(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 11) Swearing An Oath Religiously Lord's Day 37 Psalter No. 389 st. 1, 6 Read Isaiah 54 Psalter No. 243 st. 6-9 Psalter No. 428 st. 8 Psalter No. 24 st. 1, 2 Beloved, God cannot lie. He is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent. Nevertheless, He has not only given us His Word, but also the confirmation of that Word with an oath, so that the power of unbelief might be broken in His people, and the strength of their souls be in Him, Who will surely confirm His Word. To that end He gave man His covenant, namely the covenant of works, while in the state of rectitude. It was the covenant of works, because in that state man had the ability to obtain life incorruptible and eternal, by working in his own strength. When that covenant was broken by wilful disobedience, the Lord revealed the covenant of grace. There are (it is by repetition I say it again) two covenants concerning man's eternal state: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. In the covenant of grace Christ has become the Surety for the debt of His elect in eternity. In that covenant, all are included of whom Christ said, "Father, Thine they were and Thou gavest them Me." Here in time God incorporates them into the covenant of grace, so that they may be freed from the curse under which they lay because of their relationship to Adam, their covenant head, and attain life eternal by this incorporation into the covenant, that is, by regeneration. Indeed, the Lord confirms that covenant with His people so assuredly, that it will never be broken. He not only called it a covenant of salt, of redemption, and of peace, but He even says, "For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so I have sworn that I should not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee." Because God has sworn to Noah in a covenant, He upholds the whole world in a covenantal manner. He does so by His general Divine providence. He does not do so by virtue of the merits of Christ, for providence is the work of the Father. Thus the Lord established the covenant with Noah, of which the rainbow is a sign. Now the Lord says, "As I have sworn to Noah that the waters should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I should not be wrath with them, nor rebuke them, that the peace of the covenant of grace and the salvation in Christ shall be theirs, and that they shall never lose their interest in that covenant, because they are chosen in Christ." He is the Head of the church, the last Adam. In this covenant then, as in other instances, it has pleased the Lord to oblige Himself to His people by an oath. In another place He testifies, "I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth." Thus the Lord wishes to strengthen His people by this oath and encourage them, so that by faith they shall trust in God Whose word shall certainly be confirmed. If God then swears an oath, if He swears by Himself because there is none greater than He by whom He can swear, then He also testifies that it is permissible to swear. He also gives us the oath so that when such an oath is demanded of us, we may attest to the truth by calling on that God Who is eternal and true, Who knows our hearts and tries our reins. This is to swear religiously. Let us then give our attention to it at this time, according to the explanation given in the thirty-seventh Lord's Day of our Heidelberg Catechism. Lord's Day 37 101. May we then swear religiously by the name of God? A. Yes; either when the magistrates demand it of the subjects, or when necessity requires us thereby to confirm fidelity and truth to the glory of God, and the safety of our neighbor; for such an oath is founded on God's Word, and therefore was justly used by the saints, both in the Old and New Testament. Q. 102. May we also swear by saints or any other creatures? A. No; for a lawful oath is calling upon God, as the only one who knows the heart, that he will bear witness to the truth, and punish me if I swear falsely, which honour is due to no creature. We are shown here: I. the lawfulness of the oath; II. the rules governing the oath; III. the subject of the oath. In our Catechism two Lord's Days are used for the third commandment. It merits our attention. When you compare this to the treatment of the other commandments, the question arises: Why are two Lord's Days used for the third commandment? It is an indication of how zealous the composers of the Catechism were for the honour of God's Name. There is no sin greater, or more provoking to God, as we heard the previous time, than the profaning of God's Name. Cursing or blaspheming the Name of God is in reality reproaching God and violating His honour. Moreover, in the conflict with Rome in which our fathers were engaged, they were confronted with the dreadful evil of Rome's universal abuse of God's Name and her minimizing the sinful swearing of an oath. Therefore the Catechism devotes two Lord's Days to the hallowing of God's Name. One Lord's Day deals specifically with cursing, followed by a separate discussion of the oath. You are tempted to say, "Oh, that Rome only were guilty and the Protestants not guilty of this great sin!" But how this evil of using God's Name in vain, and of cursing and swearing permeates all classes of our people, both on land and on sea! How necessary it is when discussing the Catechism every year, to remind one another earnestly that there is no sin greater than the profaning of God's Name, in order that a curse shall never come upon our lips. Furthermore, our fathers were not only