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I. In the first place, then, we remark, that this commandment is transgressed when ideas and sentiments derogatory to the Most High, are either expressed from the lips or harboured in the mind. The sin of blasphemy, to which we now allude, was punished, under the old dispensation, with death. Any individual, whether a native Jew, a proselyte, or a heathen resident among the Jews, who was guilty of this sin, was liable to be stoned by the congregation of Israel. And surely no offence can involve a higher degree of moral malignity, than the wil. ful and deliberate defamation of Him, in whom we live, move, and have our being. Indeed, it implies an extent of depravity, to which we may charitably suppose, that the human heart does not very often attain. There is, however, a species of indirect blasphemy, as we may appropriately denominate it, which is exemplified in the conduct of those who act in such a manner as to induce others to speak reproachfully of religion and its profes
As an instance of what we mean, we may refer to the case of David. The part which that monarch acted toward Bath-sheba and Uriah—first seducing the wife, and then murdering the husband—has, perhaps, contributed more to harden bad men in their sins, and to perplex good men with difficulties, than any other incident which history, sacred or profane, records. That it proved a stumbling block to many of David's own subjects, might not only be inferred from the nature of the transaction itself, but is also evident from the language of Nathan the prophet, who, when sent by God to reprove him for what he had done, declared among other things, that he had “given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” To the same kind of blasphemy the apostle Paul alludes in the second chapter of his epistle to the Romans, where he says, that the Jews by breaking the law, caused the name of their God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles; and again in his first Epistle to Timothy, and in his Epistle to Titus, where he enforces certain daties from the consideration, that if such duties were omitted, the name of God; and his word and doctrine would be blasphemed.
II. Again, we remark, that the third commandment is trangressed, when the Deity is solemnly appealed to in confirmation of what is known to be false. Some have been of the opinion, that perjury is the sin principally contemplated and prohibited in the text. Certain it is, that this sin is a prominent and an awful instance in which the name of Jehovah is taken in vain. The
provisions of the Mosaic code on this subject, were clear and positive. In the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, it is written : « And ye shall not swear by my name FALSELY, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God." That the ancient Jews had not entirely misapprehended this part of their law, (though they had impaired its spirit by many frivolous and hair-splitting distinctions) is evident from the words of our Saviour, in his discourse on the mount, where he represents them as thus expounding it: 6 Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thy vows." On this particular division of our
" subject, it were superfluous to enlarge. We cannot, for a moment suppose, that our assembly contains a solitary individual who would appeal to his Maker in attestation of a known untruth. Nor could we hope to benefit a wretch so deeply sunk in depravity, by any observations that we could offer from this sacred desk.
III. In the third place it may be observed, that this commandment is transgressed, when the Deity is formally appealed to, in confirmation of what, though true, is trivial and insignificant in its nature and import. Pro
fane swearing, to which you all understand us as now alluding, is the sin which the casual reader probably regards as more obviously and directly prohibited in the text. That this sin prevails to a considerable extent in society, is a truth as unquestionable, as it is humiliating. Nor is its prevalence by any means confined to the vulgar and the uneducated. There are not a few belonging to what are accounted the higher and fashionable circles of the community, who season their conversation pretty plentifully with oaths. Individuals who would deem themselves grievously insulted, if they were denied the title of gentlemen—individuals, too, who advance pretensions to the possession of enlarged and cultivated minds—are found so utterly devoid of all that is essential to real improvement of intellect, and true refinement of manpers, as to be guilty of an habitual profanation of God's holy name on the most unimportant occasions. It is mortifying to be compelled to state a fact thus disgraceful to human nature.
That swearing is an offence against that natural sense of propriety and virtue which God has implanted in our moral constitution, may be inferred from the circumstance, that most of those addicted to this abominable practice, deem it a point of etiquette to avoid an oath in the company of females. In fact, if any thing were wanting to illustrate the influence which woman exerts in ameliorating and refining social life, it might be found in the check which her presence imposes on the lips of one accustomed to the profanation of his Maker's name. How much is it to be regretted, that they who thus respect the feclings of a creature, should manifest so entire a disregard not for the feelings only, but for the express mandate of the Creator !
It is needless to dwell upon the wickedness of swear
ing. The impiety of such a practice must be obvious to every one not absolutely lost to all sense of virtue. If any thing were necessary to strengthen our conviction of its moral turpitude, we might urge the consideration, that to the commission of this sin, men have not the same powerful temptations that they have to the commission of many other sins. In the utterance of an oath, no violent emotion of the heart is yielded to-no instinctive propensity of the animal system is obeyed. The swearer has not even the poor excuse which the robber, the drunkard and the adulterer may be imagined to urge, however ineffectually, in palliation of their respective offences. His transgression is a wanton indignity, offered without the stimulus of appetite, or the prospect of gratification, to that God, in whose hand is his breath, and from whose bounty proceed all his blessings.
Profane swearing is as absurd as it is wicked. An oath, if it be not really designed for the confirmation of truth, must be regarded by the most lenient, as an expletive devoid of meaning to those to whom it is addressed. And why should it be used, on ordinary occasions, for the confirmation of truth, unless the speaker has reason to fear, that his veracity will be suspected? If he thinks it necessary to appeal to the supreme Being, in support of almost every thing that he utters, he must imagine, that no very favourable opinion of his integrity is entertained by others. Now, we can assure him, that they who doubt his word, will not be inclined to put much confidence in an oath, pronounced in the irreverent manner in which conversational oaths are, for the most part, pronounced. To the absurdity of this practice the poet Cowper alludes, in a strain of happy and pungent satire, such as we often meet with in his works, when he describes a Persian, who
“Hearing a lawyer grave in his address,
And begg'd an interest in his frequent prayers.” Although the text directly and unequivocally condemns that kind of swearing which, as we have just said, too often obtains in the ordinary intercourse of men, yet it ought not to be understood as prohibiting absolutely and unconditionally all appeals to the divine Being in confirmation of truth. The state of human society is unhappily such as to render it impossible for appeals of this pature to be wholly dispensed with. It is hardly to be doubted, that there are those whose moral sense is so impaired, that the desire of some immediate advantage, or the fear of some immediate evil, may tempt them to hazard bare assertions, while no considerations could induce them to anvex to the same assertions the solemnity of an oath. And if this be so, how can it be denied, that the use of oaths in courts of justice is essential to the discovery of truth, and, consequently, of high importance to the general and permanent interests of every community? The language of our Lord, “Swear not at all,” which is a standing quotation with those who contend against the lawfulness of oaths, must be viewed in connexion with the circumstances under which it was spoken. At the time of the Saviour's personal ministry, profane swearing was extremely prevalent among the Jews, and to discountenance this iniquitous and odious practice, was his sole object, as any one may discover from the context, in the words which we have just quoted. That he did not intend to condemn oaths on occasions of sufficient importance and solemnity, may be proved from his own example during the mock trial which preceded his crucifixion.