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to have expired, annually, on the altars of Mexico alone; and all these were offered up with circumstances of cruelty and horror, which, but for the most undubitable testimony, would transcend belief. To these dreadful services, violating every feeling of humanity, but wonderfully affecting the Imagination, were added ablutions, burdensome on account of their frequency, and often on account of the great distance of the sacred waters from the residence of the suppliant; and various kinds of penance, terrible and excruciating in their nature, and overwhelming by their duration, were customarily added. Thus, though Reason and Humanity were wounded, and prostrated, the Imagination was completely possessed by the demons of superstition: and miserable Man, voluntarily losing the government of himself, became the sport of fiends and furies, and fitted only for the gloom and chains of bedlam.
With the same design, and under the same impulse, mankind sought the most solitary, and the most awful, recesses, for the celebration of their religious rites.* In dark and lonely groves, on the summits of lofty eminences, and in the depths of awful caverns, the most solemn rites of Gentile worship were performed át early periods. These scenes of stillness, solitude, and terror, were perfectly suited to rouse the imagination to ecstasy, and to enhance the gloomy fervours of their religion. To them succeeded temples, of astonishing magnificence; exhausting, in their erection, the wealth of nations, and the labour of ages. These, also, were ornamented within, and without, with every thing which riches, ingenuity, and art, could supply; or which was calculated to impress the mind of the votary with astonishment, religious awe, and profound reverence for the beings, to whom these structures were consecrated.
It cannot, I think, be necessary for me to employ any arguments, for the purpose of enforcing the prohibition in the text on the minds of my audience. The importance of it to the Jews, at the time when it was given, and to the great body of mankind, both before and since, is abundantly evident from the observations, which have been already made. But in this land, and in the present state of religious society here, no transgression is less likely to exist, than that, which is forbidden in this passage of Scripture. Instead of attempting to enforce this precept, therefore, on those who hear me; I shall employ the remaining time in making a few practical
1st. How degrading, melancholy, and sinful a character is here presented to us, of Man.
* See Maurice's Antiquities, Vol. ii.
This subject, perhaps more than any other, holds out to our view a wonderful exhibition of the depravity of the human heart. What sight can be more strange, more humiliating, more debasing, to an Intelligent nature, than that of rational and immortal minds, originally virtuous as they came from the hand of God, destined to the possession of endless life, and formed for such noble and sublime purposes, prostrating themselves not only before the sun, and moon, and the host of heaven, but before men, evil spirits, visionary beings, animals, vegetables, blocks of wood, and figures of stone! All these beings, such minds have converted into Deities; and, falling down before them, have said unto them, Deliver us: for ye are our Gods. Is it not beyond measure amazing, to see a human being, a rational, immortal being, go into a forest; cut down a tree; transport it home on a wagon; burn one part of it on his hearth; hew, and carve, another part of it into an idol; and call it a God! Is it not amazing, to see such a man confessing himself inferior to a stock, fashioned by his own hands, acknowledging his dependence on it for life, his blessings, and his hopes; placing his trust in it; building to it temples; erecting altars; and offering up to it prayers and praises! Is it not more amazing, to behold the same man sacrificing living victims to a mass of wood; rational victims; nay, more, youths of the noblest families, the brightest talents, and the fairest hopes; nay, more still, his own beloved offspring; the children of his own bowels! What shall we say then, what shall we not say, when we behold kings, heroes, and sages, employed in this manner? When we see towns, provinces, countries, and continents, nay, the whole earth, all uniting in this infatuated worship; with an universal forgetfulness of JEHOVAH, the Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor of all beings; notwithstanding the hourly demonstration of his perfections and agency in the visible universe!
Still more astonished ought we to be, if we can be more astonished, to see the Israelites, after all the wonders of Egypt, Sinai, and Canaan, in the midst of all the marvellous blessings given to their nation; with the word of God in their hands; while his Prophets were daily announcing to them his revelations; while his awful oracles from the mercy-seat were still sounding in their ears; within his temple; before his altar; and beneath the awful splendour of the Shechinah; forgetting the God that made them, and lightly esteeming the Rock of their salvation; wandering after the Idolatry of the heathen; bowing before their Gods; partaking in their sacrifices; absorbed in their follies; and embracing their wickedness with all their heart.
To complete this dreadful picture of human depravity, the whole Christian world, with few, very few exceptions, was, for many centuries, buried and lost in this stupid, shameful, monstrous worship. The progeny of Noah, who began this unnatural defection from their Creator, became Idolaters, while the waves of
the Deluge had scarcely ceased to roar around this wasted world. The Jews became Idolaters at the foot of Sinai, beneath the thunders of the Almighty. The Christian world became Idolaters, when the Redeemer was in a sense bleeding on the cross before their eyes. How debased, then, how sinful, how miserable, a being is man!
2dly. These observations teach us the indispensable Necessity of
a Revelation to such a world as this.
