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where shall we look for motives of sufficient weight to engage its obedience?
But the profane person does not merely disobey; as we commonly understand this term: He disobeys in the most provoking He treats his Maker as the Jews treated Christ. They did not merely reject this divine Saviour. They did not merely crucify him. They rejected him with scorn: they crucified him with insult. Thorns they gave him for a crown; and a reed for a sceptre. The respect, which they professedly paid him, was contempt and the homage, mockery. Such, for substance, is the manner in which the profane person treats his God. With all the solemn inducements, which have been mentioned, before his eyes, he not only rejects this glorious Being, and his benevolent offers of eternal life to perishing sinners; but accompanies his rejection with irreverence, despite, and insolence; and cries, Who is the Almighty, that I should serve him? If the ways of God were not higher than our ways, as the heavens are higher than the earth; what would become of this audacious, miserable being?
4thly. Profaneness is a sin, to which there is scarcely any temp
In the commission of most sins, mankind usually expect, and believe, they shall obtain some natural good: and this is almost always the prime object of their sinful pursuit: good, forbidden, indeed, and therefore unlawful; yet still really good in the apprehension of the sinner. Thus persons commonly lie, and cheat, for the sake of some gain; become intoxicated, on account of the pleasure experienced in the use of strong drink; are gluttons, to enjoy the delightful taste of dainty food: and thus in almost all other cases of transgression.
But in profaneness there seems to be no good, either enjoyed, or expected, beside that, which is found in the mere love, and indulgence of sin. No person ever acquired property, health, reputation, place, power, nor, it would seem, pleasure, from profaneness. Those particular movements of the tongue, which articulate profaneness, produce, so far as I am able to conjecture, no more agreeable sensations, than any other. The words, which embody profane thoughts, are neither smoother, nor sweeter, than any other words. If, then, profaneness were not sinful; such words would be pronounced no oftener than any other. The pleasure, found in profaneness, such as it is, is therefore found, chiefly if not wholly, in the wickedness, which it involves, and expresses. The sin is the good; and not any thing peculiar to the manner, in which it is committed; nor any thing, which the profaneness is expected to be the means of acquiring. It may be said, that the profane person recommends himself to his companions; persons, with whom he is pleased, and whom he wishes to please; and that, at the same time, he secures himself from their contempt and
ridicule; to which otherwise he would be exposed. This, with out doubt, is partially true; and comes nearer than any thing else, which can be alleged, to a seeming exception to the justice of the remark under consideration. Yet it is hardly a seeming exception. Nothing but the wickedness of this conduct, recommends the profane person to his companions: and those, to whom he is recom mended, are sinners only. But for the love of wickedness in them, he could not become agreeable to them by this evil practice: and, but for the love of wickedness in him, he could not wish to be thus agrecable. Can it then be good; can it be gainful; will it be alleged to be gain; to recommend ourselves to sinners by the perpetration of sin? Is not the end, which we propose; are not the means, which we use; altogether disgraceful both to ourselves and them? Instead of being beneficial to either, are they not the means of corruption, and ruin, to both? Is the favour of men, who love sin; and so ardently love it, as to love us merely for sinning; desirable, or useful, to us? Is it worth our labour? Does it deserve our wishes? Can it prove a balance for the guilt, which we incur? Can it be of any value to us, although in desiring and obtaining it we were to incur no guilt?
