« VorigeDoorgaan »
be made a sport of? Is it to be a diversion, a mirth, to treat one such command with insult and contempt, and with the very highest degree of both ? Yet is it not true, that · Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” is one of these commands; and is it not true, that it is thus treated ? I speak not, as I said before, to those who think that God is not to be reverenced at all, or who do not reverence him in any thing, but to others do I speak, and most especially to all young persons. What a beginning is this, of a religious course of life? It is impossible, in the nature of things, that any serious sentiments of religion, any impressions, any conversation, any practice, any thing that resembles a religious character, or approaches to it, can grow out of such an origin.
But it may be said that this was spoken to the Jews, and not to the Christians. Hear how that matter stands; •I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne ; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither 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 communication be yea, yea, or nay, nay, for whatever is more than these, cometh of evil.' These are the words of Christ himself, whereby it appears most indisputably, that he adopts the third commandment in its full extent, and according to the spirit, as well as the letter of it. So far from superseding or weakening its authority, he adds to it his own ;
say unto you, swear not at all.' So far from confining its extent, he rather enlarges it ; that is, he interprets it according to its spirit as well as its letter; from the name of God he extends it to every thing which relates to God. This excuse, therefore, does not come well from the mouth of any Christian whatever, namely, that the commandment was spoken only to the Jews; for Christ, the author of our religion, has explicitly adopted it, in all its force, in all its obligation, and in all its extent. What Christ himself began upon this head, the apostles continued ; . Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath.' Here is the very same strain of admonition as our Lord had used, clear, positive, decisive ; and this is from St James.
Am I not well warranted, therefore, in asserting concerning profane swearing, that there is a clear command, and a clear transgression ? But will any one reply by asking, What is a command without a reason?' I will judge the strength of the command by the weight of the reason, when I know it.
Is this a reply from a creature to his Creator, from dust and ashes to Omnipotence, from ignorance itself to Him who knoweth all things, from weakness and impotency to the ruler of the world? Is the command itself nothing? Is not the command itself sufficient; above all reasons or arguments whatever sufficient; a command so pronounced, so ratified; proceeding from such authority, delivered with such solemnity; so decisive in its prohibitions, so clear in its signification ?
The reason, nevertheless, is the strongest of all reasons; to uphold, namely, in the minds of men, a reverence for their Creator. Such is human nature, such is the constitution of the human mind, that what is treated externally, that is, by words or by behaviour, with levity and giddiness and conteinpt, loses its force and impression internally. It is so in all cases; it is remarkably so in the present. How stands the fact in men addicted to swearing ? Are they men who live under an inward conscientious awe of God Almighty; a sense of his infinite adorable nature, of his constant presence, of his bounty or his goodness, of his power or his authority, his close relation to us, our absolute dependence upon him? If these things be true, are they not things which should possess the mind? But is it possible that a mind possessed with such thoughts should allow itself without any shock in the practice of swearing? Is outward profaneness consistent with inward piety? Can they, do they in fact and in experience, subsist together in the same person? That I take to be the exact question. If it be true, either that a deep, a just, a rational piety, even without the smallest tincture of enthusiasm or melancholy, must and actually will produce a seriousness of outward' demeanour with respect to these subjects, at least to a degree sufficient to check both presumptuous contempt and heedless levity, of which contempt and levity a surer evidence and indication cannot be given than by common swearing, in any form of it and under all forms, for though forms of swearing be more or less shocking, they are in their view alike; or if on the other hand it be true, that the habit and practice of swearing will eat out, in young minds most particularly, all reverence for God Almighty, dissipate all good impressions, produce an incapacity for devotion, either public or private, and at last bring them to an impious boldness, to a casing off of all awe of God's judgments, of all regard and respect to him ; then undoubtedly there was not only reason, but the highest of all reasons, for laying a restraint upon licentiousness so pernicious in its consequences ; and the same, nay indeed much greater reason, for obeying that law, and that injunction by which it was laid. Depend upon it,
that a regard to God Almighty lies at the root of every thing which is good, is the only restraint from every thing that is bad; that whatever in any degree diminishes, or tends to diminish that regard, is of all hurtful things the most so.
