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be extremely urgent, nothing can justify the adoption of any additional testimony beyond affirmation or denial,"yea,” or “nay.” Every one who makes any pretensions to Christianity, is required to cultivate a spirit of sincerity and truth ; and did all discover this disposition, they would establish their character for veracity, and their word would not be doubted. The honest and clear repetition of any testimony which they have given, if it be desired, is all that any man has a right to expect in conversation ; and if he then hesitates to believe, no one is cbliged, in any case, to offer him any farther confirmation. We have a duty to perform to the Great Founder of our religion; and we must not set it aside to satisfy any man's incredulity. We now proceed to consider,
II. THE DIRECTION WHICH OUR LORD GIVES US IN REFERENCE TO OUR CONVERSATION IN GENERAL, AND THE REASON HE ALLEGES.
“ But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” The apostle James gives us a similar caution, and urges a similar motive: “ But above all things, my brethren, swear not; neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath : but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, lest ye fall into temptation.” * It seems wholly unnecessary to offer any explanatory remarks on these injunctions. The expressions, “ yea” and “nay,” are the same in their import as yes, and no, which we use in conversation. They ought to be considered as true and as binding as if they were accompanied with an oath ; and where the fear of the Lord prevails in the heart, this will be the case. Thus it is said, that “ all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him, Amen, unto the glory of
James v. 13.
God by us.”* In the same chapter it is also said by the apostle, with respect to the exercise of his ministry, “ But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay." + Now, from these declarations, we learn that it behoves us, at all times, most religiously to make our actions correspond with our promises; and that we should be so circumspect in our dealings, that all men who know us may be perfectly satisfied with our word. Oh! what peace and love will prevail in the world, when this heavenly direction is universally followed by the children
The motive which our Lord assigns is highly important, and I hope you will not disregard it. He assures us, that “whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil ;” some understand it to mean the evil one ; thus applying the expression to the instigation of Satan, from whom this simple habit of profane swearing comes. Others understand it to refer to the evil tendency of such a custom, and that the enemy of souls tempts men to all irreverence of God and his name, for the purpose of accomplishing, by such means, his wicked devices. Let us, therefore, contemplate the words in both these important senses.
There can, I apprehend, be no reasonable doubt on the case, that all swearing, in conversation, proceeds from some evil principle within. Does it not arise frequently from the turbulence of ungoverned passion, or from a baughty and supercilious spirit, impatient of all contradiction; and which considers any hesitation to admit its theories or statements, deliberate insolence? And are not such arrogance and self-complacency proofs of an evil disposition? And does it not sometimes proceed from knowing what is uttered to be altogether a fabrication-a tissue of untruths? The swearer is conscious of its falsity,
* 2 Cor. i. 20.
+ Ibid. ver. 18.
and he deems it very probable, that he shall be disbelieved. To obtain credit he, therefore, finds it necessary to seal it with an oath. What a dreadful “ evil” is this! Instead of retracting an hasty expression, he commits the double abomination of first telling a falsehood, and then supporting it by perjury!
But where shall I stop in the enumeration of the sources of this “evil?" Doubtless the sin often springs from a thoughtless and trifling spirit; a miserable and dangerous habit of profaneness; a total destitution of all sense of the divine presence; and from a depraved and vicious nature, unsanctified and therefore unclean. And does not all swearing, which arises from this source, evil ?” Is it not an evil thing to have no fear of God before your eyes ; no devout sense of his omniscience in your mind; and no serious regard for his word, which commands us " to fear an oath ?” In some instances, however, the source is more “evil” still. May not the man, who vehemently declares the truth of his word, be justly suspected of having some sinister intention in view? It is not a departure from the “charity that thinketh no evil” to suppose, that he designs to impose on my understanding, and allay my suspicions, that he may the better gain an advantage over me, and promote his own selfish and wicked scheme. There is strong reason to believe, that he hopes to effect some unworthy object by this means ; for he that will swear falsely or unnecessarily, would not hesitate to commit any other odious offence to serve himself.
And then, consider the tendency of such a course. Whatever comes from such a principle, must have an evil influence generally. Profane swearing will be likely to destroy all serious regard to God and divine things; to lower the standard of virtue in the world, and to bring down the indignation of Jehovah on a guilty nation ; for,
“because of swearing the land mourneth."* Thousands of disorders follow in its train: it saps the foundation of society, overthrows the foundations of piety, and even of common honesty between man and man, by eradicating all reverence of the divine name from the mind. It leads to perjury, and then to the total ruin of whole families; for many have fallen victims to false swearing. And on the individuals themselves, its tendency is very dreadful. A man who has accustomed himself to any species of this crime, is almost ripe for every abomination within his reach. And what will be the final consequence of such a course? The Lord himself informs us, that he “will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” No words can more clearly express the view in which every instance of this transgression is considered by Him. Men may imagine, that the offence is small, and they may, therefore, “sport themselves with their own deceivings;” but “for these things they shall be brought into judgment.” Ah! however they may attempt to hide themselves behind excuses and apologies, the righteous Judge will not be “ mocked.” Nothing can protect the impenitent offender at length from punishment at his hands.
In closing these reflections, permit me to address a few words.
First, to the irreverent. I mean, by this term, the persons who are accustomed to frivolous, foolish, and profane speech in general. It is painful to think, how men often flatter themselves with the hope of impunity, and what vain and various pleas they urge in extenuation of the offence. Some say, “it is but a trifle;” others, “I mean no harm ;” another, “I only swear when I am in a rage, -the effect of irritation and warmth of temper;" and thus they make light of it. But surely to laugh at the denunciations of Almighty wrath, and to trifle with words
• Jer. xxii. 10.
that imprecate “damnation” on yourselves and others, must be an awful thing indeed. Thus, the Scripture declares; “ The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh prond things : who have said, with our tongue will we prevail ; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?”* And in another place, the same truth is even more strongly expressed: “This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it. I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of Hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name; and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof.”+ Let thieves and swearers hear and tremble !
Secondly. My young friends, allow me most affectionately to press this subject on your attention. I speak freely to you; you encourage me to do so. Take this fraternal counsel : guard against every shade of falsehood, however slight it may be. Many a promising youth has been ruined through acquiring the dreadful habit of equivocation, and over-statement of facts, true in themselves. Never tell lies in a joke—they are serious in the sight of God. Watch over your language, and do not suffer yourselves to pronounce the name of the Lord of Hosts with levity. Exalt Him in your estimation, and “ sanctify him in your hearts.” # Employ your tongue in his service, for He declares, “whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me.” S Let your conversation bear the strictest scrutiny ; and such as you will not be ashamed to acknowledge at the last day. Avoid the society of the profane as you would the plague ;
• Pealm xii. 3, 4.
1 Peter iii. 15.
+ Zech. v. 3,
4. Psalm l. 3