Page images

not probably feel the solemnity of an oath when he is called to take one in a court of justice. It is true a sense of honour, regard to the opinions of the world, and fear of the penalty of human laws may elicit the truth; but as far as the fear of God forms any check against perjury, the check must be greatly weakened, if not entirely destroyed. And this as was observed before forms the grand check and security against perjury.When therefore the inclination of a profane swearer, prompts him to take a false oath; and he has no reason to fear detection and punishment by men, what have we not to apprehend from such a man? Sound reason unquestionably teaches us, that profane swearing tends to lessen the solemnity of an oath; and hence by a necessary consequence, security against perjury. Therefore the vice of profane swearing, is most dangerous to the interests of civil society. From this pernicious influence of profane swearing on the interests of the community, we may see the force of that saying of the prophet Jeremiah (xxiii. 10,) "Because of swearing the land mourneth."

From this subject, we may now

1. Infer the total depravity of human nature. For surely that nature must be totally depraved, which can without reason, honour, profit, or real pleasure, thus trifle with the name of that God, before whom angels veil their faces; thus dishonour him who made them, who preserves them in being, and who is the author of all their blessings; and thus tempt the vengeance, and brave the power of him who holds their lives, and eternal destinies in his hands; whose power is almighty; and before whose dreadful wrath none can stand. I doubt, my hearers, whether the infernal regions can produce such beings as we 'find on earth, who can tempt the vengeance of God and sport with damnation. For the inhabitants of hell feel the divine vengeance, and know by experience the import of damnation. Devils believe and tremble; and we find them in the days when Christ was upon earth, begging not to be tormented before the time: but men will imprecate damnation upon themselves. "Herein (as one speaks) they seem to envy the happiness of devils and damned wretches in hell, and endeavour to snatch damnation out of God's hands before the time; as if they could not be soon enough among their roaring and how

ling companions, in the midst of the everlasting burnings." Surely brethren the nature must be totally depraved which is capable of such excess.

2. This subject may well lead us to admire the patience of God, that he bears with such indignities; and does not speedily arrest the profane swearer in the midst of his oaths and imprecations; and summon him to his bar to render an account. And this very patience the swearer improves to greater audacity, as though he was resolved to try how far the patience of God would extend, and what load of wickedness it was capable of bearing. But let such sinners be assured that the vengeance of God slumbereth not. He will not hold them guiltless. Despising the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, after their hardness and impenitent hearts, they are treasuring up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Soon will his anger flame against them and burn to the lowest hell.

3. Let me affectionately and earnestly exhort and warn those who are not addicted to this vice, and especially the young who are most in danger, carefully to guard against it. Shun every temptation to it; and especially shun the society of those who take God's name in vain.And ever think and speak reverently of God. My dear young friends listen to these counsels. For your interests are most intimately connected with them.

And let those who abhor this vice endeavour to correct it in others by showing their disapprobation of it when they hear it--Let them prudently and affectionately counsel and reprove others when they are profane in their presence. Much might be done in this way to check this vice. If every person who disapproves of this vice were to reprove when they hear it, it would soon shrink from public observation. The conscience of the swearer is on the side of the reprover. Let all therefore who disapprove of this vice, whether they profess religion or not, be faithful, when they hear profane language, and show their disapprobation; and much will be done to check its progress and prevent its demoralizing effects.

4. Finally let those of my hearers who are addicted to this vice, reflect on their conduct; and their own reason and conscience must convince them that they

wrong. Let me beseech you to reflect on the reasons which have been offered to dissuade from this vice. It is inexcusable, destructive to your own souls, and injurious to the interests of others. Notwithstanding your great wickedness against God, he is pleased still to prolong the day of his patience towards you. Improve this day. There may be still mercy for you. Break off from this sin, repent of it, and take refuge in the atoning blood of Christ from the wrath of God which threatens you. Have pity on the land, which has mourned because of swearing. Have pity on the rising generation, whom you are injuring and destroying by your example. Have pity on your own souls, which must soon stand at the bar of God, and give an account of the deeds done in the body. And let your tongue which has hitherto been your shame; be hereafter your glory.-AMEN.