confronted with Rome, but also with the Anabaptists. They were really the Socialists of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. For that reason the government interfered with them. They refused to submit to any authority, saying, "A Christian may not accept a government office; a Christian may not carry a sword, nor wage war." (When we discuss the sixth commandment concerning killing we shall return to this.) A Christian was also forbidden to swear an oath. The government had to oppose those rebellious people in order to suppress a revolution. The church of God also entered the conflict. What caused the Anabaptists to arrive at such opinions? Their aim was to place the church, God's people, outside of the world, and draw the kingdom of God, which will be perfect only in heaven, down to the earth. They wanted to place the entire realm of the Christian life outside of the world. Their fundamental error lay in their wrong conception of the birth of the Lord Christ. The Son of God assumed our human nature from the virgin Mary. We say that He assumed the human nature in such a way that He is her own flesh and blood. He was conceived in Mary's womb, borne under her heart until her days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. According to the flesh He is Mary's own flesh and blood, from the seed of Abraham. The Anabaptists said, "No, He passed through Mary as water through a pipe." What communion has the water with the pipe? What communion would the human nature of Christ have with us if that were so? In that case the Lord Jesus would stand outside of the human race. How then could He be our Surety and Savior? Therefore the church took a strong stand against the God-dishonoring position of the Anabaptists. That which the Anabaptists held in regard to the incarnation of Christ, they also maintained in relation to those whom they called Christians. According to them a Christian stands outside of the world. He may not concern himself with the entire world. Christians are drawn out of this present evil world. The question is, what does the Scripture teach? Scripture does teach that God draws His people out of the world spiritually, but that they, although not of the world, yet are in the world, and that God's people have a calling in this world. They shall be as a light in a crooked and perverse generation. The Lord Jesus calls them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. A light certainly is not placed under a bushel. The people of God have no hidden life in the world but, "Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father which is in heaven. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." The salt must not lose its savor, else it is good for nothing. Is this not diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Anabaptists? What the Anabaptists taught concerning the government also conflicts with the Word of God. When the soldiers came to John the Baptists, He did not say that they should break with the military, but He showed them their duty. "You may not swear an oath", says the Anabaptists, "for is a Christian not truthful? A Christian is born of the truth, and therefore does not lie. Is it not written in Matthew 5, 'Swear not at all'? The Apostle James says the same thing in the fifth chapter of his epistle." The Anabaptists appeal to these texts. Are these texts written in exactly these words? Yes, they are so written. But there is one thing we must never forget. We may never take spoken or written words out of their context, for then they receive an entirely different meaning. If this is true among men, how much worse it is when we lift God's Word out of its context and give it a meaning that was not intended. What then is the meaning of the words quoted from Matthew and James when viewed in their context? That we shall not swear lightly. The Jews in Christ's days swore at random. They swore by common things: by the temple, by the hair of their head, by heaven. Therefore the Lord said, "Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay." You may not swear by the temple, or by heaven, or by yourself; such oaths are condemned. We shall learn more of this soon. We are speaking now not about swearing lightly, but about swearing an oath religiously. In ordinary life therefore, let your yea be yea and your nay, nay. A Christian is indeed truthful, for he is born of the truth; but all manner of sins cleave to him. Take your Bible when you come home and read what it tells about the Bible-saints. Bible-saints did you say? Yes, for they are sanctified in the blood and by the spirit of Christ. But Abraham lied, saying, "Sarah is my sister;" and think of that terrible case of Peter in the hall of Caiaphas. He began to confirm with an oath that he had no part or lot with that Man. Yet Peter was one of the true disciples of the Lord. Do not these two examples upset the Anabaptist's theory? Is it not necessary to place God's people under a deep impression of an All-knowing God, when they are about to swear an oath religiously by the Name of God? The Catechism asks, "May we then swear religiously by the Name of God?" and the answer is: "Yes." We may swear an oath by the name of God, for God Himself has instituted the oath. To swear an oath religiously is to call upon the holy Name of God, as upon Him Who alone knows the heart perfectly and shall bear witness to the truth. What is included in such an oath? The honour of the omniscient God above all creatures. No other person knows our thoughts. You can easily say, "I did not mean it that way", for no one can look into your