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(lii. 5). Many, who both should and do know better, are so abandoned in this respect, as to use God's name habitually, without the least concern, and almost at every word ; they are dead to His honour, before whom all the inhabitants of the earth do tremble (Joel, ii. 1); and their iniquity draws down heavy judgments upon their heads; for, as the holy Job says, Who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered, who shaketh the earth out of its place, and the pillars thereof tremble; nay, at whose reproof the very heavens are astonished? (xxvi. 11.)
But there are three ways especially that God's name may be made use of by us, and in which we should be very cautious not to employ it lightly: 1. in swearing; 2. in vowing (or making hasty resolutions); and, 3. in praying.
In the first instance we transgress this commandment in the most wicked manner, when we swear falsely; that is, when upon any public occasion that calls upon us for this solemn test of our true evidence, we invoke the name of the Lord to support an untruth: Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, saith God (Lev. xix. 12); neither shall ye profane the name of your God: I AM THE LORD.
This description of the crime is of a very foul nature indeed, as it is abusing the most sa
cred ceremony to the purpose of injuring others, and brings down a double curse upon the offender: therefore, whether we are guilty, by positively asserting what is untrue, as expressly forbidden in these words of Isaiah (xlviii. 1), Hear ye this, 0 ye house of Jacob, which swear by the name of the Lord, but not in truth and in righteousness ; (lxv. 16,) for he who so sweareth in the earth, shall swear by the God of truth: or, whether we offend by equivocating in our oath; that is, speaking so as not to answer the direct purpose for which we are understood to swear ; the act is no less criminal, and the Psalmist illustrates it very exactly, by his description of a person of the opposite character (Psa. xxiv. 4), he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart (i. e. who is free from any duplicity, or personal interest or prejudice to tempt him to what is wrong, who is sincere and upright in his private views and purposes), who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
Again, we take God's name in vain, in swearing, when we swear needlessly —where either the cause was not of sufficient consequence to justify the solemnity of an oath, and where the business might have been settled without one-against which practice that exhortation of our blessed Lord is levelled, in Matt. v. 34, and following verse : But I say unto you, swear not at all: wherein our Saviour directs his advice against the common practice of the Jews, who reckoned swearing by the creatures to be far more excusable than swearing by the name of God. Our Lord's command, must, therefore, be limited to the practice of swearing in common conversation, and not considered as an universal precept; for it is abundantly evident that all kind of swearing is not here condemned as a thing absolutely evil, because the positive law of God, in the Old Testament, allows it in many places; and the conduct of both Christ and his Apostles confirms the innocence and necessity of it on particular occasions. As, therefore, though it is certain the words, both of our Saviour and St. James, seem to carry an universal sense: Swear not at all, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; as it is equally certain that Christ and his Apostles do often use such general expressions, which must of necessity admit of some limitation; we must always confine our attention to the main 'subject of their discourses, and explain these and many other passages of Scripture, delivered in general terms, by other Scriptures, that so they may not appear to imply contradiction, or oppose the law of nature and voice of reason: thus, these very words will by this rule afford us their true meaning ; for, in Matt. v. 37, by
your COMMUNICATION be yea, yea, nay, nay, Christ evidently convinces us, that he alluded, in all that he said, to the custom of common discourse ; for, after he had given his reasons at large, why it was sinful even to swear by any of his creatures, he adds, I therefore charge you to avoid the common use of all such oaths, as well as of those in which the name of God is expressed; and let your conversation be all plain and simple: when you affirm any thing, say, Yea, or yes; and when you deny any thing, say, Nay, or no; for this will be enough to gain you credit, if your conduct in other respects is such as it should be: and you may be assured, that any more violent assertion comes of evil; that is, proceeds from some evil principle or cause in your own minds, and from the evil one himself, who, when he sees your mind disposed to untruth or injustice, artfully contrives to lead
you from one sin to another, and, by the temptation to the habitual use of swearing, lessens your honour for God, and respect for the solemnity of an oath, by which you are led to take the name of God in vain, and even occasionally to perjure yourselves.--I have dwelt on this passage, my brethren, on purpose to convince you that it is manifest our Saviour's discourse is here entirely designed to condemn common swearing in every shape, and those oaths which for the most
part are so frequently used by profane persons in their common discourse.
There is another instance, in which we may transgress by swearing, and that is, when we do it rashly, without thought, or sufficient purpose of good resolution; and this relates more especially to matters of promise, in which, if we are not perfectly sincere, we are greatly exposed to the danger of perjury. That it is not unlawful to make a promissory oath, is clear from the many examples of such oaths recorded and approved in Scripture: for, in Deut. xxix. 12—14, the Lord made his people enter into an oath to serve him, and keep his covenant ; and King Asa (we read) made all Judah swear that they would put away all their strange wives and children; and Nehemiah (x. 29) engaged all the nobles and people to enter into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, and do all his commandments. Lastly, I have sworn (says David), and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. (Psa. cxix. 106.) Here evidently is God called to witness, that men will be faithful to their promises, or will do this or that thing hereafter. Now, this cannot be unlawful, because we hereby declare our expectation of God's favour, or faith in him for the performance of what is pleasing to him.
Lastly, we break the commandment under