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THE LAW OF GOD.THE DECALOGUE.-THE THIRD COMMANDMENT. THE GUILT OF PROFANENESS.
EXODUS XX. 7.-Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain : for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.
IN the preceding discourse, I proposed, after making several introductory remarks, to examine,
1. The Nature;
II. The Guilt; and,
III. The Danger; of the Sin, forbidden in this Command.
The first of these I considered, at length, in that discourse. I shall now proceed to make some observations concerning the second; viz. the Guilt of this sin. The guilt of this sin is evident,
1st. From the tenour of the Command.
Profaneness is one of the eight great crimes, which God thought proper to make the express subjects of prohibition in the Decalogue. In the order, in which he was pleased to speak, and to write, them, it holds the third place. All the importance, which this wonderful Law derived from being uttered by the voice, and being written with the finger, of God; from his manifest appearance in this lower world; and from the awful splendour, and amazing majesty, with which he appeared; this precept, equally with the others, challenges to itself. In addition to these things, it is the only precept in the whole number, which annexes an express threatening to the crime, which is prohibited. From all these circumstances it is abundantly evident, that the Guilt of this sin is of no common dye in the sight of Jehovah. All these circumstances were intended to be significant, and are obviously significant, in a manner pre-eminently solemn and affecting. How should we ourselves feel, if the Creator of the Universe were to inform us by the mouth of an acknowledged prophet, that he would appear in this world on an appointed day, to publish his awful pleasure to mankind! With what anxious, trembling expectation should we wait for the destined period! With what solemnity and apprehension should we behold the day dawn! With what silent awe should we see the cloudy chariot descend; and hear the Archangel proclaim the approach of his Maker! How should we shudder at the sound of the trumpet, and the quaking of the earth! Would not our hearts die within us, when the thunders began to roll; the lightnings to blaze; and the flames of devouring fire to rise up to the heavens? In the midst of these tremendous scenes, with what si
lent, death-like amazement should we listen, to hear the voice of the Almighty! Would it not seem wonderful; would it not appear delirious; for any man to call in question the authority of his commands, or the absolute rectitude of his pleasure; to refuse the duties, which he enjoined, or to perpetrate the crimes, which he forbade? Who, after hearing from the mouth of God the awful prohibition, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; and the fearful threatening, annexed to it, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, who taketh his name in vain; would not quake with terror at the very thought of committing a sin, thus alarmingly forbidden? Who would demand an argument to convince him, that such a sin was eminently evil in the sight of his Maker?
2dly. This sin is an Immediate Attack on God himself, and is, therefore, peculiarly guilty.
The hostilities of mankind against any Intelligent being may be carried on mediately, or immediately: Mediately, against his property, if he be a human being, or against his other external interests: Immediately, against his character, and person. In the same manner we may attack our Maker by attacking our fellow-creatures; and violating such commands of his, as regulate our duties to them; appropriately, and usually, styled the duties of Morality. Or we may attack him, immediately, by violating those commands which respect his person and character, and enjoin the various duties of piety. All the transgressions, which I have recited, are directed against objects, confessedly belonging to God, and known to be his, in immediate possession: his Names, his Titles, his Works, his Word, and his Institutions. As his only, do they become the objects of irreverence at all. In all these cases, therefore, as here described, we attack God in the most direct manner, which is in our power. A king or a parent, may be insulted by an affront, offered immediately to his officer; his messenger; or any other, acting under his authority. No person will deny the affront, here, to be real; nor, as the case may be, to be very serious. Still it was probably never questioned, that, when this same affront was offered directly to the parent, or the king, himself, it became far more gross; an insult of greater magnitude, and greater guilt. Accordingly, such affronts have been always more seriously resented, and more severely punished.
In all the cases, mentioned in the preceding discourse, God is necessarily, and most solemnly, present to the mind of man. Whatever impiety, therefore, whatever irreverence, whatever profaneness, is exhibited in these cases, is directed immediately against him; against his character; against his person. He, who is the subject of it, stretcheth out his hand against God; and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty. He runneth on him, even on his neck; upon the thick bosses of his buckler. How can the man who is summoned to take a solemn oath, who is employed in the eminently solemn duty of prayer, or in the pre-eminently solemn duty
of dedicating himself to God in the covenant of peace, fail to have a lively and affecting sense of the presence of his Maker? How can he fail to realize, that all the levity, thoughtlessness, insincerity, and irreverence, of which he is guilty, is levelled directly against God? Who else is, who else can be, the object of this conduct? Who else is concerned with it? Whose name is here mocked? Whose institutions are set at nought? If the criminal be weak enough to suspect that he is not, in this case, trifling with his Maker; and wickedly profaning his glorious name; he is probably the only being in the universe, sufficiently bewildered to adopt this unsound and unhappy opinion.
What is true of these acts of worship, is true with little variation of every other.
In that light-minded use of the names and titles of God, which is appropriately called profaneness, the circumstances are, I acknowledge, in some respects materially different. It seems wonderful indeed, that, whenever the name of God is mentioned, any mind should not be filled with awe, and affectingly realize the presence of this majestic Being. The Jews would not pronounce the incommunicable name JEHOVAH except in one peculiarly solemn act of religious worship. Such of the Mohammedans, as cannot read, carefully lay aside any written, or printed paper, because they know not, but it may have upon it the name of God. But in this, and in every other, Christian country, there is reason to fear, that multitudes, and, probably, that most or all those, who are habitually profane, use this glorious and fearful name without even a thought that God is present to hear them.