heart. God only knows the inmost thoughts of the mind, even better than we ourselves. When in swearing an oath we call upon the omniscient God, we acknowledge Him Who knows all things and searches the heart. Swearing is acknowledging God's omnipotence and righteousness. It is submitting to divine punishment if I swear falsely. The Lord will compass me about with His loving kindnesses if I call upon His Name in truth. May we swear religiously in such a manner that the honour of God is exalted? Yes. In this way God is acknowledged as God. Contrary to the erring Anabaptists, who wrest Scripture to their own destruction, we agree with our Catechism that we may swear an oath religiously by the Name of God. The Lord Himself commanded it in Deuteronomy 6. He commanded by the mouth of Moses that the people of Israel should swear by His Name, and swearing an oath was commonly done. Abimelech swore; Jacob swore; David and Jonathan made a covenant and confirmed it with an oath; Paul swore an oath. We have enough examples in Old and New Testament to show that the oath was used by the saints. Hence we may swear religiously by the Name of God. In fact we have full freedom to do so when called upon, so that we may give God the honour of being the Omniscient One. However, as I now come to my second point, this does not mean that we may swear thoughtlessly. Rules have been established. II The Catechism states those rules, saying: "Either when the magistrates demand it of the subjects; or when necessity requires us thereby to confirm fidelity and truth." David swore an oath rashly in I Samuel 25; swearing that there would be nothing left to Nabal by morning. Herod swore rashly and it cost the head of John the Baptist. Such rash oaths are improper. May the Lord keep us from them. But the oath is lawful when the magistrates require it of us, because the magistrates have the right to require such an oath. They stand in the place of God and are called to administer judgment on earth in the name of the Lord. Those magistrates oblige us to swear an oath. Is it not alarming that many will not swear an oath because of atheistic and anabaptistic reasons? Is it not even worse that the magistrates humor such objections, saying, "If you do not wish to make an oath, just say, 'I promise'." It is improper for a subject to refuse to swear an oath. The magistrate requires of the subjects in the presence of God that they swear religiously in the Name of God to confirm fidelity and truth. This is also true when necessity requires it. For instance, if in time of great need we are severely slandered, we may ask permission to use the oath in the presence of God to verify the truth. Soldiers are required to swear that they will be faithful to the government and the people. Members of the Legislature must swear an oath of fidelity and loyalty. There is also the ecclesiastical oath. You are asked to give your word of promise when you make confession of faith. We must not think that this confession is the same as the Roman Catholic confirmation. Our fathers always warned us not to think so. We must banish the Romish leaven from our worship services. One matter should penetrate deeply into our hearts: When we stand before the pulpit to give our word of promise before the congregation, we are subscribing ourselves with an oath before God, to His Word and to the church. Not all of us were converted when we made confession of faith, but he who makes confession must remember that he is subscribing himself before God to His service and His church. The ecclesiastical oath is apparent also at baptism when parents answer "Yes" to the questions asked them. We have no time to go more deeply into all these matters now, but think how often you have stood there with your children and made your promise before the Lord. Afterward, what did you do about the instruction of your children, especially in these serious and perilous times, with a future in prospect so dark that we fear and tremble when we raise our eyes to see the tumult of the nations? The ecclesiastical oath is also taken, though silently before God's omniscient eye, by those who partake of the Lord's supper. By faith they bind themselves with an oath to Christ, testifying that they seek and embrace salvation in Him. An ecclesiastical oath is also sworn when God's servants are ordained in their office. Has it ever occurred to you what a heavy burden rests upon our shoulders as God's servants, what a holy responsibility we bear for all of you because we stood and gave our word in that solemn promise, "Yes, with all my heart." When we then admonish old and young from this place, seeing the congregation is bound upon our hearts, do not think we are exceeding our bounds, for God demands it of us. What cause for constant humiliation should that oath be for God's servants, and for the elders too, who gave their word of promise. When they come for family visitation, they must do more than merely learn whether you attend church and Catechism classes faithfully. (Parents, see to it that your children are also present, that they do not quietly absent themselves when the elders come.) They also must be visited. The elders must inquire about the conduct of your children. That is not all. The elders must ask about your immortal soul; they must ask about your inner life. They must show you that if you are still unconverted, you can expect nothing but the eternal wrath of God. They do not come to relate their conversion, but to instruct you concerning eternal things. This they promised to do. Woe to persons who refuse to receive them. Let