Of Lawful Oaths and Vows

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Puritan Board Graduate
Chapter XXII

Of Lawful Oaths and Vows

I. A lawful oath is part of religious worship,[1] wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calls God to witness what he asserts, or promises, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he swears.[2]

II. The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence.[3] Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred.[4] Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the New Testament as well as under the old;[5] so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters, ought to be taken.[6]

III. Whosoever takes an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth:[7] neither may any man bind himself by oath to any thing but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform.[8] Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching any thing that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority.[9]

IV. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.[10] It cannot oblige to sin; but in any thing not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt.[11] Not is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels.[12]

V. A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness.[13]

VI. It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone:[14] and that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want, whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties: or, to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto.[15]

VII. No man may vow to do any thing forbidden in the Word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded, or which is not in his own power, and for the performance whereof he has no promise of ability from God.[16] In which respects, popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.[17]

[1] DEU 10:20 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.

[2] EXO 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. LEV 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord. 2CO 1:23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. 2CH 6:22 If a man sin against his neighbour, and an oath be laid upon him to make him swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house; 23 Then hear thou from heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, by requiting the wicked, by recompensing his way upon his own head; and by justifying the righteous, by giving him according to his righteousness.

[3] DEU 6:13 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

[4] EXO 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. JER 5:7 How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. MAT 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. JAM 5:12 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.

[5] HEB 6:16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 2CO 1:23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. ISA 65:16 That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes.

[6] 1KI 8:31 If any man trespass against his neighbour, and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house. NEH 13:25 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. EZR 10:5 Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.

[7] EXO 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. JER 4:2 And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.

[8] GEN 24:2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: 3 And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. 5 And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? 6 And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. 8 And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again. 9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.

[9] NUM 5:19 And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse. 21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell. NEH 5:12 Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. EXO 22:7 If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man's house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. 8 If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour's goods. 9 For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour. 10 If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: 11 Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.

[10] JER 4:2 And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. PSA 24:4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

[11] 1SA 25:22 So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall. 32 And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: 33 And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. 34 For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall. PSA 15:4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.

[12] EZE 17:16 As I live, saith the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die. 18 Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape. 19 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head. JOS 9:18 And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes. 19 But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them. 2SA 21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

[13] ISA 19:21 And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it. ECC 5:4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? PSA 61:8 So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows. 66:13 I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows, 14 Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.

[14] PSA 76:11 Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared. JER 44:25 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her: ye will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows. 26 Therefore hear ye the word of the Lord, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord God liveth.

[15] DEU 23:21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. 22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. 23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth. PSA 50:14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High. GEN 28:20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. 1SA 1:11 And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no rasor come upon his head. PSA 66:13 I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows, 14 Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. 132:2 How he sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob; 3 Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; 4 I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, 5 Until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.

[16] ACT 23:12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul. MAR 6:26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. NUM 30:5 But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her. 8 But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her. 12 But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and the Lord shall forgive her. 13 Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.

[17] MAT 19:11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. 1CO 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. EPH 4:28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 1PE 4:2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. 1CO 7:23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

[Edited on 8-29-2006 by crhoades]


Puritan Board Graduate
Wanted to start a thread for further reflection and discussion as well as a place to store resources.

Here are a list of sermons from sermon audio regarding this topic
Can't vouch for all of these but by name recognition a few jump out.


Puritan Board Graduate
Q. 111. Which is the third commandment?

A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.[560]

Q. 112. What is required in the third commandment?

A. The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes,[561] ordinances,[562] the Word,[563] sacraments,[564] prayer,[565] oaths,[566] vows,[567] lots,[568] his works,[569] and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought,[570] meditation,[571] word,[572] and writing;[573] by an holy profession,[574] and answerable conversation,[575] to the glory of God,[576] and the good of ourselves,[577] and others.[578].

Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God´s name as is required;[579] and the abuse of it in an ignorant,[580] vain,[581] irreverent, profane,[582] superstitious[583] or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes,[584] ordinances,[585] or works,[586] by blasphemy,[587] perjury;[588] all sinful cursings,[589] oaths,[590] vows,[591] and lots;[592] violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful[593] and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful;[594] murmuring and quarrelling at,[595] curious prying into,[596] and misapplying of God´s decrees[597] and providences;[598] misinterpreting,[599] misapplying,[600] or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it;[601] to profane jests,[602] curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines;[603] abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms,[604] or sinful lusts and practices;[605] the maligning,[606] scorning,[607] reviling,[608] or any wise opposing of God´s truth, grace, and ways;[609] making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends;[610] being ashamed of it,[611] or a shame to it, by unconformable,[612] unwise,[613] unfruitful,[614] and offensive walking,[615] or backsliding from it.[616].


Puritan Board Freshman
These passages come to mind when I meet someone that has made a vow to abstain from alcohol. I am sympathetic to their feelings, but given our duty to remember the Lord's death with wine, I don't see how this would not be a vow the hinders their duty to fulfill a command of the Lord. And so I also don't understand why some Churches enable this behavior by offering pastuerised grape juice to such members.


Puritanboard Librarian
Heidelberg Catechism:

99. Q. What is required in the third commandment?

A. We are not to blaspheme or to abuse the Name of God by cursing,[1] perjury,[2] or unnecessary oaths,[3] nor to share in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders.[4] In short, we must use the holy Name of God only with fear and reverence,[5] so that we may rightly confess Him,[6] call upon Him,[7] and praise Him in all our words and works.[8]

[1] Lev. 24:10-17. [2] Lev. 19:12 [3] Matt. 5:37; James 5:12. [4] Lev. 5:1; Prov. 29:24. [5] Ps. 99:1-5; Is. 45:23; Jer. 4:2. [6] Matt. 10:32, 33; Rom. 10:9, 10. [7] Ps. 50:14, 15; I Tim. 2:8. [8] Rom. 2:24; Col. 3:17; I Tim. 6:1.

