As we will see Whitefield begins his argument by looking at the common use of swearing in terms of an oath particularly swearing by that which is Holy. And certainly we see the necessity of not issuing oaths if for no other reason that God commands us not to. James echoes this (Jas 5:12) further adding that as believers our “yes” should mean “yes” and our “no” should mean “no”; as well as the testimony of our character should make swearing an oath superfluous. He will also point out that our careless use of swearing, even the seemingly harmless garden variety, should not be tolerated.
The Heinous Sin of Profane Cursing and Swearing – pt 2
Matt 5:34 -- "But I say unto you, Swear not at all."
But, before I proceed directly to the prosecution of this point, it will be proper to clear this precept of our Lord from a misrepresentation that has been put on it by some, who infer from hence, that our Savior prohibits swearing before a magistrate, when required on a solemn and proper occasion. But that all swearing is not absolutely unlawful for a Christian, is evident from the writings of St. Paul, whom we often find upon some solemn occasions using several forms of imprecation, as, "I call God as witness;" "God is my judge;" "By your rejoicing in Christ Jesus," and suchlike. And that our savior does by no means forbid swearing before a magistrate, in the words now before us, is plain, if we consider the sense and design he had in view, when he gave his disciples this command.
Permit me to observe to you then, that our blessed master had set himself, from the 27 th verse of the chapter, out of which the text is taken, to vindicate and clear the moral law from the corrupt glosses and misconstruction of the Pharisees, who then sat in Moses's chair, but were notoriously faulty in adhering too closely to the literal expression of the law, without ever considering the due extent and spiritual meaning of it. Accordingly they imagined, that because God had said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," that therefore, supposing a person was not guilty of the very act of adultery, he was not chargeable with the breach of the seventh commandment. And likewise in the matter of swearing, because God had forbidden his people, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, "to take his name in vain," or to swear falsely by his name; they therefore judged it lawful to swear by any creature in common discourse, supposing they did not directly mention the name of God.
Our blessed Savior therefore, in the words now before us, rectifies this their mistake about swearing, as he had done in the verses immediately forgoing, concerning adultery, and tells the people, that whatever allowances the Pharisees might give to swear by any creature, yet he pronounced it absolutely unlawful for any of his followers to do so. "You have heard, that it has been said by them of old time," (namely, by the Pharisees and teachers of the Jewish law) "Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you," (I who am appointed by the Father to be the great prophet and true law-giver of his church) "Swear not at all, (in your common conversation) neither by heaven for it is God's throne; (and therefore to swear by that, is to swear by Him that sits thereon) neither by the earth, for it is his foot-stool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King; neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black: but let your communications (which plainly shows that Christ is here speaking of swearing, not before a magistrate, but in common conversation) let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay, (a strong affirmation or negation at the most); for whatsoever is more than this, cometh of evil;" that is, cometh from an evil principle, from the evil one, the devil, the author of all evil.
Which by the way, methinks, should be a caution to all such persons, who, though not guilty of swearing in the gross sense of the word, yet attest the truth of what they are speaking of, though ever so trifling, by saying, Upon my life, -- as I live, -- by my faith, -- by the heavens, and such like: which expressions, however harmless and innocent they may be esteemed by some sorts of people, yet are the very oaths which our blessed Lord condemns in the words immediately following the text; and persons who use such unwarrantable forms of speaking, must expect to be convicted and condemned as swearers, at our Savior's second coming to judge the world.