"And ye shall not swear by my name falsely."

The sin, forbidden in this text, is included in the third commandment, and is one of the principal sins intended by taking the name of the Lord in vain. The prohibition," ye shall not swear by my name falsely," implies that it is our duty, on certain occasions, to swear by the name of the Lord. An oath, as was observed, in a former discourse, is either assertory or promissory. An assertory oath relates to evidence, and is a solemn appeal to God as an omniscient Judge for the truth of what we say; and implies an imprecation of his wrath, in case we speak falsely. A promissory oath respects things to be performed, and is a solemn appeal to God, as the searcher

of hearts for the sincerity of what we promise, and an imprecation of his wrath, in case we do not perform.

Swearing falsely, or perjury, is the violation of an' oath. In an assertory oath, in which we swear, that we will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; if we knowingly declare falsehood instead of truth; or if while we tell nothing but truth, we wilfully keep back a part which has a bearing on the case in which we are called to give testimony, we are guilty of perjury. In a promissory oath, perjury is committed when the thing promised under oath is not performed. We must however here except, when the thing promised is impossible to be performed; or when the condition on which the thing is promissed is not fulfilled; or when the person to whom the benefit is promised, releases the promiser from his obligation; or when the promiser, at the time of making the oath, was not in the full exercise of his reason; or when the thing promised to be done is unlawful. But, except in these cases, if we do not perform what we have promised under oath, we are guilty of perjury.

The crime of perjury, we have reason to fear is very. prevalent in our country. And it is a very great crime; and though it frequently escapes the punishment of men, yet will not the Lord suffer it to escape his righteous judgment.

Let us point out the evils, and inquire into the causes

of this crime.

[ocr errors]

I. The evils of perjury. These are many and great. They may be summed up in the injury it may do to society, and to the soul of the individual guilty of it.

1. It is a crime highly dangerous to the interests of society. By perjury, the innocent may be deprived of their character, property, and lives. As judgment is pronounced in court according to testimony given under oath, if such testimony be false, or contain not the whole truth, the judgment founded on it may be contrary to right; and thus the innocent may be condemned, while the guil ty may be acquitted. This is the direct consequence of false swearing; and we have reason to fear that this is a consequence which has often been realized. Perjury, therefore must be a crime highly dangerous to the interests of society; and for this reason, it ought to be held in



abhorrence byall good citizens and to be severely punished by the civil magistrate.

In ancient times, perjury was in some places punished with death; in others the person convicted of this crime was liable to the punishment due to the crime, of which his testimony went to convict the innocent; and in others a pecuniary fine was imposed. By the English laws, the punishment of perjury anciently was death; afterwards it came to be banishment, or cutting out the tongue; then forfeiture of goods; and laterly it has been fine and imprisonment, together with disqualification ever after to bear testimony. In the State in which we live, the penalty for perjury is fine and imprisonment; and the perjured person is rendered incapable after conviction of giving testimony. These remarks show the sense which legislators in different countries and ages have had of the crime of perjury, and that in their estimation, it is a crime very injurious to society.

2. This is a crime which is ruinous to the soul, and exposes the individual guilty of it to the wrath of God.Even the Heathen, who were guided by the light of nature, thus viewed this crime. We are told it was a general sentiment, that though this crime escaped human punishments, yet the divine vengeance would certainly overtake those guilty of it; and even inanimate nature was supposed to take revenge for it. "No man (said Aristotle) will perjure himself, who apprehends vengeance from heaven, and disgrace among men." And Cicero said," the divine punishment of perjury is destruction, the human, disgrace." Thus the Heathen viewed the crime of perjury. And

In what light is it viewed in the word of God? It is there condemned, and those guilty of it are severely threatened. In our text and elsewhere God has expressly forbidden this sin; and he will not suffer his commandments to be broken with impunity. In the third commandment we read, "the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." This awful declaration undoubtedly applies to the perjured; for perjury is certainly one of the sins, and I suppose the principal sin intended in this commandment. Jer. vii. 9. Swearing falsely is mentioned as one of the sins of the Jews, for which the Lord was about to bring upon them, those tremendous

« PreviousContinue »