100. Q. Is the blaspheming of God's Name by swearing and cursing such a grievous sin that God is angry also with those who do not prevent and forbid it as much as they can?

A. Certainly,[1] for no sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name. That is why He commanded it to be punished with death.[2]

[1] Lev. 5:1. [2] Lev. 24:16.

101. Q. But may we swear an oath by the Name of God in a godly manner?

A. Yes, when the government demands it of its subjects, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote fidelity and truth, to God's glory and for our neighbour's good. Such oath-taking is based on God's Word[1] and was therefore rightly used by saints in the Old and the New Testament.[2]

[1] Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Jer. 4:1, 2; Heb. 6:16. [2] Gen. 21:24; 31:53; Josh. 9:15; I Sam. 24:22; I Kings 1:29, 30; Rom. 1:9; II Cor. 1:23.

102. Q. May we also swear by saints or other creatures?

A. No. A lawful oath is a calling upon God, who alone knows the heart, to bear witness to the truth, and to punish me if I swear falsely.[1] No creature is worthy of such honour.[2]

[1] Rom. 9:1; II Cor. 1:23. [2] Matt. 5:34-37; 23:16-22; James 5:12.


Puritanboard Librarian
Fisher's Catechism:

QUESTION 53. Which is the Third Commandment?

ANSWER: The Third Commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


QUESTION 54. What is required in the Third Commandment?

ANSWER: The Third Commandment requireth the holy and reverend use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.


Q. 1. What does this commandment require in general?

A. That the instituted means of God's worship be used in a right MANNER, becoming the majesty of him with whom we have to do, Psalm 5:7.

Q. 2. What is the duty directly opposite to the sin of taking God's name in vain?

A. It is the sanctifying of his name, Isa. 8:13 -- "Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear and your dread."

Q. 3. What do you understand by the NAME of God?

A. Every thing by which he is pleased to make himself known.

Q. 4. By what does God make himself known?

A. By his names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.

Q. 5. Does God need any name to distinguish him from all others?

A. No; because he is a most singular Being, quite well distinguished from all others, by the infinity and absolute perfection of his nature, Isa 44:6.

Q. 6. Why then are names ascribed to him in scripture?

A. That some knowledge of his nature and perfections may be conveyed to us, Acts 9:15.

Q. 7. What are the names by which he conveys the knowledge of himself to us?

A. He conveys the knowledge of his absolute, eternal, and immutable essence by the names of JEHOVAH, Ex. 6:3; JAH, Psalm 68:4; and, I AM, Ex. 3:14; the knowledge of his excellency and sovereignty, by the names GOD and LORD, Deut. 6:4; and the knowledge of the essential relation of the three divine persons among themselves, by the names of FATHER, SON, and H OLY G HOST, Matt. 28:19.

Q. 8. Is there any difference between God's names and his titles?

A. His names set forth what he is in himself; his titles, what he is to others.

Q. 9. How are God's titles commonly distinguished?

A. Into those that belong to him as the God of nature, and those which are ascribed to him as the God of grace.

Q. 10. What are the titles that belong to him as the God of nature?

A. They are such as these, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Isa. 40:28; the Preserver of men, Job 7:20; King of nations, Jer. 10:7; and Lord of hosts, Isa. 1:9.

Q. 11. What are the titles that are ascribed to him as the God of grace?

A. They are the following among others: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Ex. 3:6; the Holy One of Israel, Isa 48:17; King of saints, Rev. 15:3; the Father of mercies, 2 Cor. 1:3; the hearer of prayer, Psalm 65:2; and the God of salvation, Psalm 68:20.

Q. 12. Which is the most common and ordinary title ascribed to God under the New Testament?

A. It is the infinitely amiable and encouraging title of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3.

Q. 13. What comfortable views may we take of God, as he is the God and Father of our Lord. Jesus Christ?

A. In this light we may view him as a reconciled God, 2 Cor. 5:19; a pardoning and accepting God through Christ, Eph. 1:6, 7; and as our God and Father in him, John 20:17, -- " I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God."

Q. 14. What is to be understood by God's attributes?

A. The perfections and excellencies which are ascribes to him as the essential properties of his nature.[65]

Q. 15. What are God's ordinances?

A. The reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration of the Sacraments; prayer and praise; religious fasting and thanksgiving.[66]

Q. 16. What are the ordinances in which the name of God is more immediately interposed?

A. The name of God is more immediately interposed in oaths, vows, and lots.

Q. 17. What is an OATH?

A. It is an act of religious worship, in which God is solemnly invoked, or called upon, as a witness for the Confirmation of some matter in doubt.

Q. 18. Why is it said to be an act of religious worship?

A. Because there is, or ought to be in every formal oath, a solemn invocation of the name of God, Deut. 6:13 -- "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God -- and shalt swear by his name."

Q. 19. What is imported in calling upon God as a witness in an oath?

A. It imports, that we acknowledge him to be the infallible searcher of our hearts; the powerful avenger of all perjury and falsehood; and at the same time to be infinitely superior to us; "for men verily Swear by the greater," Heb. 6:16.

Q. 20. In what cases should an oath be required?

A. Only in cases that are doubtful, when the truth of things cannot be known with certainty any other way.

Q. 21. What is the end of an oath in a lawful judicature?

A. It is for confirmation of the truth formerly doubtful; and for terminating strife and contradiction among men. "An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife," Heb. 6:16.

Q. 22. What are the necessary qualifications of a lawful oath?

A. That we swear -- "in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness," Jer. 6:2.

Q. 23. What is it to swear in truth?

A. It is to take special care, that what is sworn be strictly agreeable to truth; and that there be an exact agreement between the sentiments of our minds, and the words of our mouth, without the least equivocation, or mental reservation.

Q. 24. What is it to equivocate, or dissemble in an oath?

A. It is to have an inward reserved meaning and sense of words, contrary to the common and ordinary acceptation of them, and that with a design to deceive.

