Matthew 5:33-37. Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time Or rather, was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, &c. See the margin. The Jewish doctors affirmed, that oaths were obligatory according to the nature of the things by which a man swears: Matthew 23:10. Hence they allowed the use of such oaths in common conversation as they said were not obligatory; pretending that there was no harm in them, because the law, which forbade them to forswear themselves, and enjoined them to perform their vows, meant such solemn oaths only as were of a binding nature. It is this detestable morality which Jesus condemns in the following words. But I say unto you, Swear not at all In your common discourse one with another, but barely affirm or deny. Swear not by any thing, on the supposition that the oath will not bind you. “For all oaths whatever, those by the lowest of the creatures not excepted, are obligatory;” because, if they “have any meaning at all, they are an appeal to the great Creator; consequently they are oaths by him, implying a solemn invocation of his wrath on such of the creatures sworn by as are capable of God’s wrath; and for the other, the oath implies a solemn imprecation, in case of your swearing falsely, that you may be for ever deprived of all the comfort or advantage you have in, or hope from those creatures. Swear not, therefore, neither by heaven, &c. By comparing Matthew 23:16, it appears that our Lord is here giving a catalogue of oaths, which, in the opinion of the doctors, were not obligatory. His meaning therefore is, Swear not at all, unless you have a mind to perform; because every oath being really obligatory, he who, from an opinion that some are not, swears voluntarily by heaven, or by the earth, or by Jerusalem, or by his own head, is without all doubt guilty of perjury. Much more is he guilty, who, when called thereto by lawful authority, swears with an intention to falsify. But by no means does Jesus condemn swearing truly before a magistrate, or upon grave and solemn occasions, because that would have been to prohibit both the best method of ending controversies, Hebrews 6:16; and a high act of religious worship, Deuteronomy 6:3; Isaiah 65:16; an oath being not only a solemn appeal to the Divine Omniscience, from which nothing can be hid, but a direct acknowledgment of God, as the great patron and protector of right, and the avenger of falsehood.” But let your communication be yea, yea Avoid the use of all such oaths, as of those in which the name of God is directly expressed, and maintain such sincerity and truth in all your words as will merit the belief of your acquaintance; so that, in common conversation, to gain yourselves credit, you need do no more than barely assert or deny any matter, without invoking the name of God at all. For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil Εκ του πονηρου , Of the evil one: in common discourse, whatever is more than affirmation or negation, ariseth from the temptation of the devil, who tempts men to curse and to swear, that he may lessen in them, and in all who hear them, a due reverence of the Divine Majesty, and by this means lead them, at length, to perjury, even in the most solemn instances; considerations which show the evil nature of this sin in the strongest light. The Apostle James expresses this sentiment thus, James 5:12, Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay. The first yea and nay, therefore, signify the promise or assertion; the second the fulfilment. Accordingly we find the word yea used as a promise, Revelation 1:7, where it is explained by amen; likewise, as the fulfilment of a promise, 2 Corinthians 1:10, where we are told that the promises of God are all in Christ, yea and amen. On the other hand, concerning those whose actions do not correspond to their promises, it is said, 2 Corinthians 1:18-19, that their word is yea and nay: Our word toward you was not yea and nay. Macknight.
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