these take heed. Furthermore there is also the oath made by the deacons concerning their care for the poor. What a joy and comfort it is for a pastor when the deacons do their work conscientiously. God demands it of them. Now a few words are in order about the spiritual oath of which we find an example in Isaiah 19, "Five cities in the land of Egypt shall swear to the Lord of hosts." That means that they shall dedicate themselves totally to the service of the God of Israel. Let us and our children dedicate ourselves also to God and His service. Let our children, when they are still young become acquainted with the old truths. The tried doctrine can endure diligent search. I dare challenge the whole world boldly, because the Word of God endures forever and shall never be moved. What our Reformed fathers taught is also worthy of investigation. In their writings we are taught something else than the insipid doctrine of the three covenants with its damaging consequences for the church. Otherwise I would not warn against it so seriously. Read and study and make an effort to become acquainted with the truth. Then you will see that ours will be the victory. Our fathers never taught the things that are presented to us in these days. Let us swear a spiritual oath to God and commit ourselves to the truth. As a means in the hand of the Holy Spirit, this could bring us to another choice, the spiritual choice that Ruth made. She gave up all of Moab and chose the side of a poor widow. What a wonder it would be if God's grace were glorified in like manner today in poor sinners. Even though the whole world would then mock us, we would say, "In spite of all, I still cleave to the poor people of God. With them I choose to live and to die." Then we have pleasure in the service of God, and with a total surrender of heart, we dedicate ourselves to His service and seek all our salvation in the revealed Word of God. Yes, those people are always obliged to renew their choice and repeat their spiritual oath before God. Is that oath permitted? Yes, but rules were given to govern it and swearing of the oath was done in various ways. In Genesis 15 we read of the establishment of the covenant between God and Abraham. There God Himself passed between the two halves of the sacrifice. That represented the covenant made by oath and the one who broke the covenant deserved to be cut in pieces. Abraham took an oath from Eliezer when he was sent out to find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer put his hand under Abraham's thigh. The English often kiss the Bible. We raise our right hand saying, "So help me God." Thus there are various ways of swearing an oath. But it is most important to realize what the oath is. It is calling upon God Who will not only bear witness to the truth if we swear truly, but will certainly punish us if we swear falsely. God alone is the object of the oath, because He alone is omniscient. With this we commence a brief discussion of our third main thought. III By Whom must we swear such an oath? Only by the Name of God. Not by the saints? Not by saint Mary or saint Peter or some other? No, certainly not! Nor by the angels. That is as clear as can be. Not by the saints, because their souls are in heaven, praising God perfectly day and night. They do not know our hearts and know nothing of us. Abraham is ignorant of us and Israel acknowledges us not. There is but One Who knows our hearts. We are not to swear by Angels because they are only ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. There is but One Who knows our hearts and tries our reins. He is the true and eternal God. If men swear by the saints, or by the angels, or by any other creature, they are robbing God of His crown. This is the abomination of Rome. Rome dishonors the saints and dishonors God, by Whose Name alone we shall swear religiously. The Lord Jesus swore an oath in the Name of His Father, when He stood before Caiaphas and the ecclesiastical authorities. The angel in the Revelations to John swore by Him that liveth forever and ever, that there should be time no longer. Thus God alone will receive the honour. By swearing an oath religiously by the Name of God, God is acknowledged as God, the only object of our oath, according to the rules which are prescribed when the magistrates demand it or when necessity requires it. Under such circumstances the oath will be sworn with full liberty, and it will reflect something of that dedication of ourselves to the Lord, of which David sings in Psalter No. 428: 8. "Thy Word is as a lamp unto my feet, A light upon my pathway unto heaven; I've sworn an oath, which gladly I repeat, That I shall keep, as always I have striven, Thy righteous judgments, holy and complete, When unto me Thy helping grace is given." Young and old, let it be a rule of life for us that our yes be yes and our no, no. We need not confirm the truth of our words with strong words, such as, "As truly as I stand here" or with such other unseemly expressions, as are often used. Above all, let us use the Name of God with fear. When we say yes, let it be yes and that is all; and if we say no, let it be no, which should be enough among ourselves. They are liars who need strong words. Let us realize in our daily lives that God sees and hears everything. If, however, the authorities call us, or we are in dire circumstances, we need not be afraid to swear a holy oath. Some of God's children have asked, "May I do so?" Yes, you may with full liberty! For you can say, "There is a God in heaven Whom I honour, Who knows my heart and Who knows what