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Ye shall not swear by my name falsely; neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God; I am Jehovah. Lev. xx. 12. To swear falsely is to invoke God to witness a lie. It is scarcely possible to conceive of a grosser insult to the Creator of the Universe than this. He, as all men perfectly well know, infinitely loves truth, and infinitely detests falsehood; and has said, that there shall in no wise enter into the heavenly city any one, who loveth, or maketh a lie. To call him, then, in this solemn manner, to witness a falsehood, is to laugh at his love of truth, his disposition and power to support it, and that glorious purity of his character, before which the heavens are unclean, and the Angels charged with folly.
2dly. When the Name of God is used in any light, irreverent manner; the same sin is committed.
The most prominent, and most usual, modes of transgressing, in this manner, are profane cursing and swearing. In cases of this nature, the Name of God is frequently employed to accompany, and enhance, diversion ; frequently as the means of giving vent, with peculiar force, to the violence of anger; often, also, is it used to aggravate denunciations of revenge; and very often dishonoured by unhallowed lips in imprecations of evil on our fellow-men. In every one of these methods, the Name of God is profaned, times without number, every day.
This glorious and awful Being, as I have already observed, has all possible claims to the highest reverence. Every thing teaches us this doctrine : the Creation and the Providence of God; Reason and Revelation. It is enforced by every page of divine truth; and by every dictate of the human conscience. In a word, on all things within and without us, that glorious and fearful Name, JEHOVAH, our God, is written in sunbeams. In the same clear and luminous manner is every where displayed the indispensable duty of reverencing him with that fear of the Lord, which is Wisdom, and that departure from evil, which is understanding. Nor can his claims to the performance of this duty be ever relinquished.
Indeed, mankind appear, almost universally, to possess a clear conviction of the truth of this doctrine, and of the indispensable nature of this duty. In all ordinary circumstances, the worst of men acknowledge both, without hesitation; even those, who most frequently, and most heinously, commit the sin, which the doctrine prohibits. Of this sin God seems to have established in the consciences of mankind a stronger and more uniform disapprobation, than of most others. In few cases of transgression, is there so little disagreement as in this. Almost all other sins, men labour to justify. I know not, that I have ever heard any man attempt soberly to justify profaneness of this nature. He, whose tongue is still vibrating with cursing and swearing, will usually acknowledge that his conduct is inexcusable. Arguments to prove the reality of this sin, are therefore unnecessary.
3dly. We are guilty of this sin, also, when we invoke the Name of God lightly and irreverently in prayer, or without that seriousness, humility, and religious awe, which are indispensable to the acceptable performance of this duty.
At all times, in all circumstances, are we required to render to Jehovah our supreme reverence, and unfeigned devotion, whenever he becomes the object of our contemplation, or our conduct. His character is always, and immutably, the same; infinitely great, awful, holy, and excellent. Our relation to him, also, is invariably the same that of rational and dependent creatures. But especially is this reverence, and devotion, to exist in prayer. In the performance of this duty, so solemn in its nature, and bringing us so near the throne of majesty and mercy, the character of God, our own inferiority, dependence, obligations, sin, guilt, danger, and infinite necessity of the divine favour and blessing, are brought up in full view, and forced home upon the heart. Here, therefore, all inducements to reverential thoughts of God, and all advantages for entertaining thein, are presented to the mind. To exhibit irrev. erence, in this case, therefore, is to break over these inducements, and sottishly to neglect these advantages. God, here, is not treated irreverently in the hour of inconsideration, of strong templation and surprising sin; but in the season of seriousness, and professed devotion. We worship God acceptably, when we worship him with reverence and godly fear. God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence by all them that are about him. The same spirit is, in the same manner, demanded in our private and secret devotions. When, therefore, the mind regards its Maker, in this act of devotion, with lightness and irreverence; it is not only clear, that it is guilty of the sin, forbidden in the text, and of great sin; but it is fearfully probable, when this is habitually its conduct, that it is at all times the subject of a general spirit of profanation.
4thly. A still more heinous transgression of the same nature, is Using the Name of God Irreverently in the solemn act of Dedicating the Soul to him in the Covenant of Grace.
In this, the most solemn transaction in which man is ever concerned on this side of the grave, all things, even some which are not applicable to the taking of an oath, or the duty of prayer, conspire, in the highest degree, to make it affecting to the mind. The day, the place, the occasion, the transaction, are invested with pe- . culiar solemnity by their very nature. A pre-eminent solemnity, also, is thrown upon this transaction by the Character of the person, immediately concerned; a Sinner, professedly restored to the divine favour : the subject of dedication; an immortal mind: the Being to whom the dedication is made; a pardoning God: the means by which the worshipper has been permitted thus to dedicate himself; the righteousness of the Redeemer: the ends, for which he thus offers himself up; the glory of God, and his own
eternal salvation. All these things, united, plainly render this the most interesting transaction, in which the soul is ever engaged in the present world. To act lightly and irreverently, then, in a concern so solemn, so eminently affecting, is to be profane, against all inducements to our duty: against some, not existing in any. other religious service. In this conduct, all these most sacred things; God, Christ, the work of Redemption, forgiving love, the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, the restoration and salvation of the soul, are, if it be done deliberately, and with understanding, treated with the grossest contempt, and the most impious mockery. In deliberate conduct of this nature, the mind proves itself to be depraved altogether beyond the common measure; and the conscience is evidently not far from being seared, as with an hot iron.
Generally, he who regards God with levity and irreverence, in any religious service whatever, when this irreverence is directed immediately towards his character, is guilty of profaneness in the mode specified under the second head. In other words, he is guilty of profaneness of the same nature, and existing substantially under the same form, with that which is found in profane cursing and swearing. The irreverence, which constitutes the peculiar guilt of this latter sin, exists also in the former; and in both is immediately directed against God himself. Both, therefore, are justly considered as cases of the same nature.
