Homily 1.7 - Against Swearing and Perjury

Discussion in 'Detailed Study' started by Botolph, Mar 8, 2017.

  1. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    First Book of Homilies - Homily 7

    Against Swearing and Perjury.

    Almighty God, intending his most Holy Name should be held in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commands no one should take his name vainly in the mouth, threatening punishment to those who irreverently abuse it by swearing, or for swearing, and blasphemy.

    How and in what Causes it is Lawful to Swear.
    To the intent therefore that this commandment may be the better known and kept, it shall be declared to you, both how it is lawful for Christian people to swear, and also what peril and danger it is vainly to swear, or to be forsworn. First, when Judges require others of the people for declaration or opening of the truth, or for execution of justice, this manner of swearing is lawful.

    Also when we make faithful promises calling to witness the Name of God, to keep covenants, honest promises, statutes, laws and good customs, as Christian Princes do in their conclusions of peace, for conservation of common good, and private persons promise their fidelity in matrimony, or one to another in honesty and true friendship: and all people when they swear to keep common laws, and local statutes, and good customs, for due order to be had and continued among all, when subjects swear to be true and faithful to their King and Sovereign Lord, and when Judges, Magistrates, and Officers swear truly to execute their Offices, and when a one would affirm the truth to the setting forth of God’s glory (for the salvation of the people) in open preaching of the Gospel, or in giving good counsel privately for their souls health: all these ways of swearing, for causes necessary and honest, is lawful.

    But when folk do swear of custom, in reasoning, buying and selling, or other daily communications (as may be common and great swearers) such kind of swearing is ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden by the commandement of God. For such swearing is nothing else, but taking of God's Holy Name in vain. And here is to be noted, that lawful swearing is not forbidden, but commanded by Almighty God. For we have examples of Christ, and Godly men, in Holy Scripture, that did swear themselves, and required oaths of others likewise. And God's Commandment is, You shall fear your Lord God, and shall swear by his Name (Deuteronomy 6.13). And Almighty God by his prophet David said, Everyone shall be praised that swear by him (Psalms 63.11).

    So did our Saviour Christ swear at divers times, saying, Verily, verily (John 3.3). And St. Paul swears so, I call God to witness (2 Corinthians 1.23). And Abraham (waxing old) required an oath of his servant, that he should procure a wife for his son Isaac, which should come of his own kindred (Genesis 24.3): and the servant did swear that he would perform his masters will. Abraham also being required, did swear to Abimelech the King of Gerar, that he should not hurt him, nor his posterity (Genesis 21.23), and likewise Abimelech swore to Abraham. And David swore to be and continue a faithful friend to Jonathan, and Jonathan did swear to become a faithful friend to David.

    Also God once commanded, that if a thing were laid to pledge to anyone, or left with them to keep, if the same thing were stolen, or lost, that the keeper thereof should be sworn before Judges, that he did not convey it away, nor used any deceit in causing the same to be conveyed away, by his consent or knowledge. And Saint Paul saith, that in all matters of controversy between two persons, whereas one says, Yes, and the other, No, so as no due proof can be had of the truth, the end of every such controversy must be an oath administered by a Judge (Hebrews 6.16). And moreover God by the Prophet Jeremiah says, you shall swear, The Lord lives, in truth, in judgment, in righteousness (Jeremiah 4.2). So that whosoever swears when he is required of a Judge, let him be sure in his conscience that his oath have three conditions, and he shall never need to be afraid of perjury.

    What Conditions an Oath Ought to Have?
    First, those that swear, may swear truly, that is, they must (setting apart all favour and affection to the parties) have the truth only before their eyes, and for love thereof, say and speak that which they know to be truth, and no further.

    The Second.
    The second is, they that take an oath, must do it with judgment, not rashly and unadvisedly, but soberly, considering what an oath is.

    The Third.
    The third is, they that swear, must swear in righteousness: that is, for the very zeal and love which they bear to the defence of innocence, to the maintenance of the truth, and of the righteousness of the matter or cause: all profit, disprofit, all love and favour to the person for friendship or kindred laid apart.

    Why We be Willed in Scripture to Swear by the Name of God.
    Thus an oath (if it meets these three conditions) is a part of God's glory, which we are bound by his commandments to give him. For he wills that we shall swear only by his name, not that he has pleasure in oaths, but like as he commanded the Jews to offer sacrifices to him, not for any delight that he had in them, but to keep the Jews from committing of idolatry: so he commanding us to swear by his Holy Name, does not teach us that he delights in swearing, but he thereby forbids all to give his glory to any creature in heaven, earth, or water (Isaiah 42.8).

    So you see that lawful oaths are commanded of God, used of Patriarchs and Prophets, of Christ himself, and of his Apostle Paul. Therefore Christian people must think lawful oaths, both Godly and necessary.

