Page images

views, of the most debasing vulgarity. The same man, when in the presence of his fellow-men, acknowledged by him to be of respectable characters, would set a guard on his conduct; particularly on his tongue; and would speak of them, and to them, and before them, with sobriety, care, and decorum ; and would watchfully give them every reasonable proof, that he regarded them, only with respect. From this decency in civilized life, a departure can scarcely be found; unless under the influence of strong passion, or pressing interest.

Surely the Creator of all things has as powerful claims to veneration, as the worm, which he has made.But notwithstanding his glorious and awful character, notwithstanding we know that he is present to all our conduct; notwithstanding we know that he hears whatever we say, and sees whatever we think, or do; we make this great and terrible Being the subject of the most irreverential, impudent thoughts, and of the most vulgar, affrontive, contemptuous language. Nay, all this is done by the profane person, for no purpose, but to affront and insult him; and to induce others to affront and insult him also.

All this is done, not once, twice, or in a few solitary instances only; not in the season of forgetfulness, the unguarded hour of passion, or the moment of peculiar temptation, merely; but every day, in every place, and on every familiar occasion. In this manner, God is habitually brought up to view, and continually insulted. Thus familiarized, thus habituated, to such thoughts, and to such language, the profane person soon becomes unable to think, or speak concerning his Maker in any other manner. All his thoughts concerning him become a regular course of irreverence : and all his language, a tissue of impudence and insult. God, the great and terrible God, in whose hand his breath is ; in whom he lives and moves, and has his being ; the God, by whom he is soon to be judged, and rewarded with endless life, or endless death; becomes speedily, to him, a mere object of vulgar abuse and gross derision. With what views must this awful Being regard the miserable wretch, who thus degrades his character! What must be the appearance of this wretch at the final day!

From God, the source, and substance, of every thing sacred, the transition to all other sacred things is easy; and, in a sense, instinctive. From him Religion derives its existence, its obligation, its power, its hopes, and its rewards. Separated from him, there can be no piety. Separated from him, there can be no morality. Who does not see, that without God there could be no Bible, no Sabbath, no worship, no holiness, and no heaven. He, therefore, who is accustomed to profane the name of God, cuts off his connexion with all things serious and sacred. But nothing else is, comparatively, of any use to man. Whatever is gay and amusing, and at the same time innocent, and in some sense useful, is useful only to refresh the mind for a more vigorous application to things

of a serious and sacred nature. In these, lie all the real and substantial interests of man; the foundation of a virtuous, useful, and happy life, and a glorious immortality. To lose our connexion with them, therefore, is to lose our all. Of course, the profane person voluntarily squanders the blessings of time and eternity; and with a portentous prodigality makes himself poor, and wretched, and miserable; a nuisance to the world, and an outcast from heaven.

3dly. Profaneness is, in most instances, a violation of peculiarly clear, and peculiarly solemn, inducements to our duty.

I have already remarked, under the preceding head, that, in many of the cases, specified in the former discourse, it is impossible that the presence and character of God should not be realized by the profane person. But the character and presence of God, united, present to every mind, not wholly destitute of sobriety, a combination of the most solemn and powerful motives to the performance of its duty. The Being, by whom we were created, and on whom we depend for life, together with all its blessings and hopes, who will bring every work, with every secret thing, into judgment, and who will reward every man according to the deeds, done in the body, with a retribution final and endless, is an object so awful, so interesting, so overwhelming, that one would naturally, think no sacrifice too great, no duty too difficult or discouraging, if the performance would secure his favour.

