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swear by God's name falsely. The Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain. A curse shall enter into the house of him that sweareth falsely, and shall consume it."
Men may incur the guilt of this sin in various ways, by asserting on oath that which they know to be false, by suppressing that which they have sworn to declare, by promising under oath to do that which they have no intention to perform, by positively affirming that which is doubtful in their own minds, by using equivocal and indeterminate expressions to disguise the truth, and by neglecting that which they have voluntarily bound themselves to do, when they are laid under no providential disability.
False swearing is in no case more criminal, than when men are called to bear testimony before proper authority. In this case, it is such a complication of villainy, injustice, impiety and impudence, such a prostitution of conscience, such an opposition to the great end of public judicatures, that no language can sufficiently express the atrocity of it. The divine law gives repeated and solemn cautions against this sin. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause. Put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness." In case a person is detected in a false testimony, the law of Moses orders, that on him shall be inflicted the same punishment, as would have been inflicted on the accused, if he had been convicted. "If a false witness rise up against any man, and testify against him that which is wrong, the judges shall make diligent inquisition; and behold if the wit, ness be a false witness, and have testified falsely against his brother, then shall ye do to him, as he thought to have done to his brother."
else; for to swear by the creatures of God is as real profaneness, as to swear rashly by God himself.
"Swear not," says the Apostle, "neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay." Our Saviour says, "Swear not at all," or indiscriminately; "neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king; nor by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black; but let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay.”
Some seem to imagine, that those minced and disguised oaths, in which the name of their maker is not expressly used, may be innocent. But the gospel guards against this self-deception. It allows no kind of customary swearing either by God or his creatures.
The Jews made a distinction of oaths according to the objects appealed to in them. They said, "If a man sware by the temple, or by the altar, it was nothing; but if he sware by the gold of the temple, or by the gift on the altar, he was bound.” But our Saviour tells them, This is a blind and foolish distinction; 66 For," says he, "which is greater, the gold, or the temple which sanctifieth the gold; the gift, or the altar which sanctifieth the gift? Therefore, whosoever shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it and by all things thereon; and whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein; and he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon."
Our Saviour here shews, that it makes no material difference, in point of obligation, whether we swear by God or the creature; for to swear by the creature is indirectly to swear by him whose creature it is. Every oath is in its nature a solemn ap
peal to the object by which it is made, and an invocation of that object to be a witness of the truth, or an avenger of the falsehood of the declaration. If he who swears by a creature mean, under that name, to swear by the Creator, it is the same thing as if he sware by the name of God himself. If he mean to swear by the creature in distinction from God, then he treats that creature as God. Religious swearing is an act of adoration, and an adoration of any creature is idolatry. Swearing by the heathen deities is owning them as real Divinities. Swearing by one's life, which is at God's disposal, if it be not swearing by him, is assuming independence and bidding defiance to him.
God often condemns the impiety of the Jews in swearing by their idols, by baal, malchom and the calves of Dan and Samania. He says, "He that sweareth in the earth, shall swear by the God of truth." This kind of customary swearing, of which we are speaking, is of the same nature with that, which God condemns in the Jews.
You will say, "We do not mean to own these creatures as Deities." What then?-You treat them as such. And will you swear without a meaning? Suppose one should make a prayer to a creature, to the sun, the moon, or one of the constellations; would you think he well excused himself by saying, he did not mean to pray to that object; but only used a form of prayer in merriment ?-He treats the object as if he thought it divine. If he believe it is so, he is an idolater; if not, he is abominably profane in sporting with so sacred an exercise as prayer. There is the same impiety in swearing by a creature, as in praying to a creature. One is a solemn act of worship, as well as the other. Custom may have led some to think there is a difference. But reason has made, none, and the scripture makes none. As men of Voы. I. W w
reason and honesty, as professors of Christianity, as followers of him in whom was no guile, we are bound ever to use a plainness of speech, to have our communication, yea, yea; and nay, nay. We should maintain such a simple and artless conversation, and be so far removed from fraud and duplicity, as never to give ground of suspicion, that our designs are dishonest. Then, in ordinary cases, our bare word may be sufficient; and in the most important cases our oaths will be regarded.
4. Under the name of swearing, our Saviour condemns all rash imprecations; such as profane people use, either in passion, or in levity, by wishing, or saying they wish temporal, or eternal evil to themselves or others. If such imprecations be accompanied with a real desire, that the evil may take place, they discover a hellish impatience, envy and malice in those who utter them; and the most impious and horrible apprehensions of God, as if he were such a wanton, capricious being as themselves. If the evil be not desired, here is an insolent and presumptuous mockery of his justice and goodness.
5. In this prohibition may be included all scoffing at religion, and contempt of the worship of God; all sporting with passages of sacred scripture, and jocular applications of them to enliven vain mirth and help out a foolish jest.
Religion is so necessary to the peace and welfare of mankind in the present life, and gives such pleasing hopes with respect to futurity, that even though the evidence of its truth were doubtful, a reasonable man would not find in his heart to mock at it. On the contrary, he would feel a regard to so benevolent a scheme, would examine it with attention, and would wish it might prove to be true. But for men who profess the belief of it, to mock
its most solemn parts-the death of a Saviour for the sins of men, his appearance to judge the world, and the final distribution of rewards and punishments, is such madness and presumption, as we should not think men capable of, had there never been instances of the kind. Such scoffers, the scripture foretels, shall come in the last days; but it describes them as walking after their own lusts, and as having their consciences seared with a hot iron.
You have seen what sins are included in the swearing which our Lord condemns. Attend a moment to some arguments and considerations. suited to dissuade you from all sins of this kind. The Apostle says, "Above all things swear not.” He signifies that profane swearing is one of the greatest of all sins. And so certainly it is. It is a direct insult on Almighty God, a daring affront to his supreme majesty, an insolent defiance of his justice and power; and a wanton trifling with one's own salvation.
It is a complication of many sins, such as impiety to God and contempt of his authority; the a buse of speech, that distinguishing faculty of man, unbelief in heart, a disregard to, if not a real dis. belief of the providence, word and judgment of God. In perjury there is always falsehood and injustice, and often higher crimes; there may be murder. In the lower kinds of profaneness there is levity, passion, indecency, rudeness and brutality of manners.
Profane language is a sure evidence of a bad disposition of mind. It proceeds from a stupid, atheistical heart, or from some malignant feeling.
It tends to produce still greater hardness, to extinguish all reverence for God and sacred things, and thus to introduce all other sins.