In his own proper character of the glorious and eternal Jehovah, who hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and whose kingdom ruleth over all, it is impossible to regard him with serious, or with even sober thought, and not be filled with profound and reverential awe. It is impossible to realize who, and what, and where He is, and not be filled with fear and trembling. He called into being the heavens and the earth; upholds them by the word of his power; rules them with an irresistible hand; gives life, and death, to whomsoever he pleases; is present wherever we are; looks with an intuitive survey into the secret chambers of the soul; records all our thoughts, words, and actions, in the book of his remembrance; and will bring them before our eyes at the final day. On his bounty and forbearance we live. When he gives, we receive. When he withholds, we die. His smile makes heaven: his frown creates hell. Those, who fear, and love, and serve him, he will bless those, who rebel against him, he will destroy. Who then, unless lost to sense and decency, will not tremble at his presence,
and lic low in the dust before him?
But in this deplorable transgression, the profane swearer brings God into his thoughts, (if he think at all) and into his conversation, with a character altogether familiar, and with considerations, and
views, of the most debasing vulgarity. The same man, when in the presence of his fellow-men, acknowledged by him to be of respectable characters, would set a guard on his conduct; particularly on his tongue; and would speak of them, and to them, and before them, with sobriety, care, and decorum; and would watchfully give them every reasonable proof, that he regarded them, only with respect. From this decency in civilized life, a departure can scarcely be found; unless under the influence of strong passion, or pressing interest.
Surely the Creator of all things has as powerful claims to veneration, as the worm, which he has made. But notwithstanding his glorious and awful character, notwithstanding we know that he is present to all our conduct; notwithstanding we know that he hears whatever we say, and sees whatever we think, or do; we make this great and terrible Being the subject of the most irreverential, impudent thoughts, and of the most vulgar, affrontive, contemptuous language. Nay, all this is done by the profane person, for no purpose, but to affront and insult him; and to induce others to affront and insult him also.
All this is done, not once, twice, or in a few solitary instances only; not in the season of forgetfulness, the unguarded hour of passion, or the moment of peculiar temptation, merely; but every day, in every place, and on every familiar occasion. In this manner, God is habitually brought up to view, and continually insulted. Thus familiarized, thus habituated, to such thoughts, and to such language, the profane person soon becomes unable to think, or speak concerning his Maker in any other manner. All his thoughts concerning him become a regular course of irreverence: and all his language, a tissue of impudence and insult. God, the grea and terrible God, in whose hand his breath is ; in whom he lives and moves, and has his being; the God, by whom he is soon to be judged, and rewarded with endless life, or endless death; becomes speedily, to him, a mere object of vulgar abuse and gross derision. With what views must this awful Being regard the miserable wretch, who thus degrades his character! What must be the appearance of this wretch at the final day!
From God, the source, and substance, of every thing sacred, the transition to all other sacred things is easy; and, in a sense, instinctive. From him Religion derives its existence, its obligation, its power, its hopes, and its rewards. Separated from him, there can be no piety. Separated from him, there can be no morality. Who does not see, that without God there could be no Bible, no Sabbath, no worship, no holiness, and no heaven. He, therefore, who is accustomed to profane the name of God, cuts off his connexion with all things serious and sacred. But nothing else is, comparatively, of any use to man. Whatever is gay and amusing, and at the same time innocent, and in some sense useful, is useful only to refresh the mind for a more vigorous application to things
of a serious and sacred nature. In these, lie all the real and substantial interests of man; the foundation of a virtuous, useful, and happy life, and a glorious immortality. To lose our connexion with them, therefore, is to lose our all. Of course, the profane person voluntarily squanders the blessings of time and eternity; and with a portentous prodigality makes himself poor, and wretched, and miserable; a nuisance to the world, and an outcast from heaven.
3dly. Profaneness is, in most instances, a violation of peculiarly clear, and peculiarly solemn, inducements to our duty.
I have already remarked, under the preceding head, that, in many of the cases, specified in the former discourse, it is impossible that the presence and character of God should not be realized by the profane person. But the character and presence of God, united, present to every mind, not wholly destitute of sobriety, a combination of the most solemn and powerful motives to the performance of its duty. The Being, by whom we were created, and on whom we depend for life, together with all its blessings and hopes, who will bring every work, with every secret thing, into judgment, and who will reward every man according to the deeds, done in the body, with a retribution final and endless, is an object so awful, so interesting, so overwhelming, that one would naturally think no sacrifice too great, no duty too difficult or discouraging, if the performance would secure his favour.
To the considerations which have been here mentioned, others of singular importance are always to be added, when we are examining almost all the cases of profaneness, specified in the preceding discourse. In the Word and Institutions of God, and in all the Religious services, rendered to him according to the dictates of the Gospel, he is presented to us as the Father, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier, of mankind, in the most endearing and venerable of all offices, the offices of accomplishing an expiation for sin, renewing the soul, pardoning its transgressions, and entitling it again to the blessings of infinite love. These blessings, literally infinite, flowing only from the sovereign and boundless mercy of Jehovah, are proffered to a mind apostatized, rebellious, and ruined; a mind incapable of renewing itself, and, therefore, if left to itself, hopeless of the divine favour; and an outcast from the virtuous and happy universe. In such a situation, how deeply should we naturally suppose it must be affected with a sense of the infinite goodness, engaged so wonderfully in its behalf; by the glorious blessings, proffered to its acceptance; and by its own infinite need of a share in these blessings. If it will not be influenced by the presence of Jehovah, appearing in these amiable and wonderful characters; if it will not be moved by the proffer of these invaluable and immortal blessings; what inducements can persuade it to perform its duty? If the pleasure of such a God, if the attainment of such a salvation, will not lay hold on the heart;