Page images


from it, though we were able to give no SERM. account of the cause why it is required of us but if it shall appear, that in this (as in all other of his commandments) God consults our good, the reasons for our ab stinence will be doubly binding.

Familiarity, it is generally allowed, is removed but one step from contempt. A respect and reverence for the Almighty is the great foundation of religion and virtue, the only firm and constant principle which can incite us uniformly to what is right, and deter us from what is wrong. Now I think it cannot but tend greatly to undermine this respect, and to destroy this reverence, if we are perpetually, on slight occasions and in our casual and daily discourses, bringing in the name of God, and appealing to him. Experience may convince us, that this opinion is well founded; for it rarely, if ever, happens, but the common swearer is equally disobedient to many


SERM. of the other precepts and prohibitions of his religion; his vice is of too infectious a quality to be a solitary one, it is usually either accompanied or followed by a large retinue.

One of the greatest men that these kingdoms have produced, is said never, even on the most serious occasions, to have pronounced the name of God, without making a considerable pause; whether it was that he might reflect on the infinite perfections of him whom he was naming, or whether he was pondering if the subject were of sufficient importance to authorize the mention of the Deity, so thoroughly and awfully was he impressed with a sense of God's tremendous majesty!

Indeed, whatever may be pretended by those who are perpetually appealing to their maker on the most trifling and empty occasions, whenever they think fit to be angry, or earnest, or imperious, or jocular,


it is very certain that religion can have SERM. taken no deep root in their hearts. The fear of God, the scriptures frequently declare, is the only sure basis of obedience to his laws; now it is absolutely impossible that a man should have a proper fear of a person, with whose name he is continually making so free! But the keeping God's commandments can alone insure to us happiness, both in this world and the next when, therefore, he ordered us to abstain from a practice, which would lead us to violate them, it was clearly our good which he was consulting. Whether then we regard the Almighty's ordinance, or pay respect to our own interest, we are indissolubly bound to be obedient to the third commandment.

I will now consider some of the reasons given for swearing, and some of the arguments alleged in its defence. One of the most usual excuses of the common swearer


SERM. is, that he has got such a habit of it, that he does not know when he offends; this may be said perhaps with equal truth of many other ill habits, but is in fact not the least extenuation of their guilt; it is indeed rather an aggravation of it, for to what a degree must we have offended, before we become so hardened, as not to be sensible whether we offend or not. No one can pretend that he began the practice of swearing, or any other evil practice, without a knowledge of its being wrong, and frequent checks and remonstrances of his conscience: it is in contradiction and defiance to these that he must have acquired that babit of vice, which he now alleges in its excuse; the criminality of contracting the habit is entirely his own, and it is a well-known maxim in equity, that no one is to be suf fered to draw advantage from his own wrong. Let not then the swearer think to escape the punishment denounced against oaths and


and imprecations, by pleading that he knows SERM. not when he utters them; it is himself alone, who is to blame for having attained to such a pitch of profligacy: though from the frequency of his presumption, he may not always take notice of it himself, he may be assured God does; and notwithstanding the inattention and forgetfulness, which the custom of doing this frequently produces, there is a day coming when every repeated instance of his guilt must be accounted for.

Another excuse of the common swearer is, that he really means no harm ;—this is a curious plea; he is daily and hourly perhaps acting in defiance to an express command of his Creator, and insulting his God to his face, and he thinks to atone for it by saying that he means no harm! Even if the vice, of which he is guilty, were not so strictly forbidden, it is of the most prejudicial consequences both to himself

« PreviousContinue »