HOMILY ON SWEARING AND PERJURY
A SERMON AGAINST Swearing and Periury.
ALmighty GOD, to the intent his most holy Name should be had in honour, and euermore be magnified of the people, commandeth that no man should take his Name vainely in his mouth, threatning punishment vnto him that vnreuerently abuseth it by swearing, forswearing, and blasphemie.
How and in what causes it is lawfull to sweare. To the intent therefore that this commandement may be the better knowen and kept, it shall bee declared vnto you, both how it is lawfull for Christian people to sweare, and also what perill and danger it is vainely to sweare, or to be forsworne. First, when Iudges require othes of the people for declaration or opening of the trueth, or for execution of iustice, this manner of swearing is lawfull. Also when men make faithfull promises with calling to witnesse of the Name of GOD, to keepe couenants, honest promises, statutes, lawes and good customes, as Christian Princes doe in their conclusions of peace, for conseruation of common wealths, and priuate persons promise their fidelitie in Matrimony, or one to another in honestie and true friendship: and all men when they doe sweare to keepe common lawes, and locall statutes, and good customes, for due order to be had and continued among men, when Subiects doe sweare to be true and faithfull to their King and Soueraigne Lord, and when Iudges, Magistrates, and Officers sweare truely to execute their Offices, and when a man would affirme the trueth to the setting foorth of Gods glorie (for the saluation of the people) in open preaching of the Gospel, or in giuing of good counsell priuately for their soules health: all these maner of swearing, for causes necessary and honest, be lawfull. But when men doe sweare of custome, in reasoning, buying and selling, or other daily communications (as many be common and great swearers) such kind of swearing is vngodly, vnlawfull, and forbidden by the commandement of GOD. For such swearing is nothing els, but taking of GOD'S holy name in vaine. And here is to be noted, that lawfull swearing is not forbidden, but commanded by Almighty GOD. For we haue examples of Christ, and godly men, in holy Scripture, that did sweare themselues, and required othes of others likewise. And GOD'S Commandement is, Thou shalt dread thy Lord GOD, and shalt sweare by his Name (Deuteronomy 6.13). And Almightie GOD by his Prophet Dauid saith, All men shall be praised that sweare by him (Psalms 63.11).
Thus did our Sauiour Christ sweare diuers times, saying, Verily, verily (John 3.3). And S. Paul sweareth thus, I call GOD to witnesse (2 Corinthians 1.23). And Abraham (waxing old) required an oath of his seruant, that he should procure a wife for his sonne Isahac, which should come of his owne kinred (Genesis 24.3): and the seruant did sweare that he would performe his masters will. Abraham also being required, did sweare vnto Abimelech the king of Geraris, that hee should not hurt him, nor his posteritie (Genesis 21.23), and likewise did Abimelech sweare vnto Abraham. And Dauid did sweare to be and continue a faithfull friend to Ionathan, and Ionathan did sweare to become a faithfull friend vnto Dauid.
Also God once commanded, that if a thing were laide to pledge to any man, or left with him to keepe, if the same thing were stollen, or lost, that the keeper thereof should be sworne before Iudges, that hee did not conueigh it away, nor vsed any deceit in causing the same to bee conueied away, by his consent or knowledge. And Saint Paul saith, that in all matters of controuersie betweene two persons, whereas one sayth, Yea, and the other, Nay, so as no due proofe can be had of the truth, the end of euery such controuersie must be an oath ministred by a Iudge (Hebrews 6.16). And moreouer GOD by the Prophet Ieremy sayth, Thou shalt sweare, The Lord liueth, in trueth, in iudgement, in righteousnesse (Jeremiah 4.2). So that whosoeuer sweareth when hee is required of a Iudge, let him bee sure in his conscience that his oath haue three conditions, and he shall neuer need to be afrayd of periurie.
What condition an oath ought to haue. First, he that sweareth, may sweare truely, that is, hee must (setting apart all fauour and affection to the parties) haue the trueth onely before his eyes, and for loue thereof, say and speake that which hee knoweth to be trueth, and no further.
The second. The second is, he that taketh an oath, must doe it with iudgement, not rashly and vnaduisedly, but soberly, considering what an oath is.
