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the wicked, that they contemn God; it enters deeply into the character of wickedness itself; nor is there a heavier charge, amongst their complicated crimes, adduced against the ancient Israelites, than that they “lightly esteemed the Rock of their salvation."*
With respect to the profane oaths and execrations which most of those who are habituated to “ take the name of God in vain” frequently utter, when they are transported with emotions of anger, their criminality is still greater as they approach the confines of blasphemy. To hurl damnation at our fellow-creatures, whenever they have fallen under our displeasure, is precisely the conduct of the fool described by Solomon, who “ casteth about firebrands, arrows, and death, and saith, Am not I in sport?”ufo
We will do them the justice of supposing that they are far from really wishing the eternal destruction of their fellow-creatures; but, admitting this to be the case, admitting they have no such intention, is not this more than to insinuate that these terms have absolutely no meaning, and that the sanction of the divine law, the punishment of a future state, have no such existence, but are become mere figures of speech; that christianity is exploded, and that its most awful doctrines, like the fables of pagan superstition, serve only the purpose of allusion ? Is it possible for him who lives under an habitual conviction of there being an eternal state of misery reserved for the impenitent, * Deut. xxxii. 15.
+ Prov. xxvi. 18, 19. VOL. V.
to [advert to] the terrors of that world on every slight occasion, to give additional force to the expressions of his anger ?
(3.) The practice of taking the Lord's name in vain is not only a great indication of want of reverence for God, but is calculated to wear out all serious religion from the mind. The effect of associating the most awful words, expressive of religious objects, with every thing which is mean and degrading, is adapted, in the highest degree, to sink them into contempt. He who has reflected the least on the laws of the human mind, must be aware of the importance of association, or of that principle, in consequence of which ideas and emotions, which have been frequently presented to the mind at the same time, naturally recall each other. It is by virtue of this law of nature, principally, that habits are formed, and that the links which connect things in the memory are constituted. By virtue of this it is that objects, which have been frequently presented along with ludicrous and ridiculous circumstances, acquire a character of ridicule. Hence the art of turning persons or things into ridicule is to place them in juxtaposition with what is low and trivial; in consequence of which the emotion of contempt excited by the latter is made to adhere to the former, and stamps them with a similar character. These remarks, obvious as they are, may be sufficient to evince the pernicious effect of taking the Lord's name in vain. Though it is not the formal design of those who indulge this practice to turn the most sacred objects into ridicule, it perfectly answers that purpose, as much as if it were their professed intention.
The practice [whose evils) we are endeavouring to [point out], will be more certainly productive of that effect, because it is usually connected with a total absence of the mention of God on all other occasions. Among this description of persons, the name and attributes of the Supreme Being, and the punishments of eternity, are rarely, if ever, introduced, but in the way of profanation.
If the most awful terms in religion are rarely or never employed but in connexion with angry or light emotions, he must be blind indeed who fails to perceive the tendency of such a practice to wear out all traces of seriousness from the mind. They who are guilty of it are continually taking lessons of impiety; and their progress, it must be confessed, is proportioned to what might be expected.
(4.) The criminality of taking the Lord's name in vain is enhanced by the absence of every reasonable temptation. It is not, like many other vices, productive of either pleasure or emolument; it is neither adapted to gratify any natural appetite or passion, nor to facilitate the attainment of a single end which a reasonable creature can be supposed to have in view. It is properly the “ superfluity of naughtiness,” and can only be considered as a sort of peppercorn rent, in acknowledgement of the devil's right of superiority. It is a vice by which
no man's reputation is extended, no man's fortune is increased, no man's sensual gratifications are augmented. If we attempt to analyze it, and reduce it to its real motive, we find ourselves at a total loss to discover any other than irreligious ostentation, a desire of convincing the world that its perpetrators are not under the restraint of religious fear. But as this motive is most impious and detestable, so the practice arising from it is not at all requisite for that purpose; since the persons who [persist in] it may safely leave it to other parts of their character to exonerate them from the suspicion of their being fearers of God. We beg leave to remind them that they are in no danger of being classed with the pious either in this world or in that which is to come; and may therefore safely spare themselves the trouble of inscribing the name of their master on their foreheads. They are not so near to the kingdom of God as to be liable to be mistaken for its subjects.
XXXV. ON THE ORIGIN AND IMPORT OF THE NAME,
CHRISTIANS. Acts xi. 26.—And the disciples were called Christians first
at Antioch. It is the glorious prerogative of God to bring good out of evil; and by the powerful superintendence of his providence, to overrule the most untoward events, and render them conducive to the ends of his glory and the good of his people.
The persecution which arose upon the death of Stephen affords a striking instance of this; whence the disciples being all scattered and dispersed, besides the apostles, went everywhere preaching the word; in consequence of which, the neighbouring districts and provinces were much sooner visited with the light of the gospel than they would have been but for that event.
Had the church of Jerusalem continued to enjoy [it] undisturbed, in that abundance of spiritual prosperity which attended it, and in the endearments of the most exalted friendship, they would in all likelihood have been indisposed to separate, and the precious wheat would have been accumulated in one spot. By the violence of persecution this happy society was broken up: the disciples found it necessary, according to the direction of their divine Master, to flee to other cities; where, inflamed with the desire of magnifying Christ, and of saving souls, they distributed the precious treasure of the gospel. Thus the clouds which the wind had scattered descended in rich and copious showers to refresh and render fruitful the earth : “ And at that time there was a great persecution against the church that was at Jerusalem ; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria, except the apostles: and they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.”*
* Acts viii. 1, 4.