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ways. By the law is the knowledge of sin. Come let us view ourselves in the glass of God's law, and see that we are sinners, and great sinners. And while we acknowledge and feel that we have often sinned against this commandment, let us remember that it is written, "cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Gal. iii. 10.
The law condemns us. Let us under a sense of our sins, and the condemnation of the law which we have violated, cry with the publican, God be merciful to us sinners; and flee for pardon and acceptance to that Redeemer who hath opened a way of redemption from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us; and who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; and take refuge in his atoneing blood and justifying righteousness. Let us learn also from this subject to be more careful in future, to use with reverence every thing by which God maketh himself known. And to deter us from a breach of this commandment, let us always keep in mind the awful sanction with which it is enforced, "the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."
MATTHEW v. 34. FIRST CLAUSE.
"But I say unto you, swear not at all.”
This text does not forbid the taking of an oath, in civil or ecclesiastical matters, when duly called to it by proper authority. The lawfulness of such oaths is clearly evident from both the old and the New-Testaments. But it forbids swearing, by the name of God, in common conversation; and also swearing, on any occasion, by any creature, as heaven, the earth, Jerusalem, our head, and the like.
The Jews, while they held that the oaths which they made in the name of the Lord were binding, and that they could not break such oaths without sin, supposed they might swear by other things, and break their oaths and yet be innocent. In reference to this sentiment, our Saviour gave the prohibition, "Swear not at all," in which he condemned all kinds of swearing in common conversation, whether by the name of God or any thing else. And further he directed, that in our communications with each other we should use simple affirmation or denial." Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
The object of the ensuing discourse is to offer some reasons to enforce the prohibition in the text; or in other words to dissuade from the vice of profane swearing. This is a sin against the third commandment. By profane swearing, as the phrase will be used in the ensuing discourse, we are to understand, appealing to God, for the truth of the assertions we make in common conversation; using any of the names of God, or any of the persons of the Trinity, in common conversation, in a light or irreverent manner; swearing on any occasion by any creature whatever, as heaven, soul, &c.; and also imprecating curses on ourselves or others.
Many weighty reasons may be offered to dissuade from
1. It is inexcusable. There is less temptation to this than perhaps any other vice. To some vices there may be a constitutional propensity. But as one well observes, " No man is born with a swearing constitution." In other vices a temporary qualification may be enjoyed, or some temporal advantage may be derived from them. The drunkard and the debauchee are prompted to the commission of their respective crimes by their sensual appetites, and they receive a momentary gratification. The liar may cover a crime, and thus screen himself from punishment, or he may do himself or his friends a temporary good. The dishonest man may gratify his avarice, and increase his estate. But what tempts the swearer to utter his oaths and curses? what enjoyment has he in them! or what advantage can he reap from them. What excuse can be given to palliate this vice? Certainly it ought to be something very weighty to induce persons thus to trifle with the tremendous name of God.
Will persons say that they cannot gain credit to what they assert without the addition of an oath? But will these persons be willing to allow that their credit for veracity is so low, that their simple word in common conversation will not be taken? and supposing that they are so lost to a sense of character as to allow this; do they gain any more credit for what they say, because they confirm it, in an irreverent manner, with an oath? Will a man be believed by another the sooner, because he shows that he has no fear of God before his eyes; No! reason teaches us that there is less credit due to his assertions; for what has he then to restrain him, but the fear of man? And if he can cast this off too, what security can we have for his veracity? and facts prove that a profane swearer gains no additional credit to his assertions, in common conversation, by confirming them with an oath.