Q. 25. In what consists the evil and sinfulness of this practice?

A. It destroys the nature and end of an oath, which is to bring forth nothing but the truth: it opens a wide door to all falsehood and lying, contrary to Eph. 4:25 -- "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour;" and it unhinges the firmest bonds of society, that none can put confidence in another.

Q. 26. What is it to swear in judgment?

A. It is to swear with knowledge and deliberation; seriously pondering in our mind, what it is we are about to swear, and the solemn appeal we make to God in the oath, together with the dangerous risk we run, if we swear either falsely or ignorantly.

Q. 27. What is it to swear in righteousness?

A. It is to give our oath only in things lawful, or such as are consistent with piety towards God, and equity towards man; and likewise to give it on a lawful occasion.

Q. 28. When is a civil oath taken upon a lawful occasion?

A. When it is required by a lawful magistrate, for the ending of strife and debate, and the impartial administration of justice.

Q. 29. How do you prove that it is warrantable for Christians under the New Testament, to declare the truth upon oath, when called to it?

A. From this, that an oath, being no part of the ceremonial law, there can be no reason given why it was lawful to swear under the Old Testament, which will not apply in the like circumstances NOW; especially as there are approved examples of the use of an oath under the New Testament, 2 Cor. 1:23; Rev. 10:6; Heb. 6:16.

Q. 30. Does not our Lord say, Matt. 5:34, -- "Swear not at all;" and the apostle James, chap. 5:12, "Above all things, swear not"?

A. These texts manifestly condemn profane swearing in ordinary conversation, and not lawful swearing in judgment, when called to do it; as appears from the injunction subjoined in both places, "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay."

Q. 31. What is the ordinary outward form or sign, in scripture, of appealing to God in an oath?

A. It is the lifting up of the hand; as appears from Gen. 14:22; Dan. 12:7; Rev. 10:5, 6.

Q. 32. What are we to think of that mode of swearing, by touching and kissing the gospel?

A. It is evidently superstitious, if not idolatrous, and borrowed by the Papists from the heathens, who worshipped their idols in this manner, Job 31:27; Hos. 13:2.

Q. 33. How are oaths commonly distinguished as to their kinds?

A. Into assertory and promissory oaths.

Q. 34. What is an assertory oath?

A. It is an invoking God as a witness to the truth of what we declare about things past or present.

Q. 35. Why called assertory?

A. Because the party swearing, without any promise for the future, only asserts the things to have been, or to be at present, as he then swears.

Q. 36. What is the chief use of assertory oaths?

A. It is to determine suits and processes in human courts about matters of fact.

Q. 37. What is a promissory oath

A. It is the invoking God as a witness to the performance of a thing for the time to come, either absolutely or conditionally.

Q. 38. Why called promissory?

A. Because the party swearing promises or engages to do something hereafter.

Q. 39. What should be the subject matter of assertory oaths?

A Such things as are both true and weighty, and which we know to be so.

Q. 40. What should be the subject matter of promissory oaths?

A. Such things as to our knowledge, are lawful, possible, and in our power to perform.

Q. 41. How may promissory oaths be subdivided?

A. Into civil and religious.

Q. 42. To what has a civil promissory oath a respect?

A. To contracts and engagements among men, whether of a more private or public nature.

Q. 43. May not the supreme magistrate require an allegiance of his subjects, or an oath of fidelity to obey his just and lawful commands?

A. It appears evidently from scripture that he may, Eccl. 8:2 -- "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God," 1 Chron. 29:24.

Q. 44. To what has a religious promissory oath a respect.

A. It respects the duties and services we owe more immediately to God, and the interests of religion.[67]

Q. 45. In what lies the obligation of an oath?

A. In the strong tie or bond that the party swearing comes under, to the performance of some duty engaged to.

Q. 46. How many fold is the obligation of a promissory oath?

A. TWOFOLD: one to the person to whom the oath is made, as a party; the other to God, by whom the oath is made, as a witness and avenger.

Q. 47. What is the difference between the obligation of a promise, and the obligation of an oath?

A. A man is bound to perform his promise as well as his oath: but an oath being an immediate invocation of the name of God as a witness and judge, it is, on this account, of a stronger obligation, and the breach of it a more heinous sin, than the breach of a simple promise.

Q. 48. Does not all obligation to duty respect a future time in which it is to be performed?

A. It necessarily does so, in the nature of the thing; although, in some cases, the time of performance may be very short after the obligation is contracted.

Q. 49. Under what obligation does a person come in an assertory oath, which respects the time past or present?

A. He comes under an obligation to declare the truth, and nothing but the truth, in what he is about to say; or, that his words shall exactly agree with his mind.

Q. 50. Under what obligation does a person come in a promissory oath, which respects the time to come?

A. He comes under an obligation to endeavour, as far as in him lies, to fulfil that which he has sworn; or, to perform all that he has promised by oath, Num. 30:2 -- "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth."

Q. 51. Is an oath about a thing lawful and possible obligatory, even though it be extorted by force or fear?

A. Undoubtedly it is: because of the reverence due to God, by whom the oath is made a witness and judge, Lev. 19:12 -- "Ye shall not swear by my name falsely; neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord."Matt. 5:33 -- "Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths."

Q. 52:Is a person bound to pay such a sum to a robber as he has promised by his oath, for the ransom of his life?

A. He is certainly bound to pay it; because, of TWO PENAL evils, he voluntarily made choice of the least; to part with his money, rather than his life; accordingly, the righteous man, "sweareth to his OWN HURT, and changeth not," Psalm 15:4.

Q. 53. Is an oath, which is lawful as to the matter of it, though sinful as to the manner, and even obtained by, deceit, or rashly made binding and obligatory upon the person who has sworn it?

A. Yes; as is evident from the instance of the Gibeonites, who deceived Israel into a league with them by oath, and yet their oath was binding, Josh. 9:14-20.

Q. 54. Are oaths and contracts to be kept with Heathens and heretics?

A. No doubt they should, as well as with others. Zedekiah, king of Judah, was severely punished for his breach of oath to the king of Babylon, 2 Chron. 36:13; Ezek. 17:16. Besides, if infidelity and heresy do not nullify the marriage oath, neither ought they to make void any other lawful contract.

