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The swearing of an oath is a devotional exercise. Every act performed in holding intercourse with God is religious; and therefore this. The performance of it is introduced along with that of other actions that certainly imply the rendering of religious homage: “ Thou shalt fear the Lord thy
. God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name." It is included in the exercises that embody the worship of God. Parallel to the last quoted passage is this which follows.
“ Him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice.” To swear by his name is not to do sacrifice; and is therefore to perform another part of his worship. The oath was wont to come before the altar of the Lord, where sacred services alone should be performed. As a form of calling on the name of God, it was associated with the exercise of giving thanks to him, and is regarded as a tender of devout obedience to him by him who said, “ Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”
In the oath is implied a condensed adoration. It is made to God as distinguished from every creature, and recognises the whole revealed glory of his character. Whatever be the warranted form of the oath, it is made to the same all-glorious Being, and presents to him one celebration of his infinitely transcendent excellence. Declaring to him that the Lord liveth, it owns his wondrous self-existence. Offered to Him that liveth for ever and ever, it celebrates his eternal pre-existence and existence to eternal ages. Presented to him as God, it acknowledges that infinitude of perfection which none can by searching find out, but all moral creatures are bound to adore—the incomprehensible Spirit whom, though infinite in being, no man hath seen, nor can see. Addressed to him as the God of heaven and of the earth, it hails with reverence the overwhelming display of might omnipotent, wisdom boundless, goodness unlimited, and sovereignty absolute, made in the creation and upholding of matter and immortal spirits—and the holiness, justice, goodness, and truth evolved in the constitution of all created things. Made by his name as Lord of all, it gives acknowledgment to his infinitely wise and sovereign allotments to angels and men—to his undivided sovereignty over the numerous hosts of creation—to his title to the universal homage and continued obedience of all — to the glory of the adorable Lawgiver to heaven and earth, the present witness and future judge of his moral, though rebellious subjects—and to the unimpeachable rectitude of an administration that comprehends heaven, and earth, and hell, and extends from the origin of creatures to eternity. Sworn to him as the Amen, his truth and faithfulness keeping mercy and truth from generation to generation with gratitude it proclaims. And however used, it recognises him as the avenger of the oppressed, the friend of those who keep the truth, and the just God taking vengeance upon those who dishonour his name, or otherwise transgress his commands But, above all, it gives honour to him as the God of salvation. To his sovereign mercy in providing deliverance for men from the days of eternity; to his sovereign kindness in proclaiming himself as a Saviour, and holding intercourse with men in order to their recovery
from state of condemnation ; to his wondrous grace dis
l played in the government of all things for the good of his church, and in affording means of a reverential appeal to himself in the duties of religion, and especially in swearing by his name, it gives testimony in a manner peculiar to itself. Heaven, earth, and hell—the past, the present, and the future-the time that now is, the final audit, and an endless eternity-and above all, God himself, who can be compared with none other, at once it recognises as present. How solemn the perform
ance of the act! God it invokes in every aspect of his character. More fully than any other exercise, his perfections and administration it contemplates, and in a manner all-important shows forth his praise.
The oath is a solemn appeal to God, invoked as witness, that some statement made is true. The declaration may be an assertion concerning fact, or a promise. No creature, besides the being that gives the oath, may know certainly whether the statement be true or false; but God always knows, and he is called upon in this, as knowing the truth. In every case in which it is used, whether in secret or in public, it is the most complete evidence that can be afforded of the sincerity of those who swear; and in public, it is the highest satisfaction concerning any averment that men could demand. It is used to give the weight of God's testimony to show that a given statement is made in truth.
In the swearing of a lawful oath, a covenant with God is made by the party that swears. Whatever be the nature of the responsibility connected with the act engaged in by whomsoever, it cannot be doubted that an unregenerate person cannot accepted in it; but a true Christian in making oath lawfully, will be approved before God. To swear in suitable circumstances is the duty of all; but it is the privilege of those only who are in covenant with God. When the oath is given to confirm an assertion, it is sworn in confirmation of a covenant with God. First, when used, not in giving evidence before men, but in religious exercises strictly personal, the oath is never sworn but to confirm truth. An assertion made before God in giving adherence to truth, is an acquiescence in it, and being uttered in accordance with the requirement that truth be spoken, and implying an engagement to abide by it, is a solemn declaration of obligation to God. The Covenant of Grace
presented under some aspect is thus agreed to; a covenant is made, and the swearing of the oath is its ratification. In these words, Israel were invited to take hold on God's Covenant. “ If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me; and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove."43 And the oath prescribed for them on returning was explicitly an averment of truth. - Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness.” Likewise, to swear at any time devotionally, “the Lord liveth,” is most solemnly to acquiesce in the injunctions to believe upon him which his word contains, and thus to accede to his Covenant. And what is true regarding such an acknowledgment of him as the ever-living. One, obtains regarding the act of swearing to him for the purpose of attesting any other important truth. To swear to the truth of any declaration, is to swear to him as the God of truth, and accordingly by covenant to take hold upon him as such. Secondly, when the oath given to confirm an assertion is required by men having a right to claim it, those call upon the party to be sworn, to promise to them to speak the truth, and to invoke God to witness that the truth is spoken. The juror agrees to the demand, he accepts the condition, that his word and oath will be relied on, and he in giving his oath at once comes under a covenant obligation to man to speak the truth, and confirms his promise by an appeal to the God of truth. Thus, in a court of justice, or before a church court, a witness makes in reality a compact with the lawful authority that requires his oath, and swears in confirmation of his engagement. It is of equal consequence to the present argument whether he swear to the truth of a statement made before the taking of his oath, or first give his oath, and then make his pro
43 Jer. iv. 1, 2.
mised representation. In the latter case, which is the most common, there is most manifestly made a covenant transaction between the witness and those in authority ; but in the former, there is constituted an engagement not less really of a covenant character. Although, as in the case of giving an affidavit, the assertion may seem to precede the oath, yet, in reality, that is not accepted, and therefore is not completely made till the oath be given : and consequently, as in the other case, the assertion is that which is promised in the oath. In each, the witness comes under an engagement to speak the truth. It is one indeed generally of a short period, yet not on that account the less an engagement. In giving his testimony, he fulfils his covenant promise; and its effects in settling controversies, or leading to the execution of justice, may not be less important than those of a covenant, the fulfilment of the conditions of which might occupy a much longer time. Nor, when an oath is claimed and received by those in authority, is there a covenant made merely among men; but also by the juror, a covenant is made with God. The law of God requires the fulfilment of every lawful promise made by man to man; a simple promise to man, however, though God may be acknowledged in it, is not strictly a promise to Him. But by the appending of an oath, God is at once appealed to as a witness and judge, and as a party to a covenant between the juror and himself; and an obligation to God, as well as an engagement to men, is explicitly constituted. Were it not so, how could the addition of the oath by the juror increase the security given in the simple promise, and the Lord be called to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he might swear ?"4 Under one aspect, the engagement
with men entered into by swearing to the truth of an assertion, is different from the rela
44 2 Chron. vi. 22, 23.