The third. The third is, hee that Sweareth, must sweare in righteousnesse: that is, for the very zeale and loue which hee beareth to the defence of innocencie, to the maintenance of the trueth, and of the righteousnesse of the matter or cause: all profit, disprofit, all loue and fauour vnto the person for friendship or kinred layd apart.
Why wee bee willed in scripture to sweare by the Name of God. Thus an oath (if it haue with it these three conditions) is a part of GOD'S glory, which we are bound by his commandements to giue vnto him. For hee willeth that wee shall sweare onely by his name, not that hee hath pleasure in oathes, but like as hee commanded the Iewes to offer sacrifices vnto him, not for any delight that he had in them, but to keep the Iewes from committing of idolatrie: so he commanding vs to sweare by his holy name, doeth not teach vs that he delighteth in swearing, but he thereby forbiddeth all men to giue his glory to any creature in heauen, earth, or water (Isaiah 42.8). Hitherto you see, that oathes lawfull are commanded of GOD, vsed of Patriarches and Prophets, of Christ himselfe, and of his Apostle Paul. Therefore Christian people must thinke lawfull oathes, both godly and necessary.
Commodities had by lawfull oths made and obserued. For by lawfull promise and couenants confirmed by oathes, Princes and their Countries are confirmed in common tranquillity & peace. By holy promises with calling the name of GOD to witnesse, we be made liuely members of Christ, when wee professe his Religion receiuing the Sacrament of Baptisme. By like holy promise the Sacrament of Matrimonie knitteth man and wife in perpetuall loue, that they desire not to be separated for any displeasure or aduersity that shall after happen. By lawfull oathes, which Kings, Princes, Iudges, and Magistrates doe sweare, common lawes are kept inuiolate, Iustice is indifferently ministred, harmelesse persons, fatherlesse children, widowes, and poore men, are defended from murderers, oppressours, and theeues, that they suffer no wrong, nor take any harme. By lawfull oathes, mutuall society, amity, and good order is kept continually in all comminalties, as Boroughes, Cities, Townes, and Villages. And by lawfull oathes, malefactors are searched out, wrong doers are punished, and they which sustaine wrong, are restored to their right. Therefore lawfull swearing can not be euill, which bringeth vnto vs so many godly, good, and necessary commodities.
Vaine swearing is forbidden. Wherfore when Christ so earnestly forbad swearing, it may not be vnderstood, as though hee did forbid all maner of oathes: but he forbiddeth all vaine swearing and forswearing both by GOD, and by his creatures, as the common vse of swearing in buying, selling, and in our dayly communication, to the intent euery Christian mans word should be aswell regarded in such matters, as if he should confirme his communication with an oath. For euery Christian mans word (sayth S. Hierome) should be so true, that it should bee regarded as an oath. And Chrysostome witnessing the same, sayth, It is not conuenient to sweare: for what needeth vs to sweare, when it is not lawfull for one of vs to make a lie vnto another?
An obiection. Peraduenture some will say, I am compelled to sweare, for else men that doe commune with me, or do buy and sell with me will not beleeue me.
An answer. To this, answereth S. Chrysostome, that he that thus sayth, sheweth himselfe to be an vniust and a deceitfull person. For if hee were a trustie man, and his deedes taken to agree with his words, he should not need to sweare at all. For he that vseth trueth and plainenesse in his bargayning and communication, he shall haue no need by such vaine swearing, to bring himselfe in credence with his neighbours, nor his neighbours will not mistrust his sayings. And if his credence be so much lost indeed, that hee thinketh no man will beleeue him without he sweare, then hee may well thinke his credence is cleane gone. For trueth it is (as Theophylactus writeth) that no man is lesse trusted, then he that vseth much to sweare. And Almighty GOD by the Wise man sayth, That man which sweareth much shall bee full of sinne, and the scourge of GOD shall not depart from his house (Ecclesiasticus 23.11).
Another obiection. But heere some men will say, for excusing of their many oathes in their dayly talke: Why should I not sweare, when I sweare truely?