    Properties Had by Lawful Oaths Made and Observed.
    For by lawful promise and covenants confirmed by oaths, Princes and their Countries are confirmed in common tranquillity and peace. By holy promises with calling the name of God to witness, we be made lively members of Christ, when we profess his religion receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. By like holy promise the Sacrament of Matrimony knits husband and wife in perpetual love, that they desire not to be separated for any displeasure or adversity that shall later happen. By lawful oaths, which Kings, Princes, Judges, and Magistrates do swear, common laws are kept inviolate, Justice is indifferently ministered, harmless persons, fatherless children, widows, and poor folk, are defended from murderers, oppressors, and thieves, that they suffer no wrong, nor take any harm. By lawful oaths, mutual society, good will, and good order is kept continually in all communities, as Boroughs, Cities, Towns, and Villages. And by lawful oaths, malefactors are searched out, wrong doers are punished, and they which sustained wrong, are restored to their right. Therefore lawful swearing can not be evil, which brings to us so many godly, good, and necessary things.

    Vain Swearing is Forbidden.
    Wherefore when Christ so earnestly forbad swearing, it may not be understood, as though he did forbid all manner of oaths: but he forbids all vain swearing and forswearing both by God, and by his creatures, as the common use of swearing in buying, selling, and in our daily communication, to the intent every Christian's word should be as well regarded in such matters, as if they should confirm communication with an oath. For every Christian's word (saith St. Jerome) should be so true, that it should be regarded as an oath. And Chrysostom witnessing the same, says, It is not convenient to swear: for what need of us to swear, when it is not lawful for any of us to lie?

    An Objection.
    In life, some will say, I am compelled to swear, for else men that do communicate with me, or do business with me will not believe me.

    An Answer.
    To this, St. Chrysostom says, this shows you are an unjust and deceitful person. For if you were a trusty person, and your deeds agree with your words, you should not need to swear at all.

    Those who use truth and plain speaking in bargaining and communication, have no need of such vain swearing, to show credibility with our neighbours, and the neighbours will not mistrust our sayings. And if credence be so much lost indeed, that no one will believe without swearing, then we may well think credence is clean gone. For truth it is (as Theophylact writes) that no one is less trusted than those who use many oaths. And Almighty God, by the wise man says, those who swear much are be full of sin, and the scourge of God will not depart from their house (Ecclesiasticus 23.11).

    Another Objection.
    But here some will say, for excusing of their many oaths in their daily talk: Why should I not swear, when I swear truly?

    An Answer.
    To such it may be said, that though they swear truly, yet in swearing often unadvisedly, for trifles, without need, and when they should not swear, they are not without fault, but take God's most Holy Name in vain. Much more ungodly and unwise are they, that abuse God's most Holy Name, not only in trading small things daily in all places, but also in eating, drinking, playing, talking and reasoning. As if none of these things might be done, except in doing of them, the most Holy Name of God be commonly used and abused, vainly and irreverently talked of, sworn by, and forsworn, to the breaking of God's commandment, and gaining his indignation.
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  2. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    You have been taught in the first part of this Sermon against swearing and perjury, what great danger it is to use the Name of God in vain. And that all kind of swearing is not unlawful, neither against God's commandment, and that there be three things required in a lawful oath. First, that it be made for the maintenance of the truth. Secondly, that it be made with judgment, not rashly and unadvisedly. Thirdly, for the zeal and love of Justice. You heard also what good comes of lawful oaths, and what danger comes of rash and unlawful oaths.

    Lawful Oaths and Promises would be Better Regarded.
    Now as concerning the rest of the same matter, you shall understand, that as well they use the Name of God in vain, who by an oath make unlawful promises of good and honest things, and don’t do them: as they which do promise evil and unlawful things, and do them. Of such people who regard not their godly promises bound by an oath, but wittingly and wilfully break them, we do read in Holy Scripture two notable punishments. First, Josua and the people of Israel made a league and faithful promise of perpetual goodwill and friendship with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9.15): notwithstanding afterward in the days of wicked Saul, many of the Gibeonites were murdered, contrary to the said faithfull promise made. Wherewith Almighty God was displeased that he sent a universal hunger upon the whole country, which continued for three years.

    And God would not withdraw his punishment, until the said offence was revenged by the death of seven sons, or next kinsmen of King Saul. And whereas Zedekiah King of Jerusalem, had promised fidelity to the king of Chaldea, afterwards when Zedekiah contrary to his oath and allegiance, did rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar: this heathen king by God's permission and sufferance, invading the land of Jewry, and besieging the city of Jerusalem, compelled the said King Zedekiah to flee, and in fleeing, took him prisoner, slew his sons before his face, and put out both his eyes: and binding him with chains, led him prisoner miserably into Babylon (2 Kings 24.17, 20, 2 Kings 25.1-7).