It has been shown, that, at an early period after the flood, the whole human race lost the knowledge of the true God, and sunk into the moral stupidity and wickedness of Gentilism. That rational beings should be created, or exist, for any End, which does not involve in it the knowledge and worship of the true God, is a doctrine, indefensible by a single rational argument. What purpose could beings, destitute of this knowledge and worship, be supposed to answer? What purpose, I mean, which God could propose, or which he could admit as useful, as desirable, as worthy of himself? Can he be supposed to have formed rational and immortal beings, to be ignorant of Him; the only Source of good, of wisdom, excellence, and happiness? Can he be supposed to have made such beings capable of knowing and glorifying him, for the debased and wretched end of worshipping Gods of gold, silver, wood, and stone? Of worshipping them, also, with services deformed with falsehood, cruelty, and impurity; and attended by a total destruction of all wisdom, and all virtue? Such, however, to a vast extent has been, and such, without Revelation, would have for ever been, the condition of mankind. Revelation, only, has taught, and preserved, the knowledge and worship of the true God in this guilty world: and Mohammedans and Infidels, are no less indebted to Revelation for this knowledge, than are Jews and Christians.
Piety has been heretofore shown to be the foundation of all other Virtue; the first and greatest branch of this glorious subject; without which, the virtue, exercised towards our fellow-creatures, and towards ourselves, cannot exist. But piety is impossible, on the system of Gentilism. The great constituents of this divine affection of the heart are Love, Reverence, and Resignation. But how can love, reverence, and resignation, be exercised towards an ox; a crocodile; a cat; a frog; a fly; an onion; a stick of wood; or a block of marble? Here, plainly, there is nothing to be loved, reverenced, or regarded with resignation. In the mean time, perpetual frauds, falsehoods, cruelties, and impurities, added a total corruption of all the affections, and conduct, of man towards himself, and his fellow-men, to the supreme debasement of his character, produced, of course, by the acknowledgment and worship of heathen Gods. This system, therefore, banished moral excellence from the mind; and introduced into its place every thing that was despicable, worthless, and wicked. He, who does
not see the absolute necessity of a Revelation to beings, situated as the inhabitants of this world were, must be voluntarily blind, and must love to be deceived. You, my hearers, are now in the house of God. You know his existence, presence, character, and agency. You are employed in his worship. You have heard the glorious tidings of forgiving, redeeming, and sanctifying love. The Redeemer of mankind, and the expiation which he has made of sin, have been announced to you, from the cradle. This house is to you the gate of heaven. Here the highway commences, which leads to that glorious world. Immortal life here dawns upon you. A voice, from amidst the throne of God, invites you, here, to take of the water of life freely. All these blessings are brought to you by Revelation. But for Revelation, you would have been, this day, worshipping a demon, or an ox; or falling down before the stock of a tree. But for Revelation, you might, this day, have been imbruing your hands in the blood of one of your number, butchered as a miserable victim to Moloch. Blessing, and honour, and glory, and thanksgiving, be unto our God for this unspeakable gift through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.
THE LAW OF GOD.-THE DECALOGUE.-THE THIRD COMMANDMENT. THE NATURE OF PROFANENESS.
EXODUS XX. 7.-Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.
IN the two preceding discourses, I have considered, at some length, the nature of the sins, forbidden in the first and second Commands of the Decalogue. I did not think it necessary, after the ample discussion of the duties of piety, so lately delivered from this place, to dwell, anew, upon the same duties, as required by the former of these Commands; nor, on account of the state of Christian society in this country, to insist on the prohibition, contained in the latter. Considering the subjects of both, as sufficiently canvassed for the design of these discourses; I shall now proceed to examine the Nature of the precept, given to us in the Text.
The Name of God, as used in the Scriptures, has by divines of all descriptions, been generally regarded as denoting his Name literally; his Titles of every kind; his Perfections; and generally, every thing, by which his Character, and his Pleasure, are made
known to mankind.
To take the name of God in vain is to use all, or either, of these, to no valuable purpose; or to evil purposes; or with falsehood; or with irreverence.
Of him, who does this, God declares, that he will not hold him guiltless that is, that he will hold him guilty; especially, in the great day of trial and decision.
In discoursing on this subject, I shall examine,
I. The Nature;
II. The Guill; and,
III. The Danger of this Sin.
I. I shall examine with attention the Nature of this Sin. The Nature of this Sin may be advantageously unfolded by considering it as it respects the Name, and the Works of God.
By the Name of God, I intend the several names, and titles, by which he has been pleased to distinguish himself, and to manifest his character to mankind. In his Works I shall include every thing, which he has wrought, instituted, and declared, as an especial manifestation of his presence, perfections, and agency.
The Name of God is profaned, that is, treated with the irreverence, which is the object of the prohibition in the text, 1st. In Perjury, or False Swearing.