Q. 55. What is a vow?

A. It is a voluntary and deliberate engagement to God only as party, and that respecting matters of a sacred or religious character, Psalm 132:2-6.

Q. 56. What is the difference between an oath and a vow?

A. In an oath, man is generally the party, and God is brought in as the witness: but in a vow, God himself is always the sole party, besides his being a witness, Psalm 50:14. Isa. 19:21.

Q. 57. What is the subject matter of vows?

A. Only things religious; or such as relate immediately to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Q. 58. How ought vows to be entered into?

A. In the exercise of faith; or, in the strength of the grace that is in Christ Jesus, John 15:5; without which there can be no performance, Phil. 4:13.

Q. 59. How many kinds of vows are there?

A. Two; personal and social.

Q. 60. What is a personal vow?

A. It is the act of an individual, or single person, taking hold of God's covenant of grace, or acquiescing in it as made with Christ, who is the all of it and thus engaging to be the Lord's, and to essay the practice of all duty in his strength. Is. 44:5 -- "One shall say, I am the Lord's," Psalm 119:106 -- "I have sworn, and will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments."[68]

Q. 61. What is a social vow?

A. It is the joint concurrence of several individuals in the same exercise as in a personal one, openly avouching the Lord to be their God, Deut. 26:17; where Moses, speaking of all Israel, says, "Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, to walk in his ways," &c.

Q. 62. When doth such a social vow commonly get the name of a N ATIONAL C OVENANT?

A. When the representatives of a nation, or the better part of them, concur in a covenant of duties, as ingrafted upon the covenant of grace, Jer. 50:4, 5 -- "The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, -- saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten." See also Neh. 9:33, and 10:1, 30.

Q. 63. How do you prove that national covenanting is a warrantable duty under the New Testament?

A. From its being promised in the Old Testament that this shall be a duty performed under the New, Isa. 19:21 -- "The Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and -- they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it." Besides, if it was a moral duty upon special occasions, under the Old Testament (as appears from 2 Chron 15:12, and 34:31, 32; Neh. 9:38), it must remain to be the same, upon the like occasions, still; because Christ came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them, Matt 5:17.

Q. 64. Is our obligation to moral duties increased, by our vowing or engaging to perform them?

A. Although it is impossible that our obligation to moral duty can he increased by any deed of ours, beyond what it is already by the law of God, which is of the highest authority; yet by reason of our own voluntary and superadded engagement, this obligation from the law may make a deeper impression than before, Psalm 44:17, 18, and our sins receive a higher aggravation, if we either omit the duty engaged to, or commit the evil opposite to it, Dent. 23:21, 22.

Q. 65. What is a LOT, or lotting?

A. It is the laying aside the use of all means or second causes, and appealing directly to God, that he may, by his immediate providence, give a present decision respecting any matter in question "for the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord," Prov. 16:33.

Q. 66. Why are lots said to be an appeal to God?

A. Because, by casting of lots between two or more persons, or things, we, as it were, require him immediately to declare his mind by the event, which way the decision shall go, Acts 1:24, 26 -- "Show whether of these two thou hast chosen. And the lot felt on Matthias."

Q. 67. In what cases may a decision be put upon the event of a lot?

A. Only in cases of great weight and absolute necessity, Josh. 7:13, 14.

Q. 68. Why should a lot he used only in cases of great weight and moment?

A. Because a lot being a material or implicit invoking of God to give a decision, it would be a wicked profanation of his name, to call him to determine in trifles, or things of little or no value.

Q. 69. Why should it be used only in cases of absolute necessity?

A. Because, where human prudence can determine, it would be a tempting of God, to require his decision.

Q. 70. What then is the end of lots?

A. It is the same as of oaths, to determine finally in momentous controversies, that which can be decided in no other way, Prov. 18:18 -- "The lot causeth contention to cease, and parteth between the mighty."

Q. 71. In what manner ought lots to be used?

A. In a most reverential manner, as in the presence of God, who pronounces the sentence; and in whose decision all parties ought cheerfully to acquiesce, Acts 1:24, 26 -- "And they PRAYED -- and gave forth their lots."

Q. 72. What is the word in which the name of God is declared

A. The scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Q. 73. What is meant by God's works in this answer?

A. His works of creation and providence; which last includes redemption.

Q. 74. What does this commandment REQUIRE, with reference to God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.

A. The holy and reverend use of them.

Q. 75. What is it to make a holy and reverend use of these?

A. It is, in all our meditations, speeches, and writings, to have the most profound respect and regard for every thing, by which God manifests his name and glory, Deut. 28:58.

Q. 76. When do we essay to make a reverend use of God's names, titles, and attributes?

A. When we view them as in Christ, and in this light draw virtue from them, for the increase of our faith and holiness, Ex. 23:21 -- "Obey his voice -- for my name is in him."

Q. 77. When do we endeavour a holy and reverend use of the ordinances?

A. When we view God as present in them, Matt. 28:20; and attend or perform them with a single eye to his glory, Psalm 86:9.

Q. 78. When do we use the word in a holy and reverend manner?

A. When we search and believe the scriptures, as testifying of Christ, John 5:39; and are directed by them as a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path, Psalm 119:105.

Q. 79. When do we essay to make a holy and reverend use of the works of God.

A. When we are enabled to make suitable improvement of the bright displays he has made of his glorious excellencies, in creation, providence, and redemption, so as to walk humbly and thankfully before him, Rev. 15:3, 4 -- "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord! and glorify thy name for thou only art holy."

[65] See the divine attributes explained in the 4th Question What is God?
[66] See all these explained in Question 50. What is required in the Second Commandment?

[67] Of religious promissory oaths, see afterwards on this same Question under the head of vows.