For if it be allowed, which I think it may, that to see the moral evil of swearing, is to look farther than the generality of men do look, and that these evil effects, though real, and great, and certain, are not, like the effects of murder or theft, sensible and immediate; allowing this, then in what situation does the subject stand with those who have not considered the effects at all? It stands thus; it stands with them upon the ground of religion. The religion of the case, the religious command is clear; that at least is obvious and intelligible; of that at least they must be apprised. Wherefore, if they be of the number of those who do not comprehend the reason, or have never much considered the reason which makes swearing and cursing an evil, upon principles of morality, then it becomes a test and trial whether religion alone, whether religion as such, and independently of other considerations, has any authority or influence with them at all. Rules of morality, such as, commonly speaking, are called so, do not afford this test; for they are either enforced by the terrors or penalties of law, or the violation of them is attended with direct and immediate public mischief, or with cruelty, or with injury to individuals ; under all which circumstances, although religion operate in keeping us to our duty, yet it operates in conjunction and combination with other powerful motives. In the case before us, that is to say, in curbing, and checking, and breaking the practice of profane swearing, religion operates by itself, and therefore shows what degree of force and strength and weight it really has with us. This observation is applicable to a higher class than those who are vulgarly addicted to this vice, and the
very truth is, that those who have upon their minds a sense of religion as such, and in any degree proportioned to its immense importance, are not drawn into the practice of swearing by any position of circumstances whatever; those in whom this sense is feeble, or wanting, or Jost, are drawn into this practice, if it so happen that their profession, their company, or their temper, or their habit, lead them into it.
I shall conclude with one reflection.
If there be one description of men more than another who ought to have the dread of God Almighty upon their minds, and in whom that dread ought to check all profane, all contemptuous, all idle, all impious treatment of his name and his
commands, it is those who carry their lives in their hands. • Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but I will forewarn
you shall fear ; fear him, who, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea I say unto you fear him.'
ROMANS XIII. 13.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness.
WHOEVER considers the purity and strictness of the christian religion ; how it extends its rules, not only to our actions, but our words, not only to words, but to thoughts; how it requires selfcommand, selfgovernment, at almost every turn, and in every point of our duties; mastery and management of our passions of every kind; a constraint over every inclination, so as to be able to check and call it back to its subjection to reason; whoever considers this, will see that we stand in need of perpetual vigilance and circumspection; how liable we are to fall; how little able to maintain a complete adherence to God's laws, even in our soberest hours, with the perfect use of our faculties, and without any extraordinary violence or impetuosity added to our acquired or constitutional propensities; that consequently, when a great advantage is thrown by intemperance into the wrong scale, the passions of every sort are inflamed and put in motion, our reflection and sense of duty is confused, our judgment disordered, the admonitions of conscience laid asleep, and we are surrounded with temptations and with provocations; in this condition it cannot be expected from human strength that a man should preserve an unblameable conduct, or a steady regard to the rules of morality and religion. Accordingly, I suppose it is the fact, that few, or none, recover from a fit of intemperance but who are conscious, when they come to themselves, of some impropriety or extravagance into which drunkenness has betrayed them; some action or some outrage of which they are ashamed; some expression or word which has escaped them, and which they wish in vain could be recalled; some quarrel which they have drawn upon themselves; some enmity of which they have sown the seed, and, universally, a loss of that command of ourselves in which both our happiness and virtue consist. But then comes the specious consideration, that the crimes a man commits in that condition are excused by the very condition he is in ; that he is not chargeable with what he does when he is not himself; when he has no command perhaps left of his conduct; when his nature and disposition are altered as to all moral purposes; that, like the insane person, he is entitled to all the indulgence and excuses of that condition. This plea is made by thousands; it is a kind of discourse you often hear; and weighs, I am apt to suppose, much in the private thoughts of persons addicted to intemperate courses. We allow, too, that it carries enough of the semblance of reason to impose upon many, and to deserve examination.
Now, the first observation that occurs, is, that if this plea were allowed in its full extent, a man would be at liberty when he found himself disordered by intemperance to commit any crime or any extravagance; for his drunkenness, according to his argument, would cover and excuse it all; and a conclusion so absurd leads one to suspect the argument from which it flows. The truth of the case seems to be this; that if we look no further than the point of time when a drunken man commits his crime, it will be difficult to distinguish between his case and that of an insane person; for he is at that moment more completely bereft of his reason, at least as completely delivered over to the impulse of his passions, as the other; and if that be an excuse for the one, why should it not be so for both ? So it may be argued, if we confine our attention to the precise period of committing the offence. But here the two cases differ exceedingly; that the one person suffers under the visitation of an inevitable calamity; the other is the author of his own distemper; and this is what, properly, the drunkard's guilt consists in; not in committing faults when he is in a condition in which he cannot help it, but in knowingly and voluntarily bringing himself into such a condition. And when we once understand the proper foundation of the guilt, we shall be enabled to estimate the crime of the action of a drunken man, compared with the sanie action in a sober man. The rule of reason and justice appears to be this; whatever proportion the chance of falling into such and such crimes bears to the absolute certainty, the same proportion does the crime of any evil action in a di unken man bear to the guilt of the same action in a sober