Matthew 5:38
The difficulty with this, as with similar passages in the teachings of our Lord, is to see how to carry out the precept in the fulness of the intention of the great Teacher. Are we to take it quite literally? If so, Count Tolstoi is right, and we have not yet begun to be Christian. Are we to take it 'metaphorically,' or even as a hyperbolical expression? Then we shall be in great danger of watering it down to suit our own convenience. Plainly our Lord meant something very real. Moreover, this is no counsel of perfection for select saints. It is a general law of the kingdom of heaven; it is a precept of that exalted righteousness exceeding the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees which Christ absolutely requires of all his people. How, then, is it to be interpreted?

I. THIS IS A LAW OF UNIVERSAL CHRISTIAN CONDUCT. Christ was not a Solon, drawing up a code of state laws. His precept was not made in any legislative assembly. He spoke to men who lived under the irresistible yoke of stern, just Roman government. But his words had no influence with that government. Thus, no doubt, they were primarily for private conduct. They did not concern the question of a state's duty in defending its coast from the invader, or protecting its citizens by police supervision from outrage. But attempts have been made to confine the obligations of our Lord's words to the individual relations which he was contemplating when he uttered them. The Sermon on the Mount, we are told, is for private Christian guidance only; it is not intended to regulate governments. Surely that is a dangerous narrowing of its functions. So long as the state is not Christian, Christian principles cannot be looked for in legislation; but as soon as the gospel has Christianized the state, Christian principles must appear in public policy. This was apparent in the criminal legislation of Constantine, the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire. It is a grossly unchristian thing for men in a free, self-governing country to think that motives of greed or revenge that are not permissible between man and man are allowable between nation and nation.

II. THIS LAW IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH ORDER AND JUSTICE. To see that it is not, we must observe its exact application.

1. It does not concern our defence of others; it only touches our defence of our own rights. The government is bound to protect those committed to its charge, but it is not bound to avenge an affront offered to itself. The policeman is required to guard the victim of a brutal assault from violence, but he is not bound to avenge insults and wrongs directed against himself.

2. The reference to the "lex talionis evidently shows that the thought is of revenge. Still, all resistance of evil seems to be forbidden. It is certainly difficult to see. how the principle is to be applied in all cases.

3. Nevertheless, we have sadly failed to carry out even its intelligible and more obvious demands. Patience and calm endurance of wrong are not Anglo-Saxon characteristics, but they are Christian. Interpret Christ's precept

(1) in the light of ver. 5;

(2) in the light of his own behaviour under arrest; and

(3) in connection with the next precept. - W.F.A.

Swear not.
I. This precept does not absolutely forbid all use of oaths. An oath is a solemn appeal to God, as a witness of the truth of what we declare, and of our sincerity in what we promise. Oaths are assertory and promissory.

1. It is not uncommon for Scripture to use general expressions, which are to be understood in a qualified sense.

2. From the reasons of the charge and other passages of Scripture. Oaths are necessary in civil society: they are of Divine institution; St. Paul used them; God swears by Himself.


1. Perjury.

2. Customary swearing in common conversation.

3. As we may not use the Divine name wantonly so neither may we swear by any of God's creatures.

4. He forbids all rash imprecations.

5. All scoffing at religion, contempt of the writings of God, and all sporting with Scripture. Profane language is a sure evidence of a bad disposition of mind. It tends to produce greater hardness and to extinguish all reverence: it is most pernicious in its consequences:it is unreasonable yet infectious; it heaps guilt upon the soul.

(J. Lathrop, D. D.)

I. The Christian Jaw in regard to oaths (Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2).

II. The Christian law of retaliation.

III. Practical lessons. The sin of perjury is said to be growing appallingly frequent. Whilst technical vows are no longer in harmony with the liberty of the new dispensation, still the spirit of the vow by which one dedicates himself to Divine service is as sacred and as useful as ever. Avoid using expressions that are in the nature of an oath without having its technical form. Outright profanity is a terrible sin, as useless as it is hardening. What a confession of man's proneness to lie, is his habitual appeal to God as a witness of the truth! The law of retaliating love laid down by Christ shows Him to be the one and supreme Teacher.

