The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
"Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the
Lord will punish anyone who misuses His name." Exodus 20:7
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in
vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, who takes his name in vain."
The verb 'take', found in this commandment, occurs very
often in the Bible. Here, and in many other places, it has the sense of 'use
or employ'. The 'name of God' is a phrase of frequent occurrence in the
Bible. Few words are employed in more varied senses than the word 'name';
and yet there is seldom difficulty in ascertaining its precise
The name of God
1, for his proper name, as Jehovah, God, the Most
High, the Almighty, I am what I am, etc., Deut. 4:35; 6:4; Num. 24. 16; Rev.
2, for his titles, as Creator, Shepherd, Savior,
Redeemer, etc., Eccles. 12:1; Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 43:11; Psalm 29:14;
3, for his attributes or perfections, Ex. 33:19;
34:6, 7; 1 Tim. 6:1;
4, for his word, Psalm 138:2; Acts 9:15;
5, for his grace and mercy shown to sinners
through Christ, John 17:6, 26;
6, for his help and assistance, 1 Sam. 17:45;
7, for his honor, Psalm 136:1, and in many places;
8, for the display of his perfections in the works of
creation, Psalm 8:1, 9;
9, for the illustration of his attributes in
providence, Psalm 20:1, 7;
10, for his worship and service, 1 Kings
5:5; Ex. 20:24; 11, for God himself, Psalm 34:3; 61:5; Proverbs 18:10.
The name of the Lord therefore is either Jehovah
himself, or anything whereby he is known. Hopkins: "It is not an unusual
figure to put the name, for the thing or person that is expressed by it."
Anything relating to the true God, his being, his nature, his will, his
works, his worship, anything relating to the service rendered him, or to the
doctrine concerning him—pertains to his name.
The phrase the Lord your God has been explained in
the preface. The word rendered in 'vain' is a noun. It occurs nearly
fifty times in the Hebrew Bible. The Lexicons define it, evil, iniquity,
wickedness, falsehood, emptiness, vanity, nothingness. Twice in this
commandment it is rendered in vain; twice also in Deut. 5:11, and once in
Psalm 127:1, and 139:20. Its most comprehensive meaning is vanity. It
is often so rendered, Job 7:3, 15:31, 31:5, 35:13; Psalm 12:2, 41:6; Isaiah
5:18, 30:28. It is frequently rendered vain, and several times false or
lying; Ex. 23:1; Deut. 5:20; Psalm31:6; Jonah 2:8.
Some render the prohibition of this commandment thus:
'You shall not utter the name of Jehovah unto a falsehood.' The original
fully bears this translation. As in other commandments, God may here design
to condemn the most atrocious form of a given species of sin. But if we
follow the common rendering, which is good, we at once give to the
commandment a wider scope. If we may not use God's name in a light and
frivolous manner, surely we may not use it in vindication of our wicked
falsehoods. A great design of true religion is to bring men to habitual
and controlling reverence for the divine majesty. "And you shall not
profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I
am the Lord who sanctifies you." Levit. 22:32. "If you are not careful to do
all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may
fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord
will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions
severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting." Deut. 28:58, 59.
"God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in
reverence by all those who are about him." Psalm 79:7. "Holy and
reverend is his name." Psalm 111:9.
When our Lord gave us an outline of ordinary prayer, the
first petition was, "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy."
Indeed all religious service, which does not revere and hallow the name of
God, or which is without godly fear—is miserable trifling. The inhabitants
of heaven are much purer and more elevated than we. Yet when they sing the
song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, they say,
"Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are
your ways, O King of saints. Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify
your name? for you alone are holy." Rev. 15:3, 4.
To take God's name in vain, therefore, is to use it in
any frivolous, false, inconsiderate, irreverent, or otherwise wicked manner.
"This may be done in two ways; either by calling God to witness a lie—for
lies and falsehoods of all kinds are in many places of Scripture called
vanity; or else it may be done by using that holy Name on small and
irreverent occasions; for light and empty things are also called vanity."
The scope of this commandment is to secure the holy and reverent use of all
that whereby God makes himself known to his people; and so to guard his
sacred name against all that is calculated to make it contemptible.
These things enter into the very essence of obedience to the requirements of
1. That we propose the glory of God, the good of our
fellow-men, or the defense of ourselves, in all cases when we take the name
of God upon our lips. Josh. 7:19; Heb. 6:16; Ex. 22:11.
2. Of course, the manner of so taking his name is to
be grave, solemn, intelligent, thoughtful, sincere, and with godly fear.
3. We should not use the name of God, where there is no
necessity; even in prayer it should not be employed to fill up our vacancies
of thought. Nor should we use it in swearing, or in casting lots, where the
matter can be otherwise properly adjusted.
4. We are not at liberty to use God's name in any way to
promote superstition, false doctrine, perjury, blasphemy, profanity,
cursing, or any such thing. We must therefore see to it, that what we
propose to promote by the use of God's name is something which he approves.
Just reflection must satisfy any godly man that the
non-observance of this commandment would utterly subvert all true religion.
