« PreviousContinue »
A familiar example, or two, will advantageously illustrate this subject. An angry man becomes at once more violent and wrathful, when he begins to vent his passion by words. What before was anger, soon becomes fury. Before, he was able to retain his spirit within some bounds of decency; but as soon as his tongue is let loose, his countenance will be distorted, his eyes flash, and his sentiments be the mere effusions of frenzy. A revengeful man kindles, like a furnace, from the moment, in which he begins to execute his
What before was the revenge of a human heart, is speedily changed into the fell malignity of a fiend.
St. James has exhibited this tendency of the tongue to corrupt the mind, in language remarkable, exact, and forcible. He styles it an unruly member; a fire; a world of iniquity; and declares, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature. Its influence on the mind itself, as well as on the affairs of mankind, he describes in this strong exclamation : Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! That the eye of St. James was directed to the profaneness of the tongue is obvious from what he says in the two succeeding verses. Therewith bless we God; and therewith curse we men. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. Cursing, one dreadful kind of profaneness, was, according to his own account, in the eye of the Apostle, a kind of profaneness, mingled always with every other, and inseparable from every other. In this very sense, then, the tongue is full of deadly poison ; a fire that kindles the whole course of nature, in the soul; and defiles the whole body, and the whole mind.
Of the correctness of these Apostolic declarations, experience furnishes ample proof. Among all the multitude of persons, who have borne the character of profaneness, not one was ever believed, on account of his other conduct, by any competent judge, acquainted with him, to be a virtuous man. Many persons have begun to be profane from mere inconsideration; and, at the commencement of their career, were no more depraved, than such of their companions as abstained from this sin.' In their progress, however, they became corrupted much more extensively within the same period ; increased generally in wickedness, and particularly in hardness of heart; and lost every serious and even sober thought : all that course of thought, whence moral good might be derived, or whence might spring any hopeful efforts towards salvation. This is a case, which must, I think, have frequently met the eye of every man, who is seriously attentive to the moral conduct of his fellow-men; and strongly shows, that the practice has, itself, deplorably corrupted them in other respects, and set on fire the whole course of nature in their minds and lives. Hence, instead of being accounted virtuous on account of any thing in their other conduct, persons, addicted to this sin, have been regarded by common sense as gross sinners of course. “ A profane person,'' is,
therefore, as you well know, proverbial language, used regularly to denote a wicked vicious wretch.
The truth plainly is, and all men discern it to be truth, that irreverence to God is a general source of wickedness. As I remarked in a former discourse, Religious Reverence is the direct, and peculiar, source of reformation. Irreverence, its opposite, is in the same manner the direct source of degeneracy. This is indeed true of most sins, when habitually and allowedly practised. He, who practises one sin in this manner, will almost necessarily relish other sins more. As the body when corrupted, and weakened, by sickness, is more prepared for the admission of any disease which may arrest it; so the soul, corrupted by sin of any kind, becomes more fitted for the admission of every kind of wickedness, which seeks admission. The conscience becomes less tender, less awake, less alarmed at the apprehension of guilt. The motives also, which should induce us to abstain from ini. quity, gradually lose their power. The love of sinning, the evil passions and appetites, gain strength by indulgence; and tempta, tion, having repeatedly vanquished us, more easily vanquishes us again.
But irreverence, more than almost any other evil, brings us into this danger. Whenever God becomes an object of little importance, or estimation, in our view; the evil of sinning vanishes of course. The danger, also, speedily recedes from our view. The only great and solemn Object in the universe, the only Being, who is of ultimate importance to us, loses all his awfulness and sanctity. The great and commanding motive is, therefore, gone ; and there is nothing left, to restrain us, but reputation or convenience. In this situation, the mind is prepared for future perpetrations, not only by an increased love to sinning, but by a strong and habitual feeling, operating with much more power than mere conviction, that sin is neither guilty nor dangerous ; or at the worst as a thing of small moment. The soul is thus left free to the indulgence of its evil propensities; and the restraints which once operated with no small efficacy, lose their hold on the mind.
