« FöregåendeFortsätt »
about our expressions, so necessary in other oaths, have nothing to do in this. Here God enters into our hears, and covenants with us by our naked thoughts. All we have, therefore, to look to in this case, is, first, the reasonableness and piety of what we promise ; and the firmness of our resolution to perform it. If the thing we vow is rendered evil, either by its own nature, or by the revealed will of God, our vow, instead of consecrating it, serves only to desecrate our selves. And, if we are not fully convinced of our resolution to suffer every thing, rather than not perform it, we do but ensnare ourselves, and mock Almighty God. We never vow that which is not, by supposition, à matter of considerable difficulty; for, being right in itself, if it is pleasant or easy in the performance, there can be no inducement to tie ourselves to it by a vow. He, therefore, only is fit to make a vow, whose deep and lively sense of religion is sufficient to give him that firmness and perseverance, which he does not find in his natural temper and make. In such a mind, it is of infinite use to have its piety pointed by a solemn vow directly against its infirmities. A yow, thus applied, will answer the end of a cannon planted in a breach, provided it is not suffered to lie idle. This is the use intended by that vow wherewith our baptismal covenant is enforced, which ought not only to prevent our making new ones of a contrary nature, but ought likewise to prevent all such subsequent vows, as only aim in particular at the performance of those duties which the covenant lays us under in general terms. To vow anew what we vowed in baptism, serves only to null, not strengthen, that original promise, wherein we contracted on oath to do all the good we can, and no evil; and therefore left ourselves no room for new promises to the same effect, unless, we suppose, against sense and reason, that our transgressions have wholly annulled and abolished the baptismal covenant and vow, and so made it necssary to come to new terms of our own invention with Almighty God. But the case is quite otherwise. The greatest sinner that ever was baptized, remains all his life under the obligation of his original contract, although totally deprived of all its benefits. Even a formal renunciation cannot discharge him, because his contract was ratified by an undeterminable vow. All that a transgressor can do, is truly to repent of his sins; and, having recovered by meditation a lively sense of his baptismal vow, to renew it in his prayers, and at the sacrament of the Lord's supper. God authorises no other vows or contracts for the same purpose.
It is true, indeed, we may innocently, perhaps profitably, promise to God to do such actions, though left indifferent by the covenant, as may help to qualify us for the performance of those that we stipulated for. We may, for instance, consecrate a part of our time to fasting and prayer by a particular vow. Or, on the other hand, we may lay a vow against such actions, as, although not forbidden by the covenant, tempt us to the transgression of some article contained thereinr If, for example, we are addicted to drunkenness, we may promise to abstain from strong liquors, although the covenant permits the use of them. Such vows as these tend only to aid us in the due observation of our original vow, and therefore seem rather useful, in some cases, than culpable. And yet it must be owned, that, in vowing obedience when we were baptised, we did, by implication, vow the means necessary to that obedience. However, as the actions I am speaking of were left indifferent by our original contract, and only became otherwise by acci. dent, the tying ourselves up in respect to them cannot, I think, be displeasing in the sight of God, since we do it with so good a design.
It is certain, there is no one thing that concerns a Christian so much, as to keep his attention always fixed on his baptismal vow; because the covenant he thereby bound himself to, is the great rule by which he is to live here, and be judged hereafter. If he does not do this, he is in danger of spending the greater part of his days in direct opposition to the awful doctrine of my text, as well as to all those other places of Scripture, that immediately forbid his sins. Few men consider, as they ought to do, that, over and above the peculiar guilt they contract by each particular transgression, they are perjured in every one of their sins.