is true and what is a lie. I can freely say before the Lord that my words are true." Herein lies the glory of God. Therefore God's people may, yea must swear religiously by the Name of God. On the other hand, it is dishonoring to God if you say, "I refuse to swear an oath. I shall say only: "I promise." In other words, let swearing religiously by the Name of God be the rule of our life. Again, we have made an oath before God when we made confession of faith. We made an oath before God when we stood and gave answer at the baptism of our children. Does it ever occur to you, young men and young women, that you were dedicated to God and His service by your parents when you were baptized, and that you dedicated yourselves when you made confession of faith? This does not mean that all of you became regenerated persons. I have never taught you so. But I have a question for you to consider and to take home with you: Do you ever think about the truth? Do you ever think about what has been preached? Do you search God's Word? Do you ever read a Catechism sermon by one of the old writers? Read Rev. Vender Kemp, who explains many precious truths. Modern writings draw you away from the truth. Remember that you have given your word of promise. God's church is built upon the pure doctrine. Do we have the pure doctrine, delivered to us by the fathers? If I should ever deviate from it, you are obliged to admonish me. I hope, however, that the Lord will keep me from ever departing one step from it. You must search the scriptures. Become familiar with the Catechism. It should not be necessary for the ministers or elders to help you recite your lessons in Catechism classes. Your fathers and mothers should do that at home. The office-bearers cannot bring the truth into the heart; that is God's work. But you should be more diligent. Find out for yourselves. The more you study the truth, the more pleasure you will find in it. Remember especially that God will some day confront you with your oath. At baptism, we parents promised to bring up our children in the fear of God. What have you done with your oath? With me you will have to say, "How much we come short in the nurture of our children." Then add to this that by our confession we are members of the church. Through His Word the Lord works in our soul. By nature we are in a broken covenant of works and in it we are subject to eternal condemnation. But by regeneration we enter into the covenant of grace. Without regeneration we are dead branches. What impression has this truth made upon us? Soon the moment will come when the Lord will say, "Why have you not sworn by the Name of the Lord in uprightness of heart as the five cities of Egypt have done? Why have you not given heart and hand to Me?" Surely the fault lies with us if we have not done so. On the other hand, it is free grace only if God regenerates a sinner. Sinners become the people of God when God glorifies His grace. Then another choice is made in which they give heart and hand to the Lord. They give up the whole world, even though it becomes necessary to beg their bread. So much do they envy the happiness of God's people. In this the hypocrite always falls short. He can repeat what he hears, but he is never loosed from all that belongs to the world and to sin. This is the portion of the upright. They may have much opposition, but they still say, "In his service I delight." They are in the world, but not of the world. They let their light shine, the light which God has given in their hearts by His Holy Spirit. This is not imagination. Alas, there is so much in the way of religious experience in which God has no part. This is often the result of becoming religious without Christ. When it is right in the heart, God's children swear an oath to God in Christ, because salvation and the glorification of all God's attributes lie only in Him. Now they wish to be saved only in the way in which God's righteousness is exalted. This becomes the foundation of their spiritual life. Afterwards, in the way of sanctification, they experience that they come short in all things. The will thus renewed, becomes itself active. Their shortcomings make them guilty before God and cause them to feel their need of the power of the King. Do you know what accompanies this at times? God's dear people become inwardly detached from all things, because of the strong inward desire to some day praise God perfectly and forever. At times I have a fervent longing soon to praise God perfectly. It will not be long. Also for the entire church it will not be long. Here we must pass through a world that lies in wickedness, but soon God will take us up in glory. How remarkable is that inward bond with God, to serve and fear Him! With it comes that painful experience that when I would do good, evil is present with me. But some day that will cease, and those poor people who have fought the hard battle will receive the crown of which the world could not rob them. David has pitifully complained, "They have made a public rebellion, to remove the crown from my head." That crown is incorruptible and fadeth not away. The day of salvation is coming. Then we shall be before God's throne with body and soul. May the Lord grant in our hearts those strong workings of His Holy Spirit to continually swear by His Name, to hallow Him and to dedicate ourselves to His service for the glorification of free grace in us according to His eternal good pleasure. Amen. Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2 (continued in part 12...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-11.txt .