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EXODUS XX. VERSE VII.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, who taketh his name in vain.
WHILE we are guarded against great, and daring crimes, by the disgust which their enormity excites, we remain exposed to the lesser vices, because we consider them as too unimportant for our care, and in this manner they gain a victory by our negligence, which they never could obtain from their own power.
Indeed, against the greater crimes Almighty God has placed a powerful safeguard, in the admonitions of conscience, which they awaken; but when we come from crimes against feeling, to crimes against reason, the danger is greater, because the warning is less; and here we must owe to the instruction of others, and to self-examination, that innocence which we derive, on other occasions, from the loud, and irresistible cries of nature.
Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain. To use the Lord's name in vain, is to use it on any occasion, except when called upon by the laws of our country, to offer that solemn pledge for the truth of what we say. But the misfortune is, we do not deem it in vain, if the object on which we employ it is of importance to us, and to us alone. We do not think it in vain to call down God, armed with all his terrors, upon any accident which disturbs the cheerfulness of our lives; we think that obedient Heaven is always ready to avenge our wrongs, and that the Deity is ever watchful to bless those whom we bless,
and curse those whom we curse. We make use of God's name to exasperate the violence of our own foolish passions, and to sharpen the edge of those trifling vexations, which are entailed upon us all, in our passage through the world.
It may not, perhaps, be quite clear, where the great danger of using the name of God, upon common occasions, can be the danger (and a very serious one it is) is this; that we familiarise ourselves too much with that awful name ;-that the humble reverence, with which it should always be thought of, and pronounced, be exchanged for confidence, and boldness ;-that, having broke through the pales of the altar, we approach to the sanctuary itself;— that, having accustomed ourselves to talk of God, without fear, we break through his laws, without hesitation; and end with bad actions after we have began with impious words.
These outworks, and fences of religion, are of the most sacred importance ;→
no man breaks out at once into great vices; —no man is, of a sudden, notoriously wicked; but he begins with little faults,— he abstains from public worship, he loses, gradually, the awful remembrance of his Creator, he accustoms himself to call upon his name, on the most trifling occasions; and then, after such beginnings, foolishly imagines he can stop just where he pleases. He who breaks through the outward wall will soon come into the inner dwelling; this law is one of the strong barriers of true piety; beware how you break it down;-think much before you pronounce the name of God;-and you will think much more before you disobey his word." -Hallow that name with an holy fear, and you will not trample on the laws which that holy name sanctions: Let all your words be yea, and nay; and that will be some security, that your actions are pure, and irreproachable as your language.
The only excuse which worldly-minded men can set up for sin, is pleasure; the present temptation is too strong; the sense of future evil too faint, and too remote ;
but who will assert, that there is any pleasure in an oath ?-Or that, in the whole extent of language, the only words capable of communicating satisfaction, are those which are not only coarse, and vulgar, but shocking not only shocking, but irreligious, blasphemous, and bad. To take the Lord's name in vain, is to incur guilt without delight; and to violate a solemn commandment of God, merely that every one who hears us may conceive a low opinion of our manners, our education, and our understanding.
It is with small vices as with trifling complaints of the body; they become dangerous, only because they are neglected. From the age of innocence, when we look at the extremes of human depravity, the distance appears immense; we say, there is a great gulph between us ;-my soul can never be darkened with such crimes as these; I shall go down to my grave in innocence and peace.--In the mean time, the descent from one step to another is short, and gentle, and we arrive at the dis