The very moment men cease to treat God as holy—that moment their worship
becomes polluted. When God's creatures come into his presence with
thoughtlessness, forgetting that he is in heaven, and they upon earth, they
will surely lightly esteem the Rock of their salvation. The world furnishes
no case of a despiser of the third commandment, who is not guilty of gross
breaches of one or more of the other precepts of the moral law. There is not
a country having written statutes but has ordained heavy penalties against
one or more of the sins clearly condemned in this commandment.
In answer to the question, what is required in the third
commandment, the Westminster Assembly answers, "The third commandment
requires, that the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the
word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatever else
there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in
thought, meditation, word, and writing; by a holy profession, and answerable
conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves and others."
That this commandment extends to the state of men's
thoughts and hearts, is clear, from the fact that God commends those who
rightly think upon his name and meditate on his works. Mal. 3:16;
Psalm 8:1-9. That it includes our speech, is clear from Psalm 105:2,
5; Mal. 3:16; Col. 3:17. That we are as much bound to honor God by our
pen as by our tongue, is evident from the nature of the case, and from
Psalm 102:21. This precept binds us to a holy profession of the true
religion. We are required to be always ready to give an answer to every man
that asks us a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear. 1
Pet. 3:15. All men are bound to adopt the good resolution of the church in
the days of Micah: "We will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and
ever." Micah 4:5. Nor should this profession be light or inconsistent. Our
whole deportment must be as it becomes the gospel of Christ. Phil. 1:27;
Romans 10:10; 1 Pet. 2:12; Luke 1:6; Rev. 14:1.
It is not necessary here to repeat remarks previously
made on the right use of God's word, the sacraments, prayer, praise,
fasting, and the government and discipline of the church, as those subjects
came up in considering the first and second commandments. But as those
matters belong also to the requirements of this precept, let them be
regarded with new and increased solemnity; and let all the principles here
elucidated, be applied to them.
The general spirit of this command requires us to keep at
the greatest possible distance from mingling in our doctrines, affections,
or thoughts—the name of the true God—with any vanity or corruption whatever.
The Lord forbade the Israelites to make any mention of the name of other
gods or to let it be heard out of their mouth. Ex. 23:13. The meaning of the
prohibition evidently was, that they should keep their minds as pure as
possible from the contamination of heathenism, and its vain thoughts of God.
For the same reason, no doubt, God required the Israelites utterly to
destroy all the places where the heathen had served their gods, upon the
high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree; and to
overthrow their altars and break their pillars and burn their groves with
fire, and hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their names,
Deut. 12:2, 3. In the days of Joshua, Israel was again forbidden to make
mention of the name of these false gods, Josh. 23:7. And when God promises a
revived and healthful state of religion to his church, he says, "I will take
away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be
remembered by their name." Hos. 2:17. And still more explicitly, God says by
the mouth of Paul, "It is a shame even to speak of those things which are
done by them in secret." Eph. 5:12.
The reverent use of God's name requires all the
attributes of acceptable worship, as stated at length in the foregoing
pages; that is, we must have faith and love, and fear and godly sincerity,
and singleness of heart, etc., etc. It is clearly implied in this
commandment, that we do not keep it by observing a profound silence
respecting the Almighty. Though we are not to take the name of God in vain,
we are still to take it. More than once in Scripture, are pious men
described as those who make mention of the Lord. Isaiah 26:13, 48:1, 62:6.
There may be sinful silence respecting God as well as a profane use of his
name. Besides acts of worship already discussed, it is proper here to call
special attention to some things immediately suggested by this commandment.
I. OATHS are an appeal to God as a witness to
the truth of what we say. It is always accompanied with an expressed or
implied imprecation of his curse, or renunciation of his favor, if we
perform not our oath. It is therefore a very solemn act of worship. The form
of the oath is different in different ages and countries. All forms are an
appeal to God. Some are more decent or appropriate than others; but our laws
properly leave everyone to select that which in his own judgment is most
fitting. The binding obligation of an oath is in no way diminished by the
form of its administration. Abraham's servant swore to his master by putting
his own hand under his master's thigh. Gen. 24:2. Another form mentioned in
Scripture is that of lifting up the hand towards heaven. Rev. 10:5. But the
word of God binds us to no particular form. Whatever be the mode of
administration, let us not forget that the essence of an oath consists in
a solemn appeal to God as the Searcher of hearts, and the Judge of the
living and the dead. It either expresses or implies a declaration that
we are willing that God should subject us to his dreadful curse, if we swear
falsely. The proper use of an oath is the termination of strife concerning
matters which cannot otherwise be adjusted. Heb. 6:16. Oaths are authorized
by the example of God, who swears by himself as he can swear by none
greater. Gen 22:16. Isaiah45:23. Jer. 49:13. Amos 6:8.
Oaths are sinful when they are not necessary. It deserves
the consideration of all, who have the control of the administration of
public justice, whether the great number and frequency of oaths do not
seriously impair their sanctity in the public mind, and thus wound justice,
morals and religion. The lax observance of oaths is a very painful subject.
