the thigh,' therein have reference to the incarnation of the blessed Seed. The people of God under the law came into the temple, and before 'the altar,' and in the presence of the priest, uncovered, so took their oath; all these serving to stir up their reverence, that what they did they might do in 'judgment.'
Therefore, they are to be condemned that passionately swear--which passion always bereaveth men of judgment--either in anger as David, which 'he repented of,' or in desire as Saul, which proved prejudicial to him and his people. And they, that as not of any passion, so without all manner of respect, to avow any idle fond fancy of their own, even as it were water, pour out the name of God.
And they yet more that not only unadvisedly sometimes, but continually as it were by a custom make it an interjection of filling for all their speeches, and cannot utter one sentence without it; yea, which thereby come to a diabetica passio of swearing, that oaths run from them and they feel them not.
But above all they are come to that pitch, that even in contempt they swear, and the rather because they be told of it. These persons the Church of God hath so detested, that they are excommunicate without sentence of any judge or canon, and Christian people forbidden to have any fellowship with them.
In justitiâ. As the matter of the oath is to be true and weighty, and the manner with due advice and 'judgment,' so is it to be taken also to a good and just end. And of this there is to be had chief regard, for that divers times both false and rash oaths are not hurtful save to the swearer only. But these tend always to some mischief beside the sin of the swearing.
An oath is of the nature of a bond, and bindeth a man to do what he sweareth. Now it is sin enough to do evil of itself, but to bind himself to do evil, and to do evil, and to make the name of Good the bond, that is sin out of measure sinful. God hath ordained [79/80] that only for truth and right His name should be used: to abuse it, to uphold falsehood, and to enforce men to evil dealing, is to charge a sanctuary and to make it a brothel house. These we call latronum juramenta, such oaths as thieves and such kind of persons take one of another; for they do not only 'join in hand,' as Solomon telleth us, but do also by oath bind themselves to do mischief. Tobiah the special hinderer of the temple had 'many in Judah; his 'sworn' men.
That an oath may be 'in justice,' it is required that it be of a thing possible. No man ever required an oath to an impossibility apparent. So Abraham's servant saith, 'What if I cannot possibly get any maiden to come with me?' Abraham's answer is, then 'he shall be free from the oath.' So that if at the present it seem possible--otherwise not to be sworn to--and after there do emergere impossibile, the party is innocent. The same is observed touching our knowledge, for so the law saith: A man shall testify that only which he hath seen, heard or known, and more shall not be required of him. So the law of nature, only de quibus sciam poteroque.
Now because as Joseph well telleth us that we only 'can do' that which lawfully we can, and Christian possibility implieth lawfulness, that is the second point of injustitia, and the second caveat, Ne illiicitum; which is either primâ facie, Saul's oath, or it is likewise emergens, as in Herod's oath, at the first no harm being understood, but after the demand made it was sin to keep it. So saith Ezra in the law, Secundum Legem fiat, and St. Paul in the Gospel. They sit to judge secundum id quod in Lege est.
Put these together, that we be required to swear nothing but the truth, in veritate; that we do it upon advice and consideration, in judicio; that we do it but of those things we know and can tell, and of those whereto law bindeth us; there is no more required in a Christian oath.This to be remembered, because divers which will be accounted Christians refuse in our days the oath which hath all her attendants. If the magistrate, either civil or ecclesiastical. 1. Either by a curse, where the party is not known, 2. Or by tendering an oath, and that again double: 1. Either by way of swearing them. Where the [80/81] party is accused by complaint, detection, presumption, common fame, he is bound to purge himself, and satisfy the people, in adultery, theft, or any crime.
But what if it tend to his damage, or to the prejudice of his liberty? Our rule is, Qui potest ad poenam, potest ad quæ poena consequitur. Therefore in a matter of life and limb we admit not the oath, because no man can lawfully swear to cast away or maim himself. But a man may directly swear to his loss in his goods, and to become a prisoner, as Shimei did. Therefore swear, and be sworn in those causes and questions whereto law doth bind to give answer, though fine and commitments do ensue upon them.
This questions remaineth, If a man have sworn without those, what he is to do? When an oath binds, when it doth not?
We hold, no man is so straitened between two sins, but without committing a third he may get forth. Herod thought he could not; and therefore being in a strait betwixt murder and perjury, thought he could have no issue but by putting St. John Baptist to death. It was no so; for having sworn, and his oath proving unlawful, if he had repented him of his unadvisedness in swearing, and gone no further, he had had his issue without any new offence.
1. If then we have sworn to be simply evil, the rule is, Ne sit sacramentum pietatis vinculum iniquitatis.
2. If it hinder a greater or higher good, the rule is, Ne sit sacramentum pietatis impedimentumm pietatis.
3. If it be in things indifferent, as we term them, absque grano salis, it is a rash oath, to be repented not to be executed.
1. If the oath be simply made, yet, as we say, it doth subjacere civili intellectui; so as God's oath, and therefore those conditions may exclude the event, and the oath remain good.
2. If in regard of the manner it is to be exhorted from us, the rule is, Injusta vincula rumpit justitia.
3. If rashly, Poenitenda promissio, non perficienda præsimptio.
4. If to any man for his benefit or for favour to him, if that party release it, it bindeth not.