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S E R M ON
THIRD COMMANDMENT, PART IL.
EXOD. 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.
F we undertake to treat of oaths, it is
proper, no doubt, impartially to represent, both how far they may be allowed; and in the cases where they are not allowable, how greatly they ought to be condemned. The former, however, of these
two points is not generally fo seasonable, nor so important as the latter. Scruples are not so common as profaneness, nor by any means fo detrimental: and to almost every congregation of christians the best and most useful discourse concerning oaths is that, I fear, which brings the best and strongest arguments against them,
But indeed, when we maintain that oaths are properly acts of religion towards God, and adapted to promote truth and confidence among men, we are so far from giving encouragement to the prac- . tice of common swearing, that, in all just estimation, we plead strongly on the other side. For this profane abuse of oaths plainly tends to degrade the dignity, and destroy the usefulness of all oaths whatever. There is not a moment's interval between familiarity and contempt. What wonder if, thus prostituted, they meet with little reverence on the most awful occasions ?
Were they not capable of being applied to any useful purpose, it would be but a fingle crime to do hurt with them: whereas now we are answerable, not only for the mischief we occasion, but the want of all the good which we prevent. Dut of our own mouths we are condemned: and profane [wearing is more criminal in us, than it would be in one of those persons, who are persuaded, that oaths are in all cases unnecessary, and absolutely and utterly forbidden.
Yet the people of that persuasion, to do them juftice, in this respect are very little guilty. It is rarely that you
any of that fect, who maintain that even serious oaths are not allowable, falling into profane. Their opinion therefore, however mistaken, yet at least may be borne with; and a practice so conformable to it, lays claim to our commendation. Whereas we, by a conduct inconsistent with any principles, and
doubly wrong upon our own, do evil with the means of good, and profane what we pretend to hold sacred.
Is it not surprising, that a practice so contrary to religion, and detrimental to fociety should have abounded so much as this hath done, in almost all kingdoms and ages? Though it is indeed still too common among us; we have no reason to complain that it is more so, than in former times, or foreign countries.
The Greek and Latin nations were far from being faultless in this respect; nor did they confine themselves to any one form of swearing, or one object. They had a multitude of Divinities, adapted each to a different purpose: but every one of them ready to lend his name, as it might be most suitable to the inclination, of the person disposed to make this bad use of it.
Whether the inhabitants of the British Inand were formerly deficient in this article of vice, or whatever might be the reason, our Norman conquerors, we are told, brought over with them a great stock. And several of the Monarchs of that formidable race made themselves remarkable, as for their other great exploits, so each of them for a particular mode of common swearing, of which he was pleased to set an example, and to become the professed protector and patron. Some few of these select forms have had the fortune to survive even to this day; but meet with no respect now, like other favourites without merit, when their masters are no more.
The ancient Roman Emperors being far greater than ordinary Kings, took upon them proportionably greater state even in this ceremony of oaths. For though they might themselves condescend, on occasion, to invoke Jupiter, or