[68] This is what is commonly called Personal Covenanting. Whoever wants to be instructed in the true nature and right manner of setting about this necessary duty, let him carefully peruse Mr. Boston's Memorial concerning personal and family fasting, subjoined to his View of the covenant of grace, chapter II. sect. 3:direction 8.


Puritanboard Librarian
Fisher's Catechism:

QUESTION 55. What is forbidden in the Third Commandment?

ANSWER: The Third Commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of any thing whereby God maketh himself known.


Q. 1. What do you understand by profaning or abusing of any thing whereby God makes himself known?

A. It is the using of his names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works, in a rash, irreverent, and unbecoming manner.

Q. 2. How are God's names, titles, and attributes, profaned or abused by men?

A. Many ways: particularly, by blasphemy, perjury, sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots."[69]

Q. 3. What is blasphemy?

A. It is speaking in a reproachful, reviling, and under-valuing manner of God, Isa. 36:20; of his word, Acts 13:45; or of any of his providential dispensations, Ezek. 18:25.

Q. 4. What is the aggravation of this sin?

A. It is an atheistical contempt of the most high God; -- the greatest affront that can be done him by his creatures, Ex. 5:2.

Q. 5. May not persons be guilty of blasphemy in their hearts though never uttered in words?

A. Yes, undoubtedly they may; either when atheistical thoughts of him are harboured, Psalm 14:1; or, disparaging and unbecoming conceptions of him entertained, Psalm 10:11 and 50:21.

Q. 6. What was the punishment of blasphemy, at the hand of man, by the law of God?

A. It was death, Lev. 24:16 -- "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death."

Q. 7. What is perjury?

A. It is a breach or violation of any solemn oath or vow we have entered into or come under, Matt. 5:33 -- "Thou shalt not forswear thyself."

Q. 8. When are persons guilty of perjury in assertory oaths?

A. When they assert such a thing, upon oath to be true, which yet they know to be false, like the witness against Naboth, 1 Kings 21:13; or even when they are doubtful and uncertain about the truth of what they are swearing; like the witnesses against Christ, whose witnessing did "not agree together," Mark 14:58, 59.

Q. 9 When are persons guilty of perjury in promissory oaths?

A. When they promise upon oath what they have no mind to perform; or when, without any insuperable impediment laid in their way, or any just and relevant excuse, they fail in the performance: as in the perjury of Zedekiah king of Judah, who broke his oath to the king of Babylon, Ezek. 17:16.

Q. 10. Is a person guilty of perjury, if he swears to do a thing impossible or unlawful?

A. Surely he is: for, if he swear to a thing impossible, he swears to a manifest lie; if he swear to do a thing unlawful, he is doubly perjured; both in making such an oath, and in fulfilling it, as was the case with Herod, Matt. 14:9, 10.

Q. 11. What is the aggravation of the sin of perjury?

A. It not only breaks all the bonds of society among men, but impeaches the omniscience of God himself, calling him to attest what conscience knows to be an untruth; and therefore God threatens, that his "curse shall enter into the house of him that sweareth falsely -- and shall consume it, with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof," Zech. 5:3, 4.

Q. 12. How is God's name profaned by sinful cursings?

A. When God's wrath and vengeance are imprecated upon ourselves or others: or when the devil is in any manner invoked for harm.

Q. 13. For what do wicked persons wish, when they imprecate the wrath and vengeance of God upon themselves?

A. They do, in effect, pray, that God would hasten their everlasting destruction, and that their damnation may not slumber, but be speedily inflicted; 2 Pet. 2:3.

Q. 14. Do the devils themselves venture to wish for this?

A. No; they believe that there is farther wrath awaiting them at the judgment of the great day; and they tremble at the forethoughts of it, James 2:19; Jude verse 6.

Q. 15. What is the evil of imprecating divine vengeance upon others?

A. It is a piece of the most profane, presumptuous, and impudent freedom with the Majesty of heaven; as if he were bound to empty the vials of his wrath upon our fellow creatures, at our pleasure, and that in order to gratify our passionate revenge upon them, 2 Sam. 16:5, 8.

Q. 16. Is it not a most horrid and abominable wickedness to call or invoke the devil to TAKE ourselves or others?

A. Surely it is for it is a putting the devil in God's stead, or an employing of him to do God's work for him, even when he is delaying to do it himself; which is no less than devil-worship, and we ought not to "have fellowship with devils," 1 Cor. 10:20.

Q. 17. How is the name of God abused by sinful oaths?

A. When men take unlawful oaths that may be imposed upon them, and when, in their ordinary conversation, they swear by God, or by any thing by which he makes himself known; contrary to Matt. 5:37 -- "Let your communications be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil:" or of the evil one.

Q. 18. In what lies the heinousness of swearing in common discourse?

A. It is a most heaven-daring wickedness, even an insulting of the great God, our maker, to his face; a crime, which we dare not, without danger, be guilty of against our fellow creatures; and which is neither attended with the allurements of pleasure nor temptations of profit.

Q. 19. Is it a taking of God's name in vain, to swear by the creatures; such as, by heaven, by our life, soul, conscience, or the like?

A. Yes; because swearing by any of his creatures, is interpretatively a swearing by God the Creator and Preserver of all things, Matt. 23:22 -- "He that sweareth by HEAVEN, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon."

Q. 20. Did not Joseph, who was a good man, swear repeatedly "by the life of Pharaoh"? Gen. 42:15, 16.

A. The goodness of the man did not excuse the sinfulness of the action: we are not to "do evil, that good may come," Rom. 3:8. For, though it may be alleged, that to say, "By the life of Pharaoh," is no more than to say, "As sure as Pharaoh lives;" yet the words themselves being in the form of an unlawful oath, which it would seem was commonly used by the Egyptians, they ought not, for this reason, to have been uttered.

Q. 21. Is swearing by faith, or troth, a formal profaning of God's name?

A. No doubt it is; for when a person swears in this manner, he tacitly invokes God to bear witness, that he is speaking faithfully and truly, and to punish him, if he is doing otherwise; which, in ordinary conversation, is undoubtedly sinful, and a falling "into condemnation," James 5:12.

