Broken Promises

Anyone may read this blog, but only Christians who believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority in life will truly believe it and embrace it. The bulk of this blog was taken from my commentary on chapter 22, “Oaths and Vows,” of the Westminster Confession of Faith. My motivation for writing this blog is the blatant disregard that high profile professing Christian politicians have for keeping promises. However, it applies to every individual Christian.

The word promise corresponds to words like covenant, oath, and vow.  An oath is voluntary, but the ninth commandment, you shall not lie, is fundamental to the execution of the oath.  When an oath is made the one who swears the oath calls on God as his witness.  Since God cannot err in relation to truth the party making the oath calls on God to judge him or her.  Making a promise with God as witness leaves an awesome responsibility on the shoulders of the one swearing the oath.  One must be careful not to swear an oath of perpetuity.  When someone says, “I will remain till death do us part” there is no way out.  Making frivolous statements and promises is a sin, a violation of the ninth commandment, not only to the person affected by the lie, but also to God who was a witness to it.  If Westminster has correctly interpreted the Bible then God is called upon to judge whether or not the promise was honorable and truthful.

Westminster defines a vow, “of the like nature with a promissory oath.”  Since a promissory note generally describes a promise to pay a fixed sum on a fixed day, it must be concluded that vows must be taken seriously with resulting consequences.  However, the risk of consequences should in no way inhibit one from making vows to God.  Once the commitment is made it must be kept or otherwise it is a sin against God.  “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools.  Pay what you vow” (Ecclesiastes 5:4).

The Westminster Confession of Faith was drafted and approved at a time when objective and absolute truth was not in question.  By the end of the 20th century, there was no consensus that truth actually existed independent of the human brain.  It is interesting that Westminster says one must be “fully persuaded” or completely convinced.  Full persuasion for the Christian brings a heavy responsibility, because God hates liars.  “Speak each man the truth to his neighbor . . . and do not love a false oath, for all these are things I hate Says the Lord” (Zechariah 8:16-17).  In his commentary on the 9th commandment, Thomas Watson said, “How can you converse or bargain with a man when you cannot trust a word he says?  This sin highly provokes God.  Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for telling a lie.”

No man should make an “oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform.”  To break an oath makes one a liar.  Jesus associates liars with the Devil himself (John 8:44), so one should be very careful not to say something that one cannot do.

God will not be a witness to cunning, deceitful, dishonest, and evasive language.  God knows the heart, regardless of what comes out of the mouth.  Westminster mentions that God will not tolerate equivocation.  In logic, equivocation may be the bad use of English, which is a result of ignorance.

However, equivocation may be used to deceive by using a word or phrase that could take two different meanings.  Westminster has the latter in mind.  It is possible for a Christian to say technically I meant such and such, but in the heart he may intend to convey the opposite meaning. The 17th century Reformer, Francis Turretin, rightly states, “an oath ought to be an end of all controversy according to the apostle (Hebrews 6:16), but where there is equivocation, controversies are rather multiplied than ended” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 66ff).

The Word of God is very clear on this doctrine: “May it never be!  Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou art judged’” (Romans 3:4). An oath “binds to performance, although to a man’s own hurt.”  It is very common for people to make promises and then break them if the oath is to their disadvantage.  An oath can be broken only if it is a sin to keep it.  Mental reservations will not save the party making the oath, because God will judge the heart.  “With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him” (Jeremiah 9:8; also see 2 Corinthians 4:2).

Many words condensed: Keep your promises or there will be consequences!

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