But the profane person is not esteemed, even by his sinful companions. They may desire him as an associate; and they may relish his wickedness; but they approve of neither. Such persons have repeatedly declared to me, that they approved neither of themselves, nor others, when guilty of this sin; but regarded it as a stain upon the character of both. The companions of such a man may be pleased with him, and his wickedness; because both may contribute to keep them in countenance; or make them diversion. They may wish to see him as bad, or worse, than themselves; that the deep hues of their own guilt may fade at his side. Still, they will make him, when he is not present, an object of their contempt and derision. In the same manner, men love treason, and treachery; and in this manner, also, despise the traitor. If the profane person will take pains to learn the real opinion of his companions; he will find, that they invariably condemn his character on the one hand, and on the other, hold it in contempt. In the mean time, he exposes himself uniformly to the abhorrence of virtuous, and even of sober, men. Of this no proof is necessary. The experience of every day informs us, that profane persons are a kind of Helots in society: men, whom youth are admonished to dread, and avoid: men, pointed out to children as warnings against iniquity; branded as nuisances to society; and marked as blots upon the creation of God.
Virtue is acknowledged to be distinguished, and excellent, in some general proportion, at least, to the disinterestedness, with which it is exercised. Sin, committed without motives of such magnitude as to be properly styled temptations, may be justly termed disinterested sin: sin, committed only from the love of sin,
and not with a view to any natural good, in which it is to terminate. This must undoubtedly be acknowledged to be wickedness of a dye peculiarly deep, of a nature eminently guilty; and the author of it must, with as little doubt, be eminently vile, odious, and abominable, in the sight of God.
5thly. Profaneness is among the most distinguished means of corrupting our fellow-men.
This observation I intend to apply exclusively to the profaneness of the tongue. It is indeed applicable, with much force, to profaneness, manifested in various kinds of action; but it is peculiarly applicable to the kind of profaneness, which I have particularly specified.
Sins of the tongue are all social sins; necessarily social, and eminently social. They are practised, only where men are present to hear, and to witness; and they are practised, wherever men are present to hear. Thus a man is profane before his family; swears, and curses, and ridicules sacred things, in the social club; in the street; before his neighbours; and in the midst of a multitude. Persons of all ages become witnesses, and learners. Thus children learn to lisp the curse; and the grey-haired sinner, to mutter the faltering oath.
No man was ever profane alone; in a wilderness, or in his closet. To the very nature of this sin, the presence of others seems so indispensable, that we cannot realize the commission of it by any man, unless in the midst of society. All the mischief of evil example is found in the social nature of man; and in the sccial nature of those sins, to which the whole power of evil example is confined. Where sin is in its nature solitary, and the perpetration of course insulated; whatever other guilt it may involve, the sinner plainly cannot be charged with the guilt of corrupting others. In order to follow us in wickedness, others must know, that we are wicked. When they hear of our wickedness at a distance; they are always, perhaps, in greater or less danger of being corrupted; because sympathy is always a powerful propensity of the mind, and because we have always a strong tendency to imitation. But when they are present to see sin in our actions, and to hear it from our tongues; it becomes the means of the most certain and efficacious corruption; because then the impression is ordinarily the strongest possible.
There is, however, one case, in which this corruption, though usually less efficacious in particular instances, is yet much more dreadfully operative, because it is much more extensively diffused. An author, when possessed of sufficient ingenuity, can spread this malignant influence wherever his writings can penetrate; and expand the force of an evil example over many countries, and through a long succession of ages. Millions of the human race may owe to such a man the commencement, and progress, of iniquity in their minds; and may imbibe pernicious sentiments, which, but
for him, they would have never known, or would have regarded only with abhorrence. In this respect, what will Infidels, especially those of distinguished talents, have to answer for at the final day?
But this evil may be very widely diffused without the aid of the press, or the circulation of volumes. The tongue is an instrument more than sufficiently adapted to this unhappy end. One profane person makes multitudes; corrupts his professed friends, his daily companions, his near relations, and all with whom he corresponds, so far as they are capable of being corrupted. They again corrupt others and they, in their turn, spread the contagion through successive circles of mankind, increasing continually in their numbers, and their expansion. Thus a profane inhabitant of this land may extend the mischiefs of his evil example to other countries, and to future ages and a profane student of this seminary, may, and probably will, be the cause of handing down profaneness to students yet unborn.