As this sin respects the Works of God; or, in other words, whatever he has done, declared, or instituted ; the profaneness, whenever it exists, is exactly the same in its nature, but different in the mode of its existence, from that, exhibited under the former general head. In all instances, included under that head, it is directed against God immediately; but mediately in those now referred to: the irreverence being pointed immediately against the works themselves, and through them against their Author.
God is often treated with irreverence:
The works of creation and providence are merely manifestations of their Author. In all of them, his character is more or less visible ; his wisdom, power, and goodness ; his self
existence, and independence; his omnipresence, and omnipotence; his omniscience, and immutability. These perfections are so clearly, and so extensively, manifested in his works, that, without more than common stupidity, we cannot be ignorant of them. Of consequence, we clearly perceive them to be the works of God: and whenever we complain of them, or murmur at them, or despise them, or ridicule them; the complaints, the murmurs, the contempt, and the ridicule, are intended, ultimately, not against the works themselves, but against their Author. No man ever thought of treating in this manner inanimate objects, or mere events. He, who made these objects, and controls these events, is the only being, against whom the irreverence is intentionally directed.
This is so obviously true, that, probably, it was never seriously questioned.
The same sin is committed, in the same manner, whenever we assert, or insinuate, that these works were made to no end; or to no end worthy of their Author. In such a case the character of God is profanely impeached, through his works ; because we accuse him of weakness and folly. No folly can be more conspicuous, than that, which is visible in doing any thing, and especially very great things, without any end in view, or without any such end, as is suited to the splendour of the apparatus, or the character of the workman. Of this folly, in the case before us, we accuse God.
Profaneness, of an exactly similar nature, is practised, when, in considering the works of God, we intentionally, or negligently, keep his Agency out of view, and attribute to second causes that, which plainly belongs to the First Cause. There are philosophers, and ever have been, who, through choice, or carelessness, have considered the beings and events, in the earth and the visible heavens, as proceeding in a manner, and from a cause, resembling that which the heathen attributed to fate. Instead of supposing them to be all directed by an Intelligent Cause to purposes, formed by unerring wisdom, and conducted, regularly, by that wisdom to the accomplishment of those purposes ; they are regarded, and spoken of, as operating, of themselves only; without any direction; without any end, to be accomplished; without any wisdom to guide, or intelligent agency to control.
The works of God were by him intended to be, and are in fact, manifestations of himself; proofs of his character, presence, and agency. In this light he requires men continually to regard them; and to refuse this regard is considered by him as grossly wicked, and highly deserving of punishment. Accordingly, David, says, Psalm xxviii. 5, Because they regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them
Isaiah, also, chap. v. 12–14, speaking of the Jews, says, They regard not, the work of the Lord ; neither consider the operation
of his hands. Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge ; and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. Therefore, hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure : and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
I am apprehensive, that even good men are prone to pay less attention to the works of Creation and Providence, than piety demands and the Scriptures require. We say, and hear, so much concerning the insufficiency of these works to unfold the character of God, and the nature of genuine religion; and find the truth of what we thus say, and hear, so clearly proved; that we are prone, not very unnaturally, to consider them as almost uninstruct
ive in moral things, and in a great measure useless to the promotion of piety. This, however, is a palpable and dangerous error. The works alone, without the aid of the Scriptures, would, I acknowledge, be far less instructive, than they now are, and utterly insufficient to guide us in the way of righteousness. The Scriptures were designed to be a Comment on these works; to explain their nature; and show us the agency, purposes, wisdom, and goodness, of God in their formation. Thus explained, thus illumined, they become means of knowledge, very extensive and eminently useful. He, who does not find in the various, beautiful, sublime, awful, and astonishing objects, presented to us in creation and providence, irresistible and glorious reasons for admiring, adoring, loving, and praising, his Creator, has not a claim to Evangelical piety, David did not act in this manner. All, who, like David, feel the spirit of the Gospel, will, like him also, rejoice in those works, in which God himself rejoices; will delight to contemplate them with wonder, reverence, and gratitude ; will find God, every where, in the works of his hands; and, passing beyond those second causes, which are merely instruments of his agency, will see, every where displayed, the finger, and character, of the divine Workman.
2dly. The same Irreverence is abundantly exercised towards the Word of God.
Irreverence, in this particular, exists, in a multitude of forms, and degrees; altogether too numerous to be mentioned on this occasion. I shall select a few from this number.
First; The Scriptures are not unfrequently made the object, or the means, of sport and jesting. David says of himself, My heart standeth in awe at thy word : and again, addressing his Maker, O how sweet are thy Words unto my taste! God, speaking by the Prophet Isaiah, says, To this man will I look ; even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my Word. Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word. He shall appear to your joy; and your brethren, that hated you, shall be ashamed. Such is the character of good men ; and such are the promises to those, who tremble at the word of God. But how different is the spirit of those, who jest with this sacred and awful volume ; who can find sport and merriment in the book, which unfolds the infinitely great, solemn, and awful character of Jehovah ; which denounces his wrath against all the workers of iniquity; which opens to our view the Redeemer of mankind on the cross; which discloses to us all the glories of heaven, and the straight and narrow way to that happy world; which presents to us the terrors of hell, with the dreadful road that leads to final perdition ; and which shows us ourselves as objects of the divine indignation, in imminent danger of endless ruin, and yet as prisoners of hope and candidates for life eternal! What can be found, here, to excite diversion; to become the theme of gayety, the subject of laughter, the