Q. 22. Will a habit or custom of swearing in common discourse, be an excuse for it?

A. By no means; any more than a habit or custom of killing men, can be an excuse for wilful murder.

Q. 23. How is the name of God profaned by sinful vows?

A. Either when we solemnly enter into a resolution to do what is absolutely unlawful) as Jezebel did, 1 Kings 19:2; or when we come under engagements to duty, and against sin, in our own strength, without a due dependence on the grace of God, as the greater part of the Israelites did, Deut. 5:27, 29; or, when we vow, and are not resolved to perform, as Johanan and his confederates did, Jer. 42:5, compared with verse 20.

Q. 24. When is the name of God profaned or abused by lots?

A. When God is appealed to by way of diversion, as in playing at cards, and dice, where the great God is most presumptuously invoked to determine who shall be the gainer. Lots are also unlawful, when there is an appeal by them to God in matters of small moment, which might be otherwise easily decided; this being too like the practice of the soldiers, who, after they had crucified Christ, did "cast lots for his vesture," John 19:23, 24.

Q. 25. How do men profane the name of God in their outward walk?

A. By making profession of religion in hypocrisy, and backsliding from it, Heb. 6:6; or, by committing such enormities and immoralities, as reflect dishonour upon it, and make the name of God to be evil spoken of, Rom, 2:24.

Q. 26. How are the ordinances of God profaned and abused?

A. Either when they are quite neglected, Acts 7:42, 43, or when they are attended in a formal, superficial, and customary manner, without seeking to meet with God in them, or to have spiritual food and nourishment to our souls by them, Isa. 29:13, 14.

Q. 27. How is the word profaned and abused?

A. "By misinterpreting, misapplying, or perverting any part of it, to profane jests, curious and unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, -- or any thing, contained under the name of God, to charms, -- or any way opposing God's truth, grace, and ways."[70]

Q. 28. How are the works of God abused?

A. When "the creatures" are prostituted to "sinful lusts and practices; and when there is a murmuring and quarrelling at God's providences."[71]

[69] Larger Catechism, Question 113.
[70] Larger Catechism, Question 113.

[71] Ibid.


Puritanboard Librarian
Fisher's Catechism:

QUESTION 56. What is the reason annexed to the Third Commandment?

ANSWER: The reason annexed to the Third Commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.


Q. 1. Are there any arguments against taking God's name in vain, couched in the preceptive part of this commandment?

A. Yes; he whose name we are forbidden to take in vain, is the LORD OUR GOD; "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy GOD in vain."

Q. 2. What is the force of the argument taken from his being the Lord or JEHOVAH?

A. That his infinite essential glory and excellency should fill us with the greatest reverence and humility, when we think or speak of any thing by which he makes himself known, Psalm 83:18.

Q. 3. What is the force of the argument taken from his being our God?

A. That his making himself over to us in the covenant of promise, as our reconciled God and Father in Christ, should lay us under the strongest obligation to a holy and reverential use of his name, Ex. 15:2.

Q. 4. What is the particular reason expressly subjoined or annexed to this commandment?

A. It is in these words, by way of threatening: For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Q. 5. What is the import of the threatening, "the Lord will not hold him guiltless?"

A. It imports, that he will surely hold him guilty in a peculiar manner, who presumes to profane or abuse his name, so that divine vengeance shall be infallibly certain against him, Zech. 5:3.

Q. 6. In what light does the scripture represent those who take God's name in vain?

A. It represents them as his open and avowed enemies, Psalm 139:20 -- "Thine ENEMIES take thy name in vain."

Q. 7. How does it appear that divine vengeance is infallibly certain against the profaners of God's name?

A. It appears from the very terms of the threatening, The Lord WILL NOT hold him guiltless; that is, as sure as there will be a judgment seat, before which sinners must appear; so sure it is, that this sin shall then be taken particular notice of, as a main article of the indictment, Mal. 3:5.

Q. 8. Why do the breakers of this commandment escape punishment from men?

A. Because many of those to whom the administration of justice is committed, being themselves guilty, do therefore show no concern for vindicating the honour of God's name in punishing the profaners of it.

Q. 9. Why will not the Lord our God suffer them to escape his righteous judgment?

A. Because, if heathens are highly punishable for this crime, as contrary to one of the first dictates of nature's light, Rom. 1:32, much more, among Christians; the manifestation of God's name in Christ being the greatest blessing, John 15:22, their profaning or abusing of it, must be the greatest sin, Amos 3:2.


Puritanboard Librarian
Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland:


A covenant is seen in Scripture as a solemn bond of loyalty or solemn agreement, frequently confirmed by oath. Thus marriage is described as a covenant relationship in Malachi 2:14, " ... she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant."


The idea of covenant originates with God himself, for it is He who establishes a covenant with His people, and does so in terms of a marriage relationship (Jer.3:14).This takes place within the framework of the Covenant of Grace which is the historical outworking of God's eternal purpose of grace in Christ, a purpose first made known to man in the promise of Genesis 3:15. At his creation man stood in a relationship of covenant loyalty to God. God was his King and God's Law was his rule. When man sinned he broke his covenant relationship with God and transferred his allegiance to Satan. In the Covenant of Grace, Christ stands as the Head of a 'given' people (Jn.17:2) and in grace God restores the broken fellowship for all who are in Christ and they gladly respond to that grace in terms of loyalty and new obedience. Thus the covenant relationship between God and man is restored and in Christ it is now guaranteed.

The fact that God sovereignly establishes His covenant with His people, so that He is their God and they are His people, receives considerable emphasis in Scripture. Again and again God declares "I will establish my covenant with you." In each case where God so speaks, the obedience and loyalty of His people are either stated or implied. Even when we read in Scripture of bilateral covenants, covenants between man and man, the essential element is that of sworn fidelity. Thus, when Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant to end the friction over water-rights, they confirmed it with an oath (Gen.21). From now on they would trust each other. Fidelity based on oath was of the very essence of their bond. The contractual aspect of a covenant, as, for example, in marriage, is necessary; but it is not of the essence of a covenant; that must exist in the underlying concept of loyalty.