To the considerations which have been here mentioned, others of singular importance are always to be added, when we are examining almost all the cases of profaneness, specified in the preceding discourse. In the Word and Institutions of God, and in all the Religious services, rendered to him according to the dictates of the Gospel, he is presented to us as the Father, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier, of mankind, in the most endearing and venerable of all offices, the offices of accomplishing an expiation for sin, renewing the soul, pardoning its transgressions, and entitling it again to the blessings of infinite love. These blessings, literally infinite, flowing only from the sovereign and boundless mercy of Jehovah, are proffered to a mind apostatized, rebellious, and ruined; a mind incapable of renewing itself, and, therefore, if left to itself, hopeless of the divine favour ; and an outcast from the virtuous and happy universe. In such a situation, how deeply should we naturally suppose it must be affected with a sense of the infinite goodness, engaged so wonderfully in its behalf; by the glorious blessings, proffered to its acceptance; and by its own infinite need of a share in these blessings. If it will not be influenced by the presence of Jehovah, appearing in these amiable and wonderful characters; if it will not be moved by the proffer of these invaluable and immortal blessings; what inducements can persuade it to perform its duty ? If the pleasure of such a God, if the attainment of such a salvation, will not lay hold on the heart;

where shall we look for motives of sufficient weight to engage its obedience ?

But the profane person does not merely disobey; as we commonly understand this term: He disobeys in the most provoking manner. He treats his Maker as the Jews treated Christ. They did not merely reject this divine Saviour. They did not merely crucify him. They rejected him with scorn: they crucified him with insult. Thorns they gave him for a crown; and a reed for a sceptre. The respect, which they professedly paid him, was contempt : and the homage, mockery. Such, for substance, is the manner in which the profane person treats his God. With all the solemn inducements, which have been mentioned, before his eyes, he not only rejects this glorious Being, and his benevolent offers of eternal life to perishing sinners; but accompanies his rejection with irreverence, despite, and insolence; and cries, Who is the Almighty, that I should serve him? If the ways of God were not higher than our ways, as the heavens are higher than the earth; what would become of this audacious, miserable being?

4thly. Profaneness is a sin, to which there is scarcely any temptation.

In the commission of most sins, mankind usually expect, and believe, they shall obtain some natural good: and this is almost always the prime object of their sinful pursuit: good, forbidden, indeed, and therefore unlawful; yet still really good in the apprehension of the sinner. Thus persons commonly lie, and cheat, for the sake of some gain; become intoxicated, on account of the pleasure experienced in the use of strong drink; are gluttons, to enjoy the delightful taste of dainty food: and thus in almost all other cases of transgression.

But in profaneness there seems to be no good, either enjoyed, or expected, beside that, which is found in the mere love, and indulgence of sin. No person ever acquired property, health, reputation, place, power, nor, it would seem, pleasure, from profaneness. Those particular movements of the tongue, which articulate profaneness, produce, so far as I am able to conjecture, no more agreeable sensations, than any other. The words, which embody profane thoughts, are neither smoother, nor sweeter, than any other words. If, then, profaneness were not sinful; such words would be pronounced no oftener than any other. The pleasure, found in profaneness, such as it is, is therefore found, chiefly if not wholly, in the wickedness, which it involves, and expresses. The sin is the good; and not any thing peculiar to the manner, in which it is committed ; nor any thing, which the profaneness is expected to be the means of acquiring. It may be said, that the profane person recommends himself to his companions; persons, with whom he is pleased, and whom he wishes to please ; and that, at the same time, he secures himself from their contempt and ridicule ; to which otherwise he would be exposed. This, without doubt, is partially true ; and comes nearer than any thing else, which can be alleged, to a seeming exception to the justice of the remark under consideration. Yet it is hardly a seeming exception. Nothing but the wickedness of this conduct, recommends the profane person to his companions : and those, to whom he is recommended, are sinners only. But for the love of wickedness in them, he could not become agreeable to them by this evil practice : and, but for the love of wickedness in him, he could not wish to be thus agreeable. Can it then be good; can it be gainful; will it be alleged to be gain; to recommend ourselves to sinners by the perpetration of sin? Is not the end, which we propose ; are not the means, which we use ; altogether disgraceful both to ourselves and them? Instead of being beneficial to either, are they not the means of corruption, and ruin, to both ? Is the favour of men, who love sin ; and so ardently love it, as to love us merely for sinning; desirable, or useful, to us? Is it worth our labour? Does it deserve our wishes? Can it prove a balance for the guilt, which we incur ? Can it be of any value to us, although in desiring and obtaining it we were to incur no guilt ?