An answer. To such men it may be sayd, that though they sweare truly, yet in swearing often vnaduisedly, for trifles, without necessity, and when they should not sweare, they be not without fault, but doe take GOD'S most holy name in vaine. Much more vngodly and vnwise men are they, that abuse GOD'S most holy name, not onely in buying and selling of small things dayly in all places, but also in eating, drinking, playing, communing and reasoning. As if none of these things might be done, except in doing of them, the most holy name of GOD bee commonly vsed and abused, vainely and vnreuerently talked of, sworne by, and forsworne, to the breaking of GOD'S commandement, and procurement of his indignation.
THE SECOND PART OF THE SERMON OF SWEARING.
YOu haue beene taught in the first part of this Sermon against swearing and periurie, what great danger it is to vse the name of GOD in vaine. And that all kinde of swearing is not vnlawfull, neither against GOD'S commandement, and that there be three things required in a lawfull oath. First, that it bee made for the maintenance of the trueth. Secondly, that it bee made with iudgement, not rashly and vnaduisedly. Thirdly, for the zeale and loue of Iustice. Ye heard also what commodities commeth of lawfull oathes, and what danger commeth of rash and vnlawfull oathes.
Lawfull oths and promises would be better regarded. Now as concerning the rest of the same matter, you shall vnderstand, that aswell they vse the name of GOD in vaine, that by an oath make vnlawfull promises of good and honest things, and performe them not: as they which doe promise euill and vnlawfull things, and doe performe the same. Of such men that regard not their godly promises bound by an oath, but wittingly and wilfully breaketh them, wee doe reade in holy Scripture two notable punishments. First, Iosua and the people of Israel made a league and faithfull promise of perpetuall amitie and friendship with the Gabaonites (Joshua 9.15): not withstanding afterward in the dayes of wicked Saul, many of these Gabaonites were murdered, contrary to the sayde faithfull promise made. Wherewith Almighty GOD was sore displeased that hee sent an vniuersall hunger vpon the whole countrey, which continued by the space of three yeeres. And GOD would not withdraw his punishment, vntill the sayd offence was reuenged by the death of seuen sonnes, or next kinsmen of king Saul. And whereas Zedekias king of Hierusalem, had promised fidelitie to the king of Chaldea, afterwarde when Zedechias contrarie to his oath and allegiance, did rebell against K. Nabuchodonosor: this heathen king by GOD'S permission and sufferance, inuading the land of Iurie, and besieging the citie of Hierusalem, compelled the sayd king Zedechias to flee, and in fleeing, tooke him prisoner, slewe his sonnes before his face, and put out both his eyes: and binding him with chaines, led him prisoner miserablie into Babylon (2 Kings 24.17, 20, 2 Kings 25.1-7).
Vnlawfull oathes and promises are not bee kept. Thus doeth GOD shew plainely how much hee abhorreth breakers of honest promises bound by an oath made in his Name. And of them that make wicked promises by an oath, and will performe the same, wee haue example in the Scriptures, chiefely of Herod, of the wicked Iewes, and of Iephtah. Herode promised by an oath vnto the Damosell which danced before him, to giue vnto her whatsoeuer shee would aske (Matthew 14.7-11): when shee was instructed before of her wicked mother to aske the head of Saint Iohn Baptist, Herod as hee tooke a wicked oath, so hee more wickedly performed the same, and cruelly slewe the most holy Prophet. Likewise did the malicious Iewes make an oath, cursing themselues if they did either eate or drinke, vntill they had slaine Saint Paul (Acts 23.14). And Iephtah when GOD had giuen to him victorie of the children of Ammon, promised (of a foolish deuotion) vnto GOD, to offer for a sacrifice vnto him, that person which of his owne house should first meete with him after his returne home. By force of which fonde and vnaduised oath, hee did slay his owne and onely daughter, which came out of his house with mirth and ioy to welcome him home (Judges 11.30-39). Thus the promise which hee made (most foolishly) to GOD, against GOD'S euerlasting will, and the law of nature, most cruelly hee performed, so committing against GOD a double offence. Therefore, whosoeuer maketh any promise, binding himselfe thereunto by an oath: let him foresee that the thing which hee promiseth, bee good, and honest, and not against the commandement of GOD, and that it bee in his owne power to performe it iustly. And such good promises must all men keepe euermore assuredly. But if a man at any time shall, either of ignorance, or of malice, promise and sweare to doe any thing which is either against the law of Almighty GOD, or not in his power to performe: let him take it for an vnlawfull and vngodly oath.