The mischiefs of evil example are always great: in the present case they are dreadful. The tongue is obviously the prime instrument of human corruption; of diffusing, and perpetuating sin; of preventing the eternal life of our fellow-men; of extending perdition over the earth; and of populating the world of misery.. Behold, saith St. James, how great a matter (in the original, how great a forest) a little fire kindleth! Small at first to the eye, it catches all the combustible materials within its reach, and spreading its ravages wider and wider, consumes, in the end, every thing before it with an universal conflagration. Among all the evil examples, which I have heard mentioned, or which have been alluded to within my knowledge, I do not remember, that a dumb man was ever named as one. No person, within my recollection, ever attributed his own sins to the example of such a man. Speaking men are the corrupters of their fellow-men: and they corrupt, pre-eminently, by their speech. No individual ever began to swear profanely by himself: and few, very few, ever commenced the practice, but from imitation. Like certain diseases of the human body, profaneness descends from person to person; and, like the plague, is regularly caught by infection. Let every profane person, then, solemnly remember how much evil will be charged to him in the great day of account: how many miserable wretches will date their peculiar sinfulness of character, and a vast multitude of their actual transgressions, from the power of his example: how many of his fellow-creatures he will contribute to plunge into eternal perdition and how dreadfully, as well as justly, all these may wreak their insatiable vengeance on his head, for producing their final ruin while he will be stripped of every excuse; and be forced by an angry conscience to say, Amen. Let him remember, that in this respect, if not in many others, he is a pest to human society, and a smoke in the nostrils of his Maker. Finally;
let him summon this character, and this guilt, before his eyes, whenever he repeats his profaneness, with a full conviction that, however he may flatter himself, all around him, as a vast and upright jury, sit daily on the trial of his crimes, and with an unanimous and honest verdict pronounce him guilty.
6thly. Profaneness prevents, or destroys, all Reverence towards God; together with all those religious exercises, and their happy consequences, of which it is the source.
In the discourse, which I formerly delivered on this pre-eminently important religious attribute, I showed by a numerous train of Scriptural passages, that it is peculiarly the means of rendering our worship acceptable to God; of exciting, and keeping alive, an abhorrence of sin; the great source of reformation; eminently the source of rectitude in our dispositions and conduct towards mankind; the foundation of peculiar blessings in the present world; and eminently the means of securing eternal life in the world to come. These blessings, as an aggregate, are infinitely necessary, and in finitely valuable, to every human being. To prevent them, or to destroy them, that is, to prevent ourselves, or others, from becoming the subjects of them, is an evil, to which no limits can be assigned. But this dreadful work is effectually accomplished by profaneness. Profaneness is nothing but a high degree of irreverence to God. But no words are necessary to prove, that reverence and irreverence cannot exist together in the same mind; or that, where reverence does not exist, its happy effects cannot be found.
It is plainly impossible, that he, who indulges a spirit of profaneness, should ever worship God in an acceptable manner. This spirit, once indulged, soon becomes habitual; and will be present, and predominate, at all times, and on all occasions. It will accompany him to the house of God; and, if we could suppose such a man to attend private or secret devotion, would mingle itself with his family prayers, and, entering with him into his closet, would there insult his Maker to his face. But the truth is; he will neither pray in his family, nor in his closet. These exercises of piety he will only ridicule; and regard those, who scrupulously perform them, as the pitiful slaves of fear, voluntarily shackled by the chains of superstition. To the sanctuary, he may, at times, go, from curiosity, a regard to reputation, and a remaining sense of decency. There, however, all his seeming devotion will be merely external; an offering of the blind and the lame; a sacrifice of swine's flesh; an abomination which God cannot away with; a dead form, a corpse without a soul; without life; corrupted; putrid; sending forth a savour of death unto death.
Instead of exciting, and keeping alive, an abhorrence of sin in his mind, the profane person, by the very irreverence which he cherishes, excites, and keeps alive all his other tendencies to