Israel as a nation first responded to God in covenant terms at Sinai. There Moses "wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant - the Ten Commandments." God said to Moses on that occasion "In accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." The response of the people was emphatic: "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." To Moses they said "Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey." That covenant was established by God and the people responded whole-heartedly.

Covenant-responses, initiated in times of national crisis by leaders like Asa (2 Chron.15:12), Hezekiah (2 Chron.29:10), Jehoiada (2 Kgs.11:17), Josiah (2 Kgs.23:1-3) and Nehemiah (9:32-38), related to all of life. They included every sphere of human activity. Such covenanting was a response in faith and obedience to the Covenant of Grace. It was simply a covenant-keeping on the part of the Lord's people.

It would be wrong to view these covenants as simply man-initiated acts. No act of consecration and obedience should be so described. In conversion the regenerate soul obeys the Gospel, and in sanctification the believer works out his salvation with fear and trembling. Man's activity is definitely there, but Scripture declares that the initiative is with God and not with man (Phil.2:12,13). In the old administration of the Covenant of Grace, the Lord's people were obligated to loyalty and obedience. When they forgot God and turned to idols they had to repent and renew their covenant-allegiance. When restored to their own land after a generation in exile, they had to renew their covenant obedience before God. They were never released from their total response to the Covenant of Grace. Their happiness and peace were found only as they remained covenant- keepers.


There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that believers are in a radically different position, vis-a-vis the Covenant of Grace, from that of believers in Old Testament times. Admittedly, the covenant is now differently administered. Outward forms have changed. Much that was symbolic has been fulfilled. Yet, as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith ch.7 para. 6, "there are not .... two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations." The Old Testament itself indicates that the covenanting principle will still apply in the new economy of Christ's day. Covenant-response is seen as a feature of the future Gospel age (Isa.19:18-25; 49:6-12; Jer.31:31f; 50:4,5; Zech.8:22,23). Fulfilment does not and cannot mean the casting off of something which was originally intrinsic. It is fallacious to argue that because the Old Testament passages (which envisage the covenanting spirit in the new dispensation) have been fulfilled in Christ, the concept of covenant-response now falls away. The status of covenant-response in the New Testament may be summarised as follows:

1. Continuity

The New Testament, focusing on Jesus Christ, the Mediator-King, presents the 'new' covenant as the fulfilment of the 'old'. This is clear from a passage like Luke 1:72. There we read Zechariah's words, " ... to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his Holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham ... ." There is both unity and diversity between the old and new administrations of the covenant. What is abundantly clear is that the Covenant of Grace remains essential in the Kingdom of God. Differences in form and administration in no way weaken that continuity and underlying oneness.

2. Reconstruction

This feature is clearly seen at Pentecost when the Church was removed from the swaddling clothes of Jewish nationalism, ceased to be national and became supranational. Thus it was completely restructured for its task of world-mission and equipped in a new way by the Spirit of God to enable it to obey the Great Commission. This restructuring of the Church did not result in discarding anything which previously had been essential and intrinsic. The Church remained a covenant society and the people of God were still bound in covenant loyalty to their Lord. Paul sees the covenant, which was renewed with the patriarchs, as the perpetual charter of the Church, something which the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years after the patriarchs, could not disannul. (Gal.3:14-18).

3. Permanence

In the New Testament, covenanting, like the position and privileges of children in God's Church, is not expressly commanded or defined; but, because this has been done in the Old Testament and has never been abrogated, it remains in full force. It is clear, however, from the New Testament that God's relationship with His people remains covenantal. For example, the Lord's Supper is a covenant-renewal sacrament. At the institution of the Supper, Christ said "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." The Church is described in covenantal terms taken from the Old Testament, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God ... ". There is, therefore, no biblical ground for assuming that we may now dispense with individual and corporate covenant-response any more than we can assume that the position of the children of believers is radically different to what it was in Old Testament times, or that God cares less about the Sabbath now than when He gave the fourth commandment to Moses. It is readily agreed that symbolic rites and ceremonies which have been fulfilled in Christ are now set aside, but those things which have to do with man's faith, love and loyalty to God remain and can never become obsolete. Sabbath-keeping, covenant-response and the like are in a completely different category from typical rites and ceremonies.

4. Pre-eminence of Christ

Christ is "the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy." Here the primacy of Christ is stressed, His primacy in creation and in redemption. His lordship is absolute. Christians are called to acknowledge that total lordship in every area of life. It is thus that their covenant-response reaches its climax in this personal devotion and loyalty to their Royal Saviour. Thus it must be concluded that covenanting is not an optional extra. It is intrinsic in Christianity. It is simply the conscious outworking of what is intrinsic in conversion to all of life.

In terms of biblical history, covenanting is linked to the moral law rather than to the ceremonial law, and the moral law proclaims God's supreme authority and man's accountability to God; therefore, covenanting is always a proper duty. Whenever God's people assemble in worship, the covenanting principle is implied. The members of that gathering meet in joint dedication to God, vowing to perform all religious duties, presenting in prayer the desires of the heart, uniting in praise with oneness of mind and affection joyfully expressed and presenting themselves as a living sacrifice to God. Covenanting is the formal, solemn and conscious expression of that. It is the statement and application of the very quintessence of Christian discipleship. It is not a sectarian practice, but the fullest expression of the believer's, the Church's and the Nation's allegiance to the Lord God.


Since apostolic times, formal covenanting has occurred either in times of crisis or during revival. The Waldensians ratified their testimony by solemn oath and the Pilgrim Fathers renewed their solemn covenant on several occasions. During the time of the Reformation, there were covenants in Geneva, Hungary, Holland and France. Bands or covenants occurred in Scotland at intervals from 1556, the most famous being the National Covenant of Scotland (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant of England, Scotland and Ireland (1643). Godly men and women died because of their acceptance of Christ's royal prerogatives as stated in those covenants, their motto being "For Christ's Crown and Covenant."

