[Herod's Gate]George Herbert: "The Church-porch"

Day 6: Morning


Take not his name, who made thy mouth, in vain:

It gets thee nothing, and hath no excuse.

Lust and wine plead a pleasure, avarice gain:

But the cheap swearer through his open sluce

   Lets his soul runne for nought, as little fearing.

   Were I an Epicure, I could bate swearing.

     Why curse, taking the name of God in vain? You get nothing for it, and there is no excuse for doing it. At least lust and wine offer a pleasure, and avarice offers gain, but swearing returns nothing and has nothing to recommend it. Out of his dirty mouth, like an open gutter, he lets his soul run for nothing, fearing nothing. If I were a hedonist, a seeker of pleasure, I could put an end to swearing.1

     If you loved someone, would you use their name to seal a contract, such as "on my mother's eyes" or "on my father's grave"? Some do. If you are not as good as your word, no oath makes your word good. When you are not worth much, or the person you need to impress requires more than sufficient proof, you may find it necessary to validate your word with curses and oaths. Consider what sort of human being needs such proof and what kind of person finds it necessary. Would you swear upon the love someone has for you. On His life, mercy and salvation.2 What kind of relationship forfeits another's love as collateral for the bargain? An empty or broken friendship.

     But there is a pleasure is swearing, social acceptance and the belief that it makes you an adult, a man or woman of the world, knowledgeable. For some this is irresistible. The peer groups of our age are not new. The youth reaching maturity. The parents at their club. The society that enjoys a good spicy story highlighted with oaths and curses. There is acceptance and self gratification in this. Consider the company and your value.

1 Herbert talks to the reader as if in conversation: "It gets thee nothing" then changes direction with "his open sluce." This last would be offensive talking to the reader but when talking about a third person, Herbert makes the point clearly, without offense. He ends with a personal comment: "Were I an Epicure, I ...." The moral point is clear yet he handles it conversationally, not dogmatically. [Even when we know what he is doing, it is pleasant to watch him work.] [Return]

2 In George Herbert’s day “‘swounds” [which is short for “God’s wounds”] was a common oath. Shakespeare often uses it to characterize his people. “Christ” or “By Christ” was used and still is. Many think nothing of it. [Return]

© 1997 J. R. Arner

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