But the profane person is not esteemed, even by his sinful companions. They may desire him as an associate; and they may relish his wickedness; but they approve of neither. Such persons have repeatedly declared to me, that they approved neither of themselves, nor others, when guilty of this sin; but regarded it as a stain upon the character of both. The companions of such a man may be pleased with him, and his wickedness; because both may contribute to keep them in countenance; or make them diversion. They may wish to see him as bad, or worse, than themselves; that the deep hues of their own guilt may fade at his side. Still, they will make him, when he is not present, an object of their contempt and derision. In the same manner, men love treason, and treachery; and in this manner, also, despise the traitor. If the profane person will take pains to learn the real opinion of his companions; he will find, that they invariably condemn his character on the one hand, and on the other, hold it in contempt. In the mean time, he exposes himself uniformly to the abhorrence of virtuous, and even of sober, men. Of this no proof is necessary. The experience of every day informs us, that profane persons are a kind of Helots in society : men, whom youth are admonished to dread, and avoid : men, pointed out io children as warnings against iniquity ; branded as nuisances to society; and marked as blots upon the creation of God.

Virtue is acknowledged to be distinguished, and excellent, in some general proportion, at least, to the disinterestedness, with which it is exercised. Sin, committed without motives of such magnitude as to be properly styled temptations, may be justly termed disinterested sin : sin, committed only from the love of sin, and not with a view to any natural good, in which it is to terminate. This must undoubtedly be acknowledged to be wickedness of a dye peculiarly deep, of a nature eminently guilty; and the author of it must, with as little doubt, be eminently vile, odious, and abominable, in the sight of God.

5thly. Profaneness is among the most distinguished means of corrupting our fellow-men.

This observation I intend to apply exclusively to the profaneness of the tongue. It is indeed applicable, with much force, to profaneness, manifested in various kinds of action ; but it is peculiarly applicable to the kind of profaneness, which I have particularly specified.

Sins of the tongue are all social sins ; necessarily social, and eminently social. They are practised, only where men are present to hear, and to witness; and they are practised, wherever men are present to hear. Thus a man is profane before his family; swears, and curses, and ridicules sacred things, in the social club; in the street; before his neighbours; and in the midst of a multitude. Persons of all ages become witnesses, and learners. Thus children learn to lisp the curse ; and the grey-haired sinner, to mutter the faltering oath.

No man was ever profane alone ; in a wilderness, or in his closet. To the very nature of this sin, the presence of others seems so indispensable, that we cannot realize the commission of it by any man, unless in the midst of society. All the mischief of evil example is found in the social nature of man; and in the social nature of those sins, to which the whole power of evil example is confined. Where sin is in its nature solitary, and the perpetration of course insulated ; whatever other guilt it may involve, the sinner plainly cannot be charged with the guilt of corrupting others. In order to follow us in wickedness, others must know, that we are wicked. When they hear of our wickedness at a distance; they are always, perhaps, in greater or less danger of being corrupted; because sympathy is always a powerful propensity of the mind, and because we have always a strong tendency to imitation. But when they are present to see sin in our actions, and to hear it from our tongues ; it becomes the means of the most certain and efficacious corruption ; because then the impression is ordinarily the strongest possible.

There is, however, one case, in which this corruption, though usually less efficacious in particular instances, is yet much more dreadfully operative, because it is much more extensively diffused. An author, when possessed of sufficient ingenuity, can spread this malignant influence wherever his writings can penetrate ; and expand the force of an evil example over many countries, and through a long succession of ages. Millions of the human race may owe to such a man the commencement, and progress, of iniquity, in their minds; and may imbibe pernicious sentiments, which, but

« PreviousContinue »