Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

"What looks like an involuntary confession of unfaithfulness, is the liberty taken with the second of the Commandments. In the form in which they are exhibited by the Roman Church, this commandment is consolidated with the first, and sometimes even omitted. But as the Commandments are expressly declared to amount to ten, in Deut. 4. 13. and elsewhere; to make up for the omission or consolidation, the tenth is divided into two; although the subject of it is one.—the prohibiting of the coveting of what is our neighbours', applied to different articles of his rights. In regard to what we call the second commandment, it is affirmed on the other side, to be a mere continuation of the first. This lessens the weight of the commandment, as having for its sole object, a corruption to which the Israelites were so manifestly prone: although the prohibition stands in its full force, against the offering of adoration to any object of sense. This part of the subject ought not to be left, without a solemn caution to every one within hearing, against the least approach towards the species of worship forbidden in the second commandment: not only forbidden, but in terms strongly expressive of the displeasure of almighty God, at the doing so in any form. Fidelity to sacred truth requires to add, that all invocation of departed saints, and all prostration of the body before their images and their pictures, or before such artificial representations of any sort, lies under the pressure of the prohibition in the text. But it would be a perversion of what is now delivered, if it should excite in any mind the spirit of intolerance towards others, because of any practices which we condemn. [See Dissertation V.~\

It may be proper, before we leave this commandment, to take notice of what it affirms, of God's visiting of the sins of the fathers on the children; and ol his showing mercy to the offspring of those who love him. In the former kind of visitation, some have foui.d a stumbling block; but with little reason, because thev need but to look around them in the world. to remark in what a variety of ways children have disease and suffering entailed on them, by the excesses of their parents; and not only so, but how naturally irreligion and immorality in the one, tend to corrupt the consciences of the other; this however not entirely silencing the testimonies which he has given of himself, in his works and in their own hearts; so as to be a ground of moral responsibility. But if the difficulty arise from a supposed extension of the visitation to another life, this is a mistake of the meaning. There is not only no such intimation in the place, but it is contrary to many places in the Scriptures. Here surely must apply what God said by the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel—" The son shall not die for the iniquity of the father; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him."*

[graphic]
[graphic]

In addition to what is here said, it should be remembered, that the Israelitish nation were under a peculiar dispensation of Providence; constituting a closer connexion than that occurring in the ordinary course of affairs, between a virtuous conduct and temporal prosperity, and between sin—^especially national sin, as was that of publick idolatry—and its merited punishment. How awfully the threatening was carried into effect towards the Jewish nation, by their frequent subjection to their enemies, by disasters in various ways, and finally by their captivity in Babylon, we need but to read their history to be convinced of. The rewarding of perseverance in the worship of the one true God, to a thousand generations, is a strong way of expressing, that the mercy of God transcends his justice in their respective effects: there being still understood a perseverance of posterity in the true religion; apostacy from which would of course transfer them from being the subjects of the promise, to a liability to the threatening.

Third commandment: "Thou shalt not take the

• Ezekiel 18. 20.

[graphic]

name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.” We must here call into view another of the principles adverted to, as arising out of the brevity of the code. The principle is, that under the prohibition of any crime of the highest grade, there must be also understood every inferiour crime of the same kind, and issuing from the same faulty state of mind; although not found in the same degree of malignity. In order to give consistency to the application of the principle, it should appear, that every sin, brought under the sense of the prohibition, should have been expressly prohibited by Moses, in his other precepts; delivered for the full unfolding of the contents of the law, reduced to the narrow compass of the two tables. It has been commonly understood—and there are some places in scripture which support the construction—that the prominent crime here in view is perjury. Certainly, it is the highest instance of a profane use of the sacred name of God: and great as the crime is in itself, it is much aggravated by its tendency to dissolve the bands of society; overwhelming all legal government in uproar and anarchy: because it has been found, under all the forms of government which have existed, that justice cannot be administered, nor security for true testimony be obtained, otherwise than through the medium of an appeal to the invisible Witness of our thoughts as of our actions. Although this is the highest enormity, coming within the precincts of the prohibition; the very letter of it applies closely to the irreverent mention of the name of the Creator, in any way; and to all forms of words, which imply the invoking of his name uselessly to a transaction. There are so many obvious arguments against such foolish practices, and they are so contrary even to decorum; that the only consideration which shall be now presented, is one arising out of the general subject of this lecture. The consideration is, that the law before us is designed to sustain the sanction of all law—the will of the sovereign Ruler of men and angels. On the ground of temporal interest or of character, a man may see cause to avoid a certain evil action, or to perform a certain good one: but independently on his responsibility to a divine Being, he can have no motive to the moral discipline of his mind; and to avoid what is evil in disposition and in intention. Can this be so; and can it be otherwise, than that every profane act has a tendency to impair inward rectitude; and to lessen the security of that which is outward also, in the event of any extraordinary temptation? One would suppose, that it must be a precarious kind of virtue, for which no good reason can be given, independently on interest or reputation. But these motives out of the question, it is difficult to conceive, why any man or any woman should be bound by the requisitions of integrity—and that at the expense of resisting temptation—independently on the sense of responsibility to a divine being. Surely then this being cannot be habitually dishonoured, without a weakening of the sanction of his authority; and without rendering the virtue of the party dependent on the changes of interest and of opinion; and even on circumstances enabling to brave every danger which may be hazarded.

The crime of false speaking has been always considered as coming under the censure of this command; because as he who speaks, professes to speak the truth; and as God, whether invoked or not, is the witness of the transaction, and the arbiter between the speaker and the person addressed; here is an unequivocal setting at nought of a regard of his omniscience. Certain it is, that there is no one of the Ten Commandments, under which lying so naturally falls: and yet it must have been considered as coming under one of them, being elsewhere found in the divine prohibitions by the mouthcef Moses; as in Leviticus 19. 11—" Ye .shall not *** deal falsely, neither lie one to another." There is no vice, the guilt of which is so much diminished to the minds of those who practise it, as the fancy that lying cannot be criminal, in cases in which no harm to others is to be the result. It seems scarcely possible, that this can be presumed in any case, even considered in itself. For it often happens, that inconvenience and even mischief ensues, where nothing of the sort was contemplated. Besides, it cannot be foreseen, in what degree the supposed harmless violation of a law may affect the principle of it in the minds of others; and thus produce an endless series of transgression. But above all; the word of God, not knowing any such distinction, has given the warning, that “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”* Fourth commandment: “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day: six days shalt thou labour and do all that thou hast to do. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work: thou and thy son, and thy daughter; thy man servant and thy maid servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth; the sea and all that in them is; and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.” There are questions moved concerning the date of this appointment; its duration; and how far it is now binding on the Christian Church. The blessing of the seventh day, is mentioned in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, at the closing of the act of the creation; but this is thought by some to have been done without any intimation of an appointment in paradise, and only to account for its being made to the children of Israel, in the wilderness. Certain it is, that we meet with no instance of an actual hallowing of the Sabbath, until we reach the sixteenth chapter of the book of Exodus: and the manner of the giving and the receiving of the institution carries strong appearances of its not being familiar to the Israelites. This seems not easily accounted for, if it

* Rey, xxi. 8.

« PreviousContinue »