An affecting exemplification of this doctrine is seen in the tendency of one exercise of profaneness to produce another. Per. sons addicted to profane swearing are, I apprehend, much more prone than most others, to the commission of perjury. An oath is an eminently solemn act of religious worship. The person, who takes an oath, calls God to witness the manner, in which he shall speak, or act, under the obligation which it imposes. If he shall speak truth, and nothing else; if he shall act faithfully in the office, or trust, which he is then assuming; he implores God, to bless him here and hereafter. If he shall speak falsely, or act unfaithfully; he in the same solemn manner invokes on his head the divine vengeance through time and eternity
Now it is plain beyond a doubt, that the solemn and awful character of God constitutes all the solemnity of an oath. If he is considered by the person, who takes it, as holy and sin-hating, as the unchangeable Enemy of faithlessness and falsehood; if he is realized as a present and awful Witness both of the oath and the subsequent conduct; if he is believed to be the future and dreadful Avenger of perjury and unfaithfulness; then we cannot but suppose, that the person, who has thus sworn, will deeply feel his obligation to be sincere, and faithful ; will with deep anxiety speak the truth exactly, or discharge the duties of the assumed office in the fear of God.
But if, on the contrary, the juror, whether in evidence or in office, regards God as an object of little importance; as being either too weak, or too regardless of rectitude, to take any serious concern in the moral conduct of his creatures; as destitute of sacredness of character, and hatred of sin; as indifferent to truth and falsehood, faithfulness and treachery; as willing to be mocked with impunity, and abused without resentment; as existing, only to be a mere caterer to the wants and wishes of his creatures, and a mere object of profanation and contempt: then, plainly, the oath, in which he is invoked, can have little solemnity in the eyes, little influence on the heart, and little efficacy upon the conduct of the juror. To every such person it will become a thing of course ; a mere wind-and-weather incident, an empty mockery of solemn sounds on a thoughtless tongue. Its obligation he will neither feel, nor see. The duties, which it requires, he will not perform. There will, therefore, be no difference of conduct, in this case, between him that sweareth, and him that sweareth not.
But how evident is it, that persons, who swear profanely, speedily lose all sense of the awful character of the Creator. From trifling with him in this wonderful manner, they soon learn to consider him as a mere trifler. From insulting him daily, they soon regard him as a proper object of insult. From mocking him with such impious effrontery, they speedily think of him in scarcely any other character, than that of a mere butt of mockery. Thus God is first degraded, in the view of the mind, by its own profaneness, and then intruded upon by perjury. He, who swears profanely, will, in ordinary cases, soon swear falsely. Accordingly, customhouse oaths, proverbially false, are usually taken by profane men. Nay, such men have by their own perjuries rendered these oaths proverbially false. Oaths in evidence, also, taken by such men, are justly regarded as lying under a general imputation; as contributing not a little to unhinge the confidence of mankind in this their last reliance for truth and safety.
What is true of profane cursing and swearing, as to its corrupting power, is true of irreverence in every form. Disregard to God is the flood-gate to all moral evil. He, who enters upon this conduct, ought to consider himself as then entering upon an univer
sal course of iniquity; and as then yielding himself, as a slave, to do the whole drudgery of Satan.
2dly. Profaneness is a sin, which is rapidly progressive.
This truth cannot but be discerned, extensively, in the observations already made. Every act of profaning the name, perfections, works, word, and worship, of God, is obviously a bold, presumptuous attack upon this glorious Being. The sinner, having once dared so far, becomes easily more daring; and passes rapidly from one state of wickedness to another, until he becomes finally hardened in rebellion against his Maker. That most necessary fear of God, which is the great restraint upon sinful men, is speedily lost. The sinner is then left without a check upon his wickedness; and voluntarily induces upon himself a flinty obstinacy, which is a kind of reprobation on this side of the grave.
