As you know, in courts of law witnesses can be required to swear an oath. That’s allowed, though it wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, be necessary—if only everyone would speak the truth in obedience to the 9th commandment. As the Lord said, let your yes be yes and your no, no.
For people of the world, even the swearing of an oath is no guarantee that the truth is being told. That’s often illustrated in the news about prominent court cases wherein both parties give contradictory accounts of what happened. Yet God sees, and sooner or later all must give an account to Him.
The matter of swearing an oath is something our Heidelberg Catechism deals with in Lord’s Day 37. What follows is a brief meditation on this from Your Only Comfort.[i]
“It is a sad business for a believer to have to swear an oath, for the oath is a reminder that we are living in the world of the lie. Man’s word alone cannot be trusted.
It is also sad that, although we have been transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of truth, we too are not (or cannot be) believed on our word. It is painful for a Christian that in certain situations he is not simply trusted and then defended in the presence of God.
Back in the perfect world of paradise the oath was not needed. The same applies to the future new earth, where there will be no more sin and disloyalty, where lie and deception will no longer be found, and truth springs up from the earth.[ii] On the day when man will forever be living in God’s presence, yes, when God shall be all in all, the oath shall be gone for good. Each word spoken there has the strength of an oath because it is spoken in the presence of God.
However, that’s not only the case on the new earth, but also in the church. There, too, each word is spoken in the presence of God. That’s why the church has no need for the oath. Answering ‘I do’ in the church has the strength of an oath. We are not allowed to say it lightly, and we are obliged to keep it faithfully all the time. This concerns our ‘I do’ when we profess our faith, give our marriage vows, make our promises at the baptism of our children, or enter the office of minister of the Word, elder or deacon.
We must always bring to mind what we promised before God’s holy countenance, and ask ourselves how sincere we are while singing: “So will I, Thy Name professing for Thy blessing, pay my vows day after day.”
The promises spoken in the church shall dominate our life, albeit in small measure. Our ongoing prayer shall be: Guide my feet, O LORD, and teach me.
For as believers we are God’s prophets who walk in truth everywhere, knowing that each word we say has God as witness.”
[i] Your Only Comfort edited by Rev Joh Francke (Pro Ecclesia Printers) is a fine book of meditations which systematically goes through the Heidelberg Catechism. Each meditation is linked to a Lord’s Day. In the book this meditation is titled “No Need for the Oath” and is linked to Lord’s Day 37e.
[ii] See Isaiah 61:11.