(J. S. Doolittle, D. D.)

1. Language should be the simple expression of the heart.

2. Christianity seeks to simplify human communications.

3. Exaggerated expressions lead to an untrue life.

4. Christ's law of speech will regulate our social intercourse.

(W. W. Whythe.)

This sin is awfully prevalent.

I. The EXCUSES usually made for it. Ignorance, custom, example, surprise, passion, confirmation of what is said, meaning no harm, inconsistencies of professors, etc. (2 Samuel 12:14; Ezekiel 36:20; Romans 2:24; 2 Peter 2:2).

II. The evil CONSEQUENCES of it. Destroys the little remains of the fear of God. Leads to the disobedience of all His commands. Such a horrid example to others, especially to the young, etc.

III. The powerful ARGUMENTS against it. God hears. He is holy and jealous. Before His bar the swearer must appear. He is able to punish, and declares He will (2 Kings 19:22, 28; Isaiah 37:23, 36, 38; Ezekiel 20:27, 33; Ezekiel 35:12-14).

(A. Tucker.)


1. One branch of this sin is cursing and swearing.

2. Another branch is the familiar introduction of oaths into common conversation.

3. A mingling religious language in our common discourse without any corresponding feelings in our heart.


1. It is a gratuitous sin.

2. It is a wilful sin.

3. It is a presumptuous sin.


1. Awful because God has denounced His vengeance against them.

2. It is a state of fitness for destruction.

3. It is a sure sign of an unregenerate condition.

(E. Cooper.)

Charlie Harold, speaking to his grandmother about something he did not like, exclaimed, "By thunder I .... Hush I " said the old lady, "you must not swear, my dear. Don't you know that Jesus said, 'Swear not at all! ..... Did:He? Well, I didn't know it was swearing to say 'By thunder,' or 'By golly.' Is it, grandma? .... All such expressions, my dear, in which ' by' is used, partake of the nature of swearing, and a boy who wishes to be good will never let them fall from his lips." Charlie sat silent for several minutes, in grave thought, and then said, "'Grandma, what makes the newspaper swear every morning? .... Does it," inquired the old lady, looking over the top of her spectacles with curious eyes. "Yes, it says, 'By telegraph.'" The old lady could not help laughing, but she explained to Charlie the difference between an exclamation such as " By thunder," used to give emphasis to a remark, and an incomplete sentence such as "By telegraph." The little boy determined that he would not offend in this way again, and I have told you the story, hoping that you may make the same wise rule.

(J. N. Norton.)

A lad in Boston, rather small for his years, worked in an office as errand boy for four gentlemen who did business there. One day the gentlemen were teasing him a little about being so small, and said to him: "You never will amount to much, you never can do much business, you are too small." The little fellow looked at them. "Well," said he, "as small as I am, I can do something which none of you four men can do." "Ah, what is that?" said they. "I don't know as I ought to tell you," he replied. But they were anxious to know, and urged him to tell what he could do that none of them were able to do. "I can keep from swearing!" said the little fellow. There were some blushes on four manly faces, and there seemed to be very little anxiety for further information on the point.

A lady travelling from Edinburgh to Glasgow was much annoyed by a young officer's conversation in the carriage being interspersed with oaths. She sat uneasy till she could no longer keep silence. "Sir," she said to the officer, "can you talk in the Gaelic tongue?" To this he replied in the affirmative, seemingly with great pleasure, expecting to have some conversation with the lady in that dialect. She then politely requested that if he wished to swear any more, it might be in that language, as the practice of swearing was very offensive to herself and the rest of the company. The officer was confounded at this reproof, and no more oaths were heard from him during the remainder of the journey.

Sermons by Monday Club.
1. The language of irreverence.

2. The language of retaliation.

3. The language of revenge.

(Sermons by Monday Club.)

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