Against periurie. Now something to speake of periurie, to the intent you should know how great and grieuous an offence against GOD this wilfull periurie is, I will shew you what it is to take an oath before a Iudge vpon a booke.
An oath before a Iudge. First, when they laying their hands vpon the Gospell booke, doe sweare truely to enquire, and to make a true presentment of things wherewith they be charged, and not to let from saying the trueth, and doing truely, for fauour, loue, dread, or malice of any person, as GOD may helpe them, and the holy contents of that booke: They must consider, that in that booke is contayned GOD'S euerlasting truth, his most holy and eternall word, whereby we haue forgiuenesse of our sinnes, and be made inheritours of heauen, to liue for euer with GOD'S Angels and Saints, in ioy and gladnesse. In the Gospell booke is contayned also GOD'S terrible threats to obstinate sinners, that will not amend their liues, nor beleeue the trueth of GOD his holy word, and the euerlasting paine prepared in hell for Idolaters, hypocrites, for false and vaine swearers, for periured men, for false witnesse bearers, for false condemners of innocent and guiltlesse men, and for them which for fauour, hide the crimes of euill doers, that they should not bee punished. So that whosoeuer wilfully forsweare themselues vpon Christs holy Euangelie, they vtterly forsake GOD'S mercy, goodnesse, and trueth, the merits of our Sauiour Christs natiuity, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension, they refuse the forgiuenesse of sinnes, promised to all penitent sinners, the ioyes of heauen, the company with Angels and Saints for euer. All which benefits and comforts are promised vnto true Christian persons in the Gospell. And they, so being forsworne vpon the Gospell, doe betake themselues to the Diuels seruice, the master of all lies, falshood, deceit, and periurie, prouoking the great indignation and curse of GOD against them in this life, and the terrible wrath and iudgement of our Sauiour Christ, at the great day of the last iudgement, when hee shall iustly iudge both the quicke and the dead, according to their workes. For whosoeuer forsaketh the trueth, for loue of displeasure of any man, or for lucre and profit to himselfe, doeth forsake Christ, and with Iudas betray him.
Though periurie doe escape heerevn spied and vnpunished, it shall not doe so euer. And although such periured mens falshood bee now kept secret, yet it shall bee opened at the last day, when the secrets of all mens hearts shall bee manifest to all the world. And then the trueth shall appeare, and accuse them: and their owne conscience, with all the blessed company of Heauen, shall beare witnesse truely against them. And Christ the righteous Iudge shall then iustly condemne them to euerlasting shame and death. This sinne of periurie, Almighty GOD by the Prophet Malachie doeth threaten to punish sore, saying vnto the Iewes, I will come to you in iudgement, and I will bee a swift witnesse and a sharpe Iudge vpon sorcerers, adulterers, and periured persons (Malachai 3.5). Which thing to the Prophet Zachary GOD declareth in a vision, wherein the Prophet saw a booke fleeing, which was twenty cubites long, and ten cubites broad, GOD saying then vnto him, this is the curse that shall goe foorth vpon the face of the earth, for falsehood, falseswearing, and periurie. And this curse shall enter into the house of the false man and into the house of the periured man, and it shall remaine in the middest of his house, consume him, and the timber and stones of his house (Zachariah 5.1-4). Thus you see how much GOD doth hate periurie, and what punishment GOD hath prepared for false swearers, and periured persons.
Thus you haue heard, how and in what causes it is lawfull for a Christian man to sweare: yee haue heard what properties and conditions a lawfull oath must haue, and also how such lawfull oathes are both godly and necessary to be obserued: yee haue heard, that it is not lawfull to sweare vainely, (that is) other wayes then in such causes, and after such sort as is declared. And finally, yee haue heard how damnable a thing it is, either to forsweare ourselues, or to keepe an vnlawfull, and an vnaduised oath. Wherefore let vs earnestly call for grace, that all vaine swearing and periurie set apart, wee may onely vse such oathes as be lawfull and godly, and that wee may truely without all fraud keepe the same, according to GOD'S will and pleasure. To whom with the Sonne, and the holy Ghost, be all honour and glory. AMEN.
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