The Nature and Obligation of an Oath
Leviticus 19:12
And you shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

The necessity of oaths is almost universally admitted among men. It arises out of the unavoidable condition of human affairs, and is so essential to the peace and order of society that they could scarcely subsist without it. It is not only in places of trust, and in cases of evidence, that it is necessary to have recourse to this sacred obligation. It is frequently requisite, for the final decision of disputes, to refer to the oath of one of the parties. Not that an oath is always a true and infallible decision; but it is the highest credit which a human being can give to his own declaration; it is the utmost security which a man can give to the public in doubtful cases; it is the last effort of truth and confidence among mankind. After this we can go no farther; for if the religion of an oath will not oblige a man to speak the truth, there is nothing which will oblige him. It must rest till that awful day of retribution come, when God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and judge the secrets of men's hearts by Christ Jesus. One would be almost tempted to conclude that no man who believes in a future state could be guilty of false swearing. But there is no arguing against fact, and fact is decidedly against this conclusion. The generality of men who swear falsely, do it either to procure some worldly advantage, or to save themselves from some necessary expense; and there have been some so abandoned as to take the wages of iniquity, and to sell themselves to prostitute the name of God. What is the reason that these temptations prevail, and drive men to this wickedness and sin against God? It is either because they are ignorant or inconsiderate. If men distinctly understood the force of this sacred obligation, and considered the guilt and danger of violating it, there is scarcely any earthly consideration which could tempt them to perjury.

I. There are two lights in which an oath principally regards God, THAT OF AN OMNISCIENT WITNESS, AND THAT OF A RIGHTEOUS JUDGE. So help me God, is one of the ordinary expressions in it. So protect me from evil, or abandon me to misery, as I now use Thy name to support truth or to cover falsehood. So help in the hour of solemn devotion, when Thou hearest the prayer of the upright man, and rejectest him who has sworn deceitfully. So help me amidst the dangers and evils of life, through which I have to pass, and from which no man can deliver me. So help me in the awful hour of dissolution, when I must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, when all human help is vain, and our only hope is in God. To swear falsely is to renounce that hope, and to forfeit all title to the Divine protection.

II. Such is the nature of an oath; and from this account it will be easy to ascertain THE GUILT OF FALSE SWEARING, which was the second thing we proposed to consider. In whatever light you view perjury, whether in respect of God or man, you will find it to be a sin of the most enormous nature. Consider the impiety of it towards God, and it will appear to be the grossest indignity which man can offer to his Maker.

1. It is not a sin of ignorance or infirmity, into which he may fall through the weakness of human nature. It is a presumptuous transgression against God. The guilt of perjury is deliberate, which is one of the greatest aggravations of sin. Other sins generally proceed from a forgetfulness of God, a want of due sense of His presence; but to swear falsely by the name of God is at once to remember God and to disobey Him. Other sins are nothing more than acts of disobedience to God; but perjury is much more than disobedience, it is a direct insult offered to the Supreme Being. To call solemnly on God to witness a falsehood, in order to cover our own guilt, and to impose on the ignorance of mankind — what does it imply? It is to invoke the Supreme Being to be present at an unrighteous action; it is to summon in the Almighty to be a spectator of wickedness. Awful as this is, it is not the worst. To call on God to countenance falsehood, and to sanction a lie by His sacred name, contains a still grosser impiety, which I shudder to mention. It is an attempt to draw God Himself into sin, to make the great Creator a party in vice, to make the Holy One and the Just an accomplice in villainy.

2. The guilt of perjury farther appears from its effect on society-. It is not only an act of the grossest indignity to God, but of the greatest injury to mankind. There are some individuals who suffer by every act of false swearing. Consider what loss of property, what hurt of character, or what vexation and distress of mind it frequently brings on an innocent man. Ask the person who has suffered by perjury, and he will describe, from his feelings, what a heinous crime it is. Put yourself in his place, enter into his feelings, listen to the language of your own heart, and you will see clearly the guilt of false swearing. But the mischievous effects of perjury are not confined to the persons who more immediately suffer by it. It is of much more extensive influence; it militates against mankind in general; it is an act of treason against human society. It is an attempt to subvert the foundation of public order, and of private security. It is an attempt to defeat the last method which the wisdom of man has devised in order to maintain the peace and order of society, and to decide doubtful matters. The man who can be guilty of this sin, must be void of all reverence for his Sinker, and of all regard for the interests of his fellow creatures. He is not only a reprobate in the sight of God, but also a traitor against mankind.

III. Need I now proceed to the last head of discourse, to point out THE DANGER OF FALSE SWEARING? A vice of so uncommon a magnitude, every man's conscience must tell him, deserves to be punished both by God and man. Among all nations with which we are acquainted, false swearing has been punished as a triune which strikes at the root of society; and in many places of the world the perjurer, as well as the murderer, has been thought worthy of death. But though the perjurer should escape the scourge of the law, there is another punishment from men which generally awaits him. He forfeits his character, the most precious thing in the world, and is consigned to infamy. But what are all the punishments from men in comparison of the judgments of God, which await the perjurer? This is a degree of guilt which God will certainly punish with more than ordinary vengeance. I will come near to you in judgment, says God Himself by the prophet., and be a swift witness against the swearer. The curse, says another inspired writer, goeth over the face of the whole earth; and God shall bring it forth, and it shall enter into the house of him that sweareth falsely by the name of God, and shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and. the stones thereof. It shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it. But the external judgments of God are not the only punishment to which the perjurer becomes liable. He destroys the foundation of the peace of his own mind, and exposes himself to the greatest of all terrors, to the dread of the great Creator. But what are all the sufferings of this life in comparison to that of everlasting misery which awaits the false swearer in the life to come? With what tremblings of heart, with what confusion of face, will he appear before the Judge of all the earth, whose authority he contain, el, and whose name he prostituted? The whole scene of his iniquity will then be disclosed, in the presence of an assembled world, in the presence of Christ and the holy angels. He must then lie down in shame and everlasting contempt.

(Andrew Donnan.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

WEB: "'You shall not swear by my name falsely, and profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh.

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