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ARTICLE THE THIRTY-NINTH.
Of a Christian Man's Oath.
AS WE CONFESS THAT VAIN AND RASH SWEARING IS FORBIDDEN CHRISTIAN MEN BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND JAMES HIS APOSTLE, SO WE JUDGE THAT THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION DOTH NOT PROHIBIT, BUT THAT A MAN MAY SWEAR WHEN THE MAGISTRATE REQUIRETH, IN A CAUSE OF FAITH AND CHARITY, SO IT BE DONE ACCORDING TO THE PROPHET'S TEACHING, IN JUSTICE, JUDGMENT, AND TRUTH.
AS WE CONFESS
THAT VAIN AND RASH SWEARING IS FORBIDDEN CHRISTIAN MEN BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND JAMES HIS
APOSTLE: The passages here referred to are the following; our Saviour in his sermon upon the Mount says, "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 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 what
soever is more than these cometh of evil (a)." And St. James in his Epistle says, "Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath, but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation (b)." The Jews, in the time of our Saviour, were very much addicted to the use of oaths of various sorts in common conversation, and the above pas sages were directed against that practice: this appears from the expression, "Let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay," which words plainly allude to the ordinary intercourse of social life, and are not applicable to the solemnity of judicial proceedings. And this also is evident from the enumeration of things not to be sworn by, namely, Heaven, Earth, Jerusalem, and the Head," none of which oaths were ever used before magistrates; and the general precepts "Swear not at all," and "Swear not by any other oath," must be considered as prohi biting only all such oaths as are like those which are particularly specified, that is, every kind of VAIN AND RASH SWEARING, but not oaths administered by proper authority, and upon proper occasions.
(a) Matt. c. 5. v. 34, &c.
SOWEJUDGE THAT THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION DOTH NOT PROHIBIT, BUT THAT A MAN MAY SWEAR WHEN THE MAGISTRATE REQUIRETH, IN A CAUSE OF FAITH AND CHARITY, SO IT BE DONE ACCORDING TO THE PROPHET'S TEACHING, IN JUSTICE, JUDGMENT, AND TRUTH. All decisions in courts of judicature, and proceedings before magistrates, must be founded upon evidence; and therefore whatever promotes the veracity of witnesses contributes to the preservation of justice and order in the world. The strongest obligation to truth, which can operate upon the minds of men, is a solemn appeal to God; and upon that principle oaths have been constantly used in the administration of municipal and criminal law. These oaths are not forbidden in Scripture; and therefore magistrates are at liberty to require them, in the execution of their office, as the best means of attaining the great ends of civil government. The article says, IN A CAUSE OF FAITH AND CHARITY, that is, when faith or truth is to be established, and charity or good-will among men can be promoted by putting an end to strife, "for an oath for confirmation is an end of all controversy (c)," which words admit the lawfulness of an oath, when applied to the settle
(c) Heb. c. 6. v. 16.
ment of points in litigation. St. Paul in his Epistles frequently calls God to witness the truth of what he asserts (d), which proves that all oaths are not unlawful in Christians.
Profane swearing is forbidden by the third commandment; but that prohibition was evidently not designed to extend to every use of oaths; for Moses expressly says, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name (e)." And under the Jewish dispensation, judges had a power to adjure in the name of God, either to draw a confession from an accused person, or a faithful testimony from a witness: "if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing (or adjuration) and is a witness whether he hath seen or known it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity (f)." And thus our Saviour himself, in obedience to this law of Moses, although he had before been silent, answered the high priest, when he adjured him by the living God (g), that is, called upon him to answer upon oath. The form of administering oaths among us is different from that formerly practised among the
(d) Rom. c. 1. v. 9. c. 9. v. 1. 2 Cor. c. 1. v. 18.. Gal. c. 1. v. 20.
(e) Deut. c. 6. v. 13.
Vide Patrick in loc.
Jews; but the obligation they carry with them, and the principle upon which they rest, are precisely the same.
THE PROPHET'S TEACHING, mentioned at the end of this article, refers to the following passage in Jeremiah: "And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness (h)."-" God himself hath here given us directions how to swear; where we may observe the form of the oath, he would have taken, The Lord liveth;' and then the manner how he would have it taken, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness.' In truth;' that is, that the thing a man swears, be true in itself, and known to be so to him that sweareth, and that he swears it truly, sincerely, heartily, without any equivocation or mental reservation. In judgment;" that is, with such caution, prudence, direction, and reverence, as becometh those who speak of him, by whom they speak, in whom they live, and by whom their very thoughts as well as actions, are weighed. 'In righteousness;' that is, the matter of the oath must be lawful and just, agreeable to God's holy word, or at least not contrary to it: and what is thus sworn, must be righteously and faithfully performed. These rules God himself hath prescribed to be diligently
(h) Jer. c. 4. v. 2.