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland inherits the convictions and insights of the Scottish Covenanters and upholds the great principles of the Scottish Covenants, covenants which, like those of Old Testament times, were a response to God's Covenant of Grace. The question immediately arises as to whether such a covenant can bind posterity. There is clear Biblical proof that it can and does. From the stand-point of God's initiative, this is beyond question. Moses could say with God's authority "I am making this covenant, with this oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today, in the presence of the Lord our God, but also with those who are not here today." Much earlier God declared to Abram, "I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you." Abram's descendants were perpetually obligated to covenant obedience primarily by what God had done.

Some of the Old Testament covenant-responses were patently relevant to posterity. Jeremiah charged the Jewish nation with breaking the covenant made with their fathers and gave this as the reason why the land suffered from the Chaldean invasion (Jer.11:1 - 11; 34:13f.). This implied the continuing identity of a people and society and of continuing obligation. So strong is this continuing identity with its consequent inescapable responsibility that God could say to the Israelites almost a millennium after the Exodus, "I covenanted with YOU when YOU came out of Egypt." Later, Peter was to remind the Jews "You are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers."

The State, as a divine institution (Rom.13:1) distinct from the Church, is equally under obligation to recognise the Lordship of Christ and in covenant obedience to honour and uphold His laws and protect His Church (Ps.2:8-12; Isa.49:23). God repeatedly asserts His authority over the nations and warns the apostate State of judgment (Ps.9:17; Isa.60:12). He blesses the nations that own Him (Ps.33:12) and breaks in pieces the nations that reject Him. This is the whole tenor of Scripture. Christ is the "King of kings and Lord of lords." His mediatorial dominion is a fact, whether the world recognises it or not.

The Biblical principle of covenanting can be applied in any country. The total lordship of Christ should be acknowledged in every area of human activity - politics, business, science, hygiene, medicine, legislation etc. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland regards the principles of the Scottish Covenants as still binding, unreservedly accepts the obligation imposed by them, and grieves because they have been repudiated by the nation to its incalculable loss. It is imperative that, in the present day, Christians should recognise the duty of covenant-response in the light of God's ever-abiding Covenant of Grace within which they are confronted with the claims of Christ, their rightful King.


Puritanboard Librarian
Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America:

1. There is scriptural warrant for swearing with the hand uplifted. Christians should avoid all superstitious or pagan customs in taking an oath. Heb. 6:16-18; Gen. 14:22; Deut. 10:20; Ex. 6:8; Rev. 10:5-6.

2. Those Scripture passages warning against taking oaths are to be understood as forbidding profane swearing, or the use of an oath to deceive or to escape one´s duty. Matt. 5:33-37; Jas. 5:12; cf. Mark 7:6-13.

3. The administrator of an oath, whether civil or ecclesiastical, ought to explain the meaning of the oath, and administer it with suitable solemnity. The well-being of individuals and of society requires that the administrator of an oath know and fear God and understand its nature. Oaths should be administered only to those who understand their meaning. Eccl. 9:2; Deut. 6:13; Josh. 9:15, 19; cf. 2 Sam. 21:1-14.

4. An oath is a confirmatory act calling God to witness the performance of a promise. An oath may confirm a vow or a covenant. Num. 30:1-4; Ps. 132:2-5; Josh. 9:16-27; 2 Chron. 15:12-15.

5. A vow in Scripture is an act of voluntary dedication to God of one´s person, goods or service. A vow is usually made by an individual. Lev. 27; Num. 6; Deut. 23:21-23; cf. Num. 21:2; Nah. 1:15.

6. While it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the uses in Scripture of the words "œvow" and "œcovenant," a covenant that men make with God differs from a vow in that it is a corporate act of pledging obedience to what God has commanded in His covenant. Gen. 28:20-22; Num. 21:2; Deut. 23:21-23; Josh. 24:24-25; 2 Chron. 34: 29-32.

7. God has established two covenants with men: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace (see chap. 7). In accomplishing the Covenant of Grace God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel at Sinai (renewed in the plain of Moab), and with David; these were fulfilled in the new covenant by Jesus Christ. Gen. 2:17; Gen. 9:1-17; Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 24:3-11; Deut. 29"”30; 2 Sam. 7:5-16; Jer. 31:31-34.

8. God´s covenants require obedience of all men whether they acknowledge their obligation or not. God´s people, individually and corporately, respond to His covenants by solemnly promising to be the Lord´s and to keep His commandments. The Old Testament sacraments, such as circumcision, passover and the feast of tabernacles, were means of entering into and periodically renewing Israel´s covenant. Likewise, the sacraments of the New Testament are ordinances for entrance into and renewal of covenant union with God. In addition to these prescribed times of covenant celebration, God´s people under the old covenant engaged in corporate acts of repentance and renewal in relation to the transgression of specific commandments or to general apostasy from God. Scripture calls such acts "œcovenants." Gen. 17:10; Lev. 23:3-10 with John 19:36 and 1 Cor. 5:7-8; Matt. 26:26-29; 1Cor. 11:23-26; Josh. 24:24-25; 2 Chron.
15:2, 8-15; 2 Chron. 23:16; 2 Chron. 34:29-32; Neh. 9-10.

9. Covenanting in the New Testament takes the form of confessing Christ and His Lordship. In view of the continued emphasis of the covenantal relationship of God to men in the New Testament, it is appropriate for churches and nations to covenant to be the Lord´s and to serve Him. The statements or documents produced in these acts of covenant response are dependent upon the Covenant of Grace. They are statements of responsibility arising from the application of the Word of God to the times in which they are made. Such covenants have continuing validity in so far as they give true expression to the Word of God for the times and situations in which believers live. Isa. 45:23 with Rom. 14:11 and Phil.2:11; Jer. 31:31 with Heb. 8:6-13; Ex.
19:5-6 with 1 Pet. 2:9-10.
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