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illiterate understands it-the most learned does no
If any questions have been ever raised upon this command, such as whether taking any oath, or upon any occasion, be consistent with it, more especially as it is recognised and applied by our Saviour, they are questions in which the profane swearer has no concern. This case is clearly within the law. It is nothing to him whether other cases be so or not.
I have said, here is a plain transgression of a plain command-and of what sort of a command? Let that be considered. Let it be considered under what circumstances, with what distinguishing force, with what extraordinary and prodigious solemnity, the Ten Commandments, of which this is one, were originally delivered-what reverence they are entitled to from all who reverence God. With those who think that God is not to be reverenced-who do not reverence him in any thing, I have no concern. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow; and be ready against the third day, for the third day the Lord will come down, in the sight of all the people, upon Mount Sinai. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the Mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, so that all the people that was in the camp trembled; and Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the Mount: and
Mount Sinai was altogether in a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole Mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice. And God spake all these words." "These words," saith Moses, "the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the Mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice, and he added no more; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me."
Now of commands so delivered, so pronounced, accompanied with such terrible preparation and solemnity, is any one to 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; "I 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 contempt, 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 casting off of all awe of God's judgements, of all regard and respect to himthen 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 Al