At the same time, the tongue is a most convenient instrument of iniquity, always ready for easy use. We cannot always sin with the hands; and are not always sufficiently gratified by mere sins of thought. Much as it is to be lamented, there is no small source of pleasure, found by wicked men in communicating their sinful thoughts and feelings to each other. The slanderer is never satisfied with merely thinking over slander. The liar would soon be discouraged if he could not utter his lies. The profane swearer could hardly fail of becoming a reformed man, were it not for the pleasure, little as it is, which he finds in uttering his profaneness to others. The sins of the tongue are perpetrated, alike, with ease, and delight, every day; and in every place, where even a solitary individual can be found to listen. Hence transgressions of this kind are multiplied wonderfully. The thief steals, and the cheat defrauds, occasionally only. But the slanderer will slander every day. The liar utters falsehood unceasingly. The profane person swears and curses every where ; and multiplies his iniquities as the drops of the morning. From the mind of such a person it is reasonably believed, that the Spirit of that God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, will in a peculiar manner withdraw his influence. Can it be rationally supposed, that this celestial Visitant will stay with man, to be a witness of irreverence and profanation? Ought not every profane person to feel, that he is forcing away from himself those benevolent restraints upon his wickedness, which constitutes his only security, and the only rational foundation of his hopes of eternal life?
3dly. Profaneness, particularly that of the tongue, naturally introduces men to evil companions, and shuts them out from the enjoyment of those who are virtuous.
All men love, all men seek, companions, of their own character. Sinners herd with sinners instinctively. Virtuous men seek the company of those who are virtuous. Men of learning consort with men of learning; philosophers with philosophers; merchants, farmers, mechanics, and seamen, seek the company of those of their own class: the mere, incidental circumstances of pursuing the same kind of business alluring them, regularly, to the society of each other. Still more powerful are moral inducements. This is a fact so extensively observed, that mankind have proverbially remarked, that a man is known by the company which he keeps.
Profane persons are shut out from the company of virtuous men by a variety of considerations. They totally disrelish the character of virtuous men; their pursuits; their sentiments; their conversation; and usually shun their society on this account. They also dread their inspection ; and fear to have them witnesses of their own character, language, and opinions. For this reason, whenever they are in their company, they feel obliged to guard themselves; to bridle their tongues; and to take care, that their language and sentiments be not offensive to their companions, and dishonourable to themselves. This restraint, like all others, is painful; and they are unwilling to subject themselves to it, whenever it can be avoided.
Virtue, also, is in its own nature awful to all sinners : and proud as they are of themselves, and their sins, they cannot fail, in the hour of sober consideration, to feel their inferiority; and accordingly to be humbled, mortified, and abashed. Christ informs us that he who doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. For the very same reason, profane persons, and other sinners, hate the company of religious men ; because their character and conduct are a direct contrast to their own, and hold them out in a stronger light of unworthiness and debasement. This contrast, few wicked men are willing to bear. Almost all of them shrink from it, as a wounded patient shrinks from the probe of the surgeon.
At the same time, virtuous persons loath, of course, the company, and conversation, of all open and obstinate sinners. But profane persons are among the most open of all sinners. Their sin is ever on their lips, and continually proclaimed by their tongues. It is impossible therefore, that their characters should not be known. Persons, so directly opposed in feelings and pursuits, can never unite with that mutual agreement of heart, or conversation, which is indispensable to the pleasantness, and even to the continuance, of familiar society. The virtuous man will, at the same time, find every thing lacking in such persons which he seeks for in company; whether it be pleasure, or profit.
In addition to these things, his reputation becomes stained, and very deeply, if he consorts, voluntarily, with such companions. Why," it will naturally be asked, “ does he frequent such com
“ Certainly,” it will be answered,“not for profit.” The necessary inference is, therefore, that he frequents it for the sake of pleasure. Of course, he must find pleasure in sin; and in this peculiarly odious sin. But to find pleasure in any sin is a direct contradiction of his religious profession ; a direct denial of his