Against Rash and Vain Swearing
James 5:12
But above all things, my brothers, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath…

I. Let us consider THE NATURE OF AN OATH, and what we do when we adventure to swear. It is an "assuming the name of our God," and applying it to our purpose, to countenance and confirm what we say. It is an invocation of God as a most faithful witness, concerning the truth of our words, or the sincerity of our meaning. It is an appeal to God as a most upright Judge, whether we do prevaricate in asserting what we do not believe true, or in promising what we are not firmly resolved to perform. It is a formal engagement of God to be the Avenger of our trespassing in violation of truth or faith. It is a "binding our souls" with a most strict and solemn obligation, to answer before God, and to undergo the issue of His judgment about what we affirm to undertake. Whence we may collect that swearing doth require great modesty and composedness of spirit, very serious consideration and solicitous care that we be net rude and saucy with God, "in taking up His name," and prostituting it to vile or mean uses; that we do not abuse or debase His authority, by citing it to aver falsehoods or impertinences; that we do not slight His venerable justice, by rashly provoking it against us; that we do not precipitantly throw our souls into most dangerous snares and intricacies.

II. We may consider THAT SWEARING, AGREEABLY TO ITS NATURE AND TENDENCY, IS REPRESENTED IN HOLY SCRIPTURE AS A SPECIAL PART OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP; in the due performance of which we avow God for the Governor of the world, piously acknowledging His principal attributes and special prerogatives; it also intimates a pious trust and confidence in Him. If we do presume to offer this service, we should do it in the manner appointed by God Himself; the cause of it must be very needful or expedient, the design honest and useful; otherwise we desecrate swearing, and are guilty of profaning a most sacred ordinance,

III. We may consider THAT THE SWEARING PROHIBITED IS VERY NOXIOUS TO HUMAN SOCIETY. AS by the rare and reverent use of oaths their dignity is upheld, and their obligation kept fast; so by the frequent and negligent application of them, by the prostituting them to every mean and toyish purpose, their respect will be quite lost, their strength will be loosed, they will prove unserviceable to public use.

IV. Let us consider THAT RASH AND VAIN SWEARING IS VERY APT OFTEN" TO BRING THE PRACTISER OF IT INTO THAT MOST HORRIBLE SIN OF PERJURY. For "false swearing," as Philo saith, "naturally springeth out of much swearing"; and "he" saith St. , "that sweareth continually, both willingly and unwillingly, both ignorantly and knowingly, both in earnest and in sport, being often transported by anger and many other things, will frequently forswear. It is confessed and manifest, that it is necessary for him that sweareth much to be perjurious."


VII. Let us consider THAT SWEARING IS A SIN OF ALL OTHERS PECULIARLY CLAMOROUS, AND PROVOCATIVE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. God is hardly so much concerned, or in a manner constrained, to punish any other sin as this. He is bound in honour and interest to vindicate His name from the abuse, His authority from the contempt, His holy ordinance from the profanation, which it cloth infer.

VIII. Farther (passing over the special laws against it, the mischievous consequences of it, the sore punishments appointed to it), we may consider THAT TO COMMON SENSE VAIN SWEARING IS A VERY UNREASONABLE AND ILL-FAVOURED PRACTICE, GREATLY MISBECOMING ANY SOBER, WORTHY, OR HONEST PERSON"; but especially most absurd and incongruous to a Christian.

IX. THE PRACTICE OF SWEARING GREATLY DISPARAGES HIM THAT USES IT, AND DEROGATES FROM HIS CREDIT, INASMUCH AS IT SIGNIFIES THAT HE DOES NOT CONFIDE IN HIS OWN REPUTATION; by it he authorises others to distrust him; it renders what he says to be in reason suspicious, as discovering him to be void of conscience and discretion, etc.

X. TO EXCUSE THESE FAULTS THE SWEARER WILL DE FORCED TO CONFESS THAT HIS OATHS ARE NO MORE THAN WASTE AND INSIGNIFICANT WORDS; deprecating the being taken for serious, or to be understood that he means anything by them.

XI. But farther, ON HIGHER ACCOUNTS THIS IS A VERY UNCIVIL AND UNMANNERLY PRACTICE: some vain persons take it for a genteel and graceful accomplishment; but in truth there is no practice more crossing the genuine nature of gentility, or misbecoming persons well born and well bred.


XIII. Farther, THIS OFFENCE MAY BE AGGRAVATED BY CONSIDERING THAT IT HATH NO STRONG TEMPTATION ALLURING TO IT; that it gratifies no sense, yields no profit, procures no honour: the vain swearer has not the common plea of human infirmity to excuse him.

XIV. Let us consider that, as we ourselves with all our members and powers were chiefly designed and made to glorify our Maker, which is our greatest privilege, so OUR TONGUE AND SPEAKING FACULTY WERE GIVEN US TO DECLARE OUR ADMIRATION AND REVERENCE OF HIM, exhibit our love and gratitude towards Him, to profess our trust in Him, to celebrate His praises and avow His benefits: wherefore to apply this to any impious discourse, and to profane His holy name, is an unnatural abuse of it, and horrid ingratitude towards Him. Likewise a secondary and worthy use of speech is to promote the good of our neighbour, according to the precept of the apostle (Ephesians 4:29), but the practice of vain swearing serves to corrupt him, and instil into him a contempt of religion.

XV. Lastly, we should consider TWO THINGS; first, that our blessed Saviour, who did and suffered so much for us, and who said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," thus positively hath enjoined: "But I say unto you, swear not at all": secondly, we shall consider well the reason with which St. James enforces the point, and the sting in the close of the text; "but above all things, my brethren, swear not. lest ye fall into condemnation."

(L Barrow, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

WEB: But above all things, my brothers, don't swear, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your "yes" be "yes," and your "no," "no;" so that you don't fall into hypocrisy.

A Warning Against Oaths
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