    Unlawful Oaths and Promises are Not be Kept.
    Thus God shows plainly how much he abhors breakers of honest promises bound by an oath made in his Name. And of them that make wicked promises by an oath, and will perform the same, we have example in the Scriptures, chiefly of Herod, of the wicked Jews, and of Jephthah. Herod promised by an oath to the damsel who danced before him, to give her whatever she would ask (Matthew 14.7-11): when she was instructed by her wicked mother to ask the head of Saint John the Baptist, Herod as he took a wicked oath, so he more wickedly perform the same, and cruelly slew the most holy prophet. Likewise did the malicious Jews make an oath, cursing themselves if they did either eat or drink, until they had slain Saint Paul (Acts 23.14).

    And Jephthah when God had given to him victory of the children of Ammon, promised (of a foolish devotion) to God, to offer for a sacrifice to him, that person which of his own house should first meet with him after his return home. By force of which fond and unadvised oath, he did slay his one and only daughter, which came out of his house with mirth and joy to welcome him home (Judges 11.30-39). Thus the promise which he made (most foolishly) to God, against God's everlasting will, and the law of nature, he most cruelly performed, so committing against God a double offence.

    Therefore, whoever makes any promise, binding themselves by an oath: let them foresee that the thing they promises is good, and honest, and not against the commandment of God, and that it is in their power to perform it justly. And such good promises all must keep evermore assuredly. But if one at any time shall, either by ignorance, or of malice, promise and swear to do any thing which is either against the law of Almighty God, or not in one’s power to perform: let them take it to be an unlawful and ungodly oath.

    Against Perjury.
    Now to say something of perjury, with the intent you should know how great and grievous an offence against God wilful perjury is, I will show you what it is to take an oath before a Judge upon a book.

    An Oath Before a Judge.
    First, when laying hands on the Gospel book, swear truly to enquire, and make a true presentation of things wherewith they are charged, and to tell the truth, and doing so truly, not for favor, love, dread, or malice of any person, as God may help them, and the holy contents of that book: They must consider, that book contains God's everlasting truth, his most holy and eternal word, whereby we have forgiveness of our sins, and be made inheritors of heaven, to live forever with God's Angels and Saints, in joy and gladness. In the Gospel Book is contained also God's terrible threats to obstinate sinners, that will not amend their lives, nor believe the truth of God and his holy word, and the everlasting pain prepared in hell for idolaters, hypocrites, for false and vain swarers, for perjured men, for false witness bearers, for false accusers of innocent and guiltless men, and for them which for a favor, hide the crimes of evil doers, that they should not be punished.

    Whoever wilfully falsely swear themselves upon Christ's Holy Evangelists, they utterly forsake God's mercy, goodness, and truth, the merits of our Saviour Christ’s nativity, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension, they refuse the forgiveness of sins, promised to all penitent sinners, the joys of heaven, the company with Angels and Saints for ever. All which benefits and comforts are promised to true Christians in the Gospel. And they, so being falsely sworn on the Gospel, take themselves to do the Devil’s service, the master of all lies, falsehood, deceit, and perjury, provoking the great indignation and curse of God against them in this life, and the terrible wrath and judgement of our Saviour Christ, at the great day of the last judgement, when he shall justly judge both the quick and the dead, according to their works. For whoever forsakes the truth, for love or displeasure of anyone, or for money and profit to themselves, do forsake Christ, and with Judas betray him.

    Though Perjury Escapes Here Unseen and Unpunished, it Shall Not do so Ever.
    And although such perjured falsehood is now kept secret, it will be opened on the last day, when the secrets of everyone's hearts shall be manifest to all. And then the truth shall appear, and accuse them: and their own conscience, with all the blessed company of Heaven, shall bear witness truly against them. And Christ the righteous judge shall then justly condemn them to everlasting shame and death.

    This sin of perjury, Almighty God by the prophet Malachi threatens to punish severely, saying to the Jews, I will come to you in judgement, and I will be a swift witness and a sharp judge on sorcerers, adulterers, and perjured persons (Malachai 3.5). Which thing to the prophet Zechariah God declared in a vision, where the prophet saw a book fleeing, which was twenty cubits long, and ten cubits broad, God saying then to him, this is the curse that shall go forth upon the face of the earth, for falsehood, false swearing, and perjury. And this curse shall enter into the house of the false and the house of the perjured, and it shall remain in the midst of their house, consume them, and the timber and stones of the house (Zachariah 5.1-4). Thus you see how much God hates perjury, and what punishment God has prepared for false swearers, and perjured persons.

    Thus you have heard, how and in what causes it is lawful for a Christian to swear: you have heard what properties and conditions a lawful oath must have, and also how such lawful oaths are both godly and necessary to be observed: you have heard, that it is not lawful to swear vainly, (that is) other ways then in such causes, and after such sort as is declared. And finally, you have heard how damnable a thing it is, either to forswear ourselves, or to keep an unlawful, and an unadvised oath.

    Wherefore let us earnestly call for grace, that all vain swearing and perjury set apart, we may only use such oaths as be lawful and godly, and that we may truly without all fraud keep the same, according to God's will and pleasure. To whom with the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory. AMEN.
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