Having explained to you, as well as I could in so short a compass, the doctrine that comes naturally under the first part of my text, before I proceed to the other, it may be useful to observe to you, that, as it is by an oath we become Christians, and as by oaths all the laws of civil society ope
rate, it concerns us above all things, whether we cast our eyes on this world, or the next, to consider perjury as the crime most capable of doing mischief among mankind, and therefore the most likely to provoke the indignation of Almighty God. In all transgressions of our baptismal covenant, he is the party immediately injured by it. And whenever, in the affairs of the world, it is applied to pervert justice, his name is prostituted to that abominable purpose; and he who is the supreme Governor, the King of kings, and the guardian of justice, is, as far as the horrible impiety of mankind can do it, made the instrument and means of all iniquity. Robbery, rebellion, murder, &c. are looked on as crimes of the first magnitude, and punished with death in almost every country. But are we to regard perjury as a less heinous crime, because it is followed in this world with less alarming consequences ? No; let us not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment.' In respect to God, no crime we can commit, blasphemy only excepted, strikes so directly at his majesty as this; which so far shares the nature of blasphemy, that it practically denies the wisdom, justice, and power, of God; or, if it owns, defies them. If hope of impunity is the most tempting encouragement to all manner of wickedness; and if perjury gives all other sins the greatest hopes of impunity, then perjury beside its own peculiar malignity, brings with it the foul stain of all other sins. Every one who hath frequented the trials of our civil courts, hath seen it steal, rob, ravish, cut throats, and take fees. Let no detestable dealer in perjuries, who lives by the infernal retail of oaths, presume to say (none else, I am sure, will say it), that I too highly aggravate the heinousness of this crime, so big with every sort of enormity ; in respect to God, owning and denying, professing and renouncing him, with the same breath; and, with respect to men, ever punishing the innocent, and rewarding the guilty, and doing all it can to bring the affairs of mankind under subjection to the author of evil. No; it is impossible to exceed here. This is one of those crimes which leaves all the eloquence of oratory, and all the paintings of poetry, far behind; and can be fully expressed by nothing, but the despairing groans of him who suffers for it in eternal flames.
** The latter part of my text forbids the profanation of God's name ; by which is probably meant a crime distinct from that which is forbidden in the former; not but that every abuse of God's name is a profanation ; however, as it is here prohibited in the same sentence with perjury, we ought to take it for a different sin. It is that sin, then, which we mean by common swearing ; a practice of so odd a kind, and seemingly so foreign both to our temptations and infirmities, that nothing, at first view, can appear more unaccountable. It is nevertheless, no difficult matter to trace it to its source.
Oaths being used, in matters of importance, ' for confirmation, and for an end of all strife among men,' as St. Paul expresses it; and men being, in a great measure, left to judge for themselves of the importance requisite to bring any particular affair under the decision of an oath; it was not altogether unnatural to apply them in cases of too little consequence to suit with the solemnity of an appeal to God. From hence it might come, that, by little and little, they were brought in to confirm assertions in private conversation; and at length used as arguments in matters of opinion ; insomuch that many, for want of rational proofs, or of credit, to support what they say, impiously call on God to attest asseverations too trilling to require the word of a child.
But howsoever it comes to pass, men accustomed to back what they say with such proofs, are generally less believed than those who only give their word; and are suspected of lying as often as they are obliged to have recourse to swearing. And indeed it is but just to suspect them; first, because common or profane swearing is a sure mark of a rash, hasty, and giddy disposition. Now all the world knows, that people of this turn seldom stay to examine things; that they form their opinions too precipitately, and pronounce too vehemently; and that therefore no sort of men are so likely to make mistakes, and propagate them, whenever they are believed. The use they make of oaths, shews, they themselves are sensible of this, and should serve to no other purpose, but to give warning of the lie to which they are tacked. In the next place, their too great familiarity with oaths is enough to render them suspected, when
they swear with the utmost solemnity, and in matters of the greatest importance, before a court of justice. They who are ever and anon appealing to God, and forcing his name into every trifling sentence, cannot be supposed to think of his Divine Majesty with that awe and reverence which is necessary to the solemnity of an oath. Such men, therefore, as they deserve, so they meet with, less credit than any other sort of men. Besides, in the last place, it is very observable, that this sort of swearing generally arises from a consciousness in the swearer, either that what he says is incredible in itself, or that his naked affirmation, so low is the character of his integrity, can give it no credit with the world. There is a sort of bashfulness in lies, that makes them afraid to venture out till they have an oath to give them countenance ; whereas truth hath a right to be confident, because it is self-supported.
There are others, again, who swear in conversation, not that they care much whether they are believed or not, but because they have got a habit of swearing. They heard others swear, and therefore they swore; and swore on, till their tongues were so accustomed to pronounce the dreadful words, that they did not need to be prompted by their thoughts. Perhaps I should ask pardon for seeming to ascribe the power of thinking to wretches, from whom no sense of gratitude to an infinitely gracious God, nor any fear of almighty vengeance, can extort so low an instance of duty, as that of abstaining from a crime they have not the least temptation to commit.
There is a third sort of swearers, whose tongues are too nimble for their brains, and who are therefore being determined to keep them always going) obliged to supply those active organs of sound with a set of standing words, which mean nothing, but serve to keep them in motion, till their tardy thoughts can furnish them with a more pertinent sort of nonsense. They pitch on oaths for their purpose, because they are a rattling and sounding sort of words, that make up in noise what they want in sense, and so seem better fitted than any others to fill up the vacancies of discourse. Were there no profanation in this practice, surely a man might infinitely better consult the credit of his understanding by holding his tongue, than by swearing, which, at the