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THE first Commandment having provided that we should worship only the one true God; the second prohibited worshipping him in a manner so unworthy and dangerous, as by images; the third proceeds to direct, that we preserve a due reverence to him in our whole conversation and behaviour. "Thou shalt not take the name of "the Lord thy God in vain." Under these words are forbidden several things which differ in their degrees of guilt.
1. The first and highest offence is, when we swear by the name of God falsely. For vanity, in Scripture, frequently means something which is not what it would appear. And hence, using God's name in vain, or to vanity, principally sig nifies, applying it to confirm a falsehood. Doing this deliberately, is one of the most shocking crimes of which we can be guilty. For, taking an oath, is declaring solemnly, that we know ourselves to be in the presence of God, and him to be witness of what we speak; it is appealing to him, that our words express the very truth of our hearts; and renouncing all title to his mercy, if they do not. This it is to swear; and think, then, what it must be to swear falsely. In other sins men endeavour to forget God; but perjury is daring and braving the Almighty to his very face; bidding him take notice of the falsehood that we utter, and do his worst.
Now, of this dreadful crime we are guilty, if ever we swear, that we do not know or believe, what, indeed, we do; or that we do know or believe, what, indeed, we do not; if ever, being upon our
oaths, we mislead those whom we ought to inform; and give any other than the exactest and fairest account that we can, of any matter concerning which we are examined. Again, if we promise upon oath to do a thing, without firmly designing to do it; or if we promise not to do a thing, without firmly designing to abstain from it; this, also, is forswearing ourselves. Nay, further, provided the thing which we promise be lawful, if we do not ever after take all the care that can be reasonably expected, to make our promise good, we are guilty of perjury; and of living in it, so long as we live in that neglect. If, indeed, a person hath sworn to do what he thought he could have done, and it proves, afterwards, unexpectedly, that he cannot, such a one is chargeable only with mistake, or inconsiderateness at most. And if we either promise or threaten any thing, which we cannot lawfully do, making such a promise is a sin; but keeping it would be another, perhaps a greater sin; and, therefore, it innocently may, and in conscience ought to be, broken. But if we have promised what we may lawfully, but only cannot conveniently, perform, we are, by no means, on that account, released from our engagement; unless either we are unqualified to promise, or were deceived into promising-or the person to whom we have engaged, voluntarily sets us at liberty-or the circumstances of the case be plainly and confessedly such, that our promise was not originally designed to bind us in them.
You see, then, what is perjury. And you must see, it is not only the strictest and grossest affront to God-for which reason it is forbidden in the first table of the Ten Commandments-but the most pernicious injury to our fellow-creatures; on which account you will find it again forbidden in the second table. If persons will assert falsely upon oath, no one knows what to believe; no
one's property or life is safe. And if And if persons will promise falsely upon oath, no one can know whom to trust; all security of government, and human society-all mutual confidence in trade and commerce, in every relation and condition, is utterly at an end. With the greatest reason, therefore, are perjured wretches abhorred of all the world. And no interest of our own-no kindness or compassion for other persons -no turn or purpose, of whatever sort, to be served by it, can ever justify our swerving at all from truth, either in giving evidence, or entering into engagements. Nor must we think, in such cases, to come off with equivocations, evasions, and quibbles; and imagine it innocent to deceive this way. On the contrary, the more artful and cunning our falsehoods are, the more deliberate and mischievous, and, therefore, the wickeder they are. "Be not deceived; God is "not mocked:" and the following are the declarations of his sacred word to the upright man : "Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle, and "rest upon thy holy hill? He that speaketh the "truth from his heart, and hath used no deceit "with his tongue; he that sweareth unto his "neighbour, and disappointeth him not, though "it were to his own hindrance."2 But to the perjured: seeing he despised the oath, by break
ing the covenant; thus saith the Lord God: "As I live, surely mine oath that he hath de"spised, and my covenant that he hath broken, I "will recompense it upon his head."3
Let us all stand in awe of so dreadful a threatening, and avoid so horrible a guilt. Particularly at present, let all who have sworn allegiance to the king, faithfully "keep it, and that in regard "to the oath of God." And let those who have
(3) Ezek. xvii. 18, 19.
(1) Gal. vi. 7. (2) Psal. xv. 1, 2, 3, 5. (4) Eccl. viii. 2.
not sworn, remember, however, that merely claiming the protection of a government, implies some promise of being dutiful to it in return; and that a successful rebellion would not only tempt multitudes of our fellow-subjects to perjury, but lay our country, its laws and religion, at the absolute mercy of a faith-breaking church.
One thing more should be added here, for it cannot well be mentioned too often, that next to false swearing, false speaking and lying, whether in what we assert, or what we promise, is a grievous sin, and hateful to God and man. Though we do not call on our Maker to witness, yet he is a witness to whatever we say. And it is And it is presumptuous wickedness to utter an untruth in the presence of the "God of truth."6 It is also, at the same time, very hurtful to other persons, and very foolish with respect to ourselves. For they who will lie to conceal their faults, or to carry their ends, are perpetually found out, disappointed and shamed, for the most part, in a very little while; and then, for ever after, they are distrusted and disbelieved, even when they speak truth; as, indeed, who can depend upon such, or who would venture to employ them? Many other faults may be borne, so long as honesty and sincerity last; but a failure in these cannot be passed over; so just is Solomon's observations, "The lip of truth shall be established for ever, but a lying tongue "is but for a moment."7
2. Another way of taking God's name in vain is, when we swear by it needlessly, though it be not falsely. For this, also, the word in vain signifies.
One way of doing so, is, by rash and inconsiderFor a vow being a promise made so
(5) This paragraph was added in the time of the Rebellion of 1745. (6) Fsal. xxxi. 5. (7) Prov. xii. 19,
lemnly to God, partakes of the nature of an oath. And there may, possibly, be sometimes good reasons for entering into this kind of engagement. But vowing to do what there is no use in doing, is trifling with our Creator; making unlawful vows, is directly telling him we will disobey him; making such without necessity, as are difficult to keep, is leading ourselves into temptations; and, indeed, making any, without much thought, and prudent advice first, usually proves an unhappy snare. One vow we have all made, and were bound to make, that of our baptism, which includes every real good resolution. That, therefore, let us carefully keep, and frequently ratify, and we shall scarce have occasion to make any more.
Another very needless, and always einful, use of God's name, is by oaths in common discourse. Too many there are who fill up with them a great part of their most trifling conversation; especially, if ever so little warmth arises in talk, then they abound in them. Now, it is unavoidable, but persons who are perpetually swearing, must frequently perjure themselves. But were that otherwise, it is great irreverence, upon every slight thing we say, to invoke God for a witness, and mix "his holy and reverend name" with the idlest things that come out of our mouths. And what makes this practice the more inexcusable is, that we cannot either have any advantage from it, or any natural pleasure in it. Sometimes it arises. from a hastiness and impatience of temper, which is but increased by giving this vent to it: whereas it is every one's wisdom, not to let it break out in any way, much less in such a way. But, generally, it is nothing more than a silly and profane custom, inconsiderately taken up; and there are the strongest reasons for laying it down immediately.
(8) Psal. cxi. 9.