The article reads as follows: "As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ and James His apostle; so we judge that the Christian religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophets teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth."
Scriptural references: Matthew 5:33-37; Hebrews 6:16; II Corinthians 1:23; and James 5:12.
This Article has remained without change since 1553 and is aimed at several smaller sects that refuse to take an oath or pledge themselves in any way.
There are two main passages in the New Testament which are used as proof by these sects who refuse to swear to an oath or give a pledge of any kind. The one is taken from our Lords sermon on the mount and the other is taken from the writings of James (Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12).
It is to these passages that the Article itself alludes when it says, "we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ and James His Apostle." And it is definitely clear that in neither passage is the formal tendering of oaths in a court of law even under consideration. Such a solemn act is relerred to in the Epistle to thc Hebrews in terms which conclusively indicate that the writer of the Epistle saw nothing wrong in it. "Men swear by the greater: and in every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation." (Hebrews 6:16) Paul, several times, in his Epistles makes a solemn appeal to God which is in the form of an oath. See II Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20 and Philippians 1:8. In one instance especially the fact of an oath cannot be questioned. I Corinthians 15:31. Then there are references to God as swearing by Himself, which would be difficult to reconcile with the idea that there is anything essentially wrong in a solemn oath in order to gain credence for a statement. See Hebrews 3:11, and 6:16-17. The passage or event that seems quite conclusive is found in Matthew 26:62-64. In this passage our Lord was solemnly adjured by the High Priest, that is, put under oath. There is no record that He, Jesus, refused to answer.
We must come to the conclusion, then, that there is nothing in the Scriptures which need raise any scruples in the mind of Christians as to the lawfulness of acquiescing when solemnly put upon their oath. Whether the use of oaths in courts, etc., is advisable in another matter which this Article does not cover, therefore not a part of this study.
A man may regret the custom, and feel that it brings with it grave dangers of the profaning of sacred things, and encourages the false idea of a double standard of thoughtfulness, and yet, hold that a man may swear when the magistrate or judge requires one to do so, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophets teaching in justice, judgment and truth, as the Article reads.
The prophet whose teaching is referred to here, is the prophet Jeremiah. We read in Jeremiah 4:2, "Thou shalt swear as the Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness;" and if judicial oaths are permissible at all, it can only be on these conditions.
There are times when public testimony of great solemnity is required to establish certain assertions made by the party or parties involved. Evangelical Methodists are permitted to render such an oath or pledge. For those who think otherwise, our courts permit a statement of affirmation which is equally valid and acceptable. In such cases, each man must permit his own conscience to be his guide.