Will the profane swearer plead passion as an excuse for his oaths and curses? But one sin will not form a just excuse for another; and the indulgence of angry and revengeful passions is itself highly sinful. But supposing such indulgence was lawful, it is certainly irrational, to vent passion by taking the name of God in vain, and thus dishonouring him and breaking his commandments. It is certainly highly irrational that when our fellow creatures provoke us, we should as a satisfaction abuse God and provoke him. Besides such conduct does not afford satisfaction. It does not repair the injury our enemy has done us; nor does it in the least injure him. This is such an irrational plea to justify profane swearing, that it is astonishing it has ever been given by any person in his sen
Again, will the profane swearer plead as an excuse for this practice that it is a fashionable accomplishment, and a mark of bravery and gentility? Supposing this were the fact, could the fashions and opinions of a wicked world, justify dishonouring God, and transgressing his laws? are the wicked to be respected rather than God? Certainly not. But is it a fact that profaneness is any proof either of bravery or gentility? Reason certainly teaches us that it is no mark of bravery, but that it is a proof of great presumption and consummate folly, thus to tempt the vengeance, and set at defiance the power of him, before whom even devils tremble, whom all created
powers cannot resist or controul, and who is able with a word to sink all his creatures into non-existence, or into eternal perdition. It certainly can be no proof of bravery to rush upon the thick bosses of his buckler and tempt his vengeance. And it is no more an evidence of gentility than of bravery. It is, alas! too true, that many who call themselves gentlemen, are addicted to this vice, though I hope and believe the number has considerably lessened. But if they have any just claims to the character of gentlemen, this practice makes no part of their claims; for what constitutes the character of the true gentleman, but the virtues which in a superior degree adorn his character? If profane swearing, formed a trait of gentility, the very vilest characters in the very lowest ranks of society, would, as far as this trait was concerned, have the fairest claim to the character of gentlemen. For we do find that the most infamous, the lowest characters, the very refuse of society, who pretend to no character, and who care for none, are for the most part as great adepts, in this genteel accomplishment, as it is termed by some, as those who pride themselves on their gentility. This consideration ought to be sufficient, to lead all, who have any regard to dignity of character, and who would not wish to put themselves on a level with the very lowest characters in society, to avoid and detest this practice.
Again will the profane swearer offer as an excuse for this practice, that he does it without reflection, and that he does not mean any thing when he swears? Then he acknowledges that he acts without meaning and therefore without reason. And can this excuse a rational creature? is it not rather a disgrace to him?
Will he say again, that he has become so addicted to this practice, that he knows not when he does it? This, instead of extenuating, aggravates his guilt. For it shows that he has so long indulged himself in this vice, that he has formed a habit so powerful as to be almost invinci ble. To admit the validity of this excuse, would be to allow that the longer a person has continued in any sin, and the more bent upon wickedness he becomes, the more excusable he is. The vice of profane swearing is inexcusable.
2. Another reason to dissuade from this vice is this
unless it is forsaken by true repentance, and the guilt of it is washed away by the blood of Christ, it will unavoidably bring down the judgments of God upon the head of him who indulges himself in it, and will inevitably issue in his eternal destruction where he will forever feel the power of that God, with whose name, and laws he has trifled, and the awful import of damnation with which he has sported. God is jealous for the glory of his name, and he has commanded us to reverence him; and will he not punish for such violations of the reverence which is due to him? Besides, has the profane swearer a right to expect any thing else? for has he not often called God to witness to a falsehood, and sworn by his name, and then broken his oath? An oath is an appeal to God as the searcher of hearts, for the truth of what we say, and an imprecation of his curse in case we swear falsely. Let the profane swearer therefore consider, whether in the numerous oaths which he has made in conversation, he has never called God to witness to a falsehood. And if so, has he any reason to expect any thing else, than that the wrath and curse of God, under which he has voluntarily put himself by his oaths, will fall upon him? Besides are there not some wretches, who, (shocking to relate!) have called upon God to damn their souls? And can such persons expect any thing else, than that they will have what they have asked?
But if, notwithstanding these reasons, any doubt could remain, as to the dreadful doom which awaits the swearer; the Scriptures have settled this point, and removed every ground of doubt. The third precept of the decalogue, which was delivered with awful majesty and terror by God himself, 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." Or in other words he will punish those who take his name in vain. Such a threatening as this is not to be found annexed to any other of the ten commandments, which may intimate that this is a sin peculiarly offensive to God. Again we read Deut. xxviii. 58, 59. "If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law-that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord thy God; then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful." And James exhorts, James v. 12. Above all things, my brethren, swear not;