Still, the slight regard paid to them argues nothing against their
lawfulness. Every well instructed Christian ought to be willing to worship
God in this as well as in other appointed ways. Our Savior himself allowed
an oath to be administered to him by the High Priest. Matt. 26:63, 64. Paul
uses forms of expression which have the nature of an oath: "I call God for a
record upon my soul," 2 Cor. 1:23; "God is my record," Phil. 1:8; "I say the
truth in Christ, I lie not," Romans 9:1. We have at least one example of a
holy angel swearing: "The angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the
earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and swore by him who lives forever and
ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth,"
etc. Rev. 10:5, 6. It is promised in the Old Testament that in the latter
days this mode of worshiping God shall prevail. "To me every tongue shall
swear," says God. Isaiah 45:23. "He who swears shall swear by the God of
truth." Isaiah 65:16. "You shall swear—The Lord lives in truth." Jer. 4:2.
Those Scriptures therefore which forbid
SWEARING evidently refer to passionate,
unnecessary, common or profane swearing. Swearing is either lawful or
unlawful. Unlawful swearing will be considered hereafter. Lawful swearing is
always a solemn act. It is an acknowledgment of the omniscience, truth, and
justice of the Most High. Commonly it is required by the laws of the land.
Yet there may be cases where one may receive from another the confirmation
of a promise by at oath. This subject is much spoken of in the Scriptures.
The general law respecting swearing is that it be done by an appeal to the
true God, and in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness. Jer. 4:2. To
appeal to any but the true God is an insult to the Heavenly Majesty. If the
act is performed with any devoutness of feeling—it is idolatry. If the act
is performed with levity of mind—it is profaneness. God's word carefully
enjoins, that appeals should be to Jehovah. Isa, l15:16; Jer. 12:16; Zeph.
Then we must swear in truth. The ordinary form of
a public oath requires "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth." We may not ask God to witness to a lie, or to a thing that we do not
know to be true. The lips and the conscience must agree. Let all
reservations and equivocations be put far from us. Psalm 15:2, 4.
We must also swear with understanding; that is, we
must realize the nature of an oath; we must have God's fear before us when
we swear; and we must know that which we testify about. According to
Scripture, every godly man fears an oath. Eccles. 9:2.
We must also swear in righteousness. The cause in
which we testify must be so far just. We may not give evidence to establish
iniquity. In swearing we are not at liberty to show partiality to friends,
or enmity to foes; but are to speak what truth requires. No doubt it greatly
tends to the honor of God and to the execution of public justice, when the
officers of the law administer oaths with due solemnity. We ought to be
careful that the matter of every oath is fully true. Abraham's servant
showed a proper conscientiousness on this subject. Gen. 24:5. Of course the
matter of every oath must be something lawful. A man can never lawfully or
firmly bind himself to do an act of iniquity.
II. VOWS. Vows belong to every dispensation of
true religion. Gen. 28:20; Isaiah 19:21; Acts 18:18. The word vow is used in
three senses in our language. Sometimes, it is equivalent to worship or
devotion, or a public profession of religion. Isaiah 44:5; Jer. 1:4, 5.
Again, it signifies a promise to serve God in a way to which his word
obliges us, even before we make the promise. But in the strict sense, a
vow is a solemn promise made to God, that we will do something which we were
not bound to do until we made the voluntary engagement. Like promises or
oaths, vows are either lawful or unlawful according to circumstances. A vow
to do a wicked thing—is of course wicked. We ought to repent of it and of
our sin in making it. God is more honored in its breach than in its
observance. It is a great mercy when God hinders men from fulfilling such
vows. This, however, does not diminish the wickedness of making them.
A man made a vow that he would never comb his hair until
he could wreak his vengeance on an adversary. He never had the opportunity
of gratifying his malice, and he never combed his head. But such promises
are not properly vows. They are rather curses. Acts 23:12.
Vows are commonly distinguished into conditional and
unconditional. Unconditional vows are solemn resolutions that we will
do or abstain from doing certain things; as that we will practice certain
acts of self-denial, or forego certain lawful indulgences, in order thereby
to give to our character more firmness, or the more effectually to keep
ourselves from bad habits.
Conditional vows are such as according to their
original form are not binding unless God shall perform or cause to be
performed some condition annexed. One says to God, "Then Jacob made this
vow: "If God will be with me and protect me on this journey and give me food
and clothing, and if he will bring me back safely to my father, then I will
make the Lord my God. This memorial pillar will become a place for
worshiping God, and I will give God a tenth of everything he gives me."
Genesis 28:20-22. God performed the condition, which the patriarch annexed,
and Jacob kept his vow—a pleasing instance of paternal love on the part of
God; and consistent, steadfast piety on the part of his servant.
From their very nature, conditional vows are voluntary.
They are not required of us by any positive precept of God's word, but, like
many other things—are left to the conscience, discretion, thankfulness,
zeal, and general piety of each individual. They have a reference to the
receipt of future good, in view of which one chooses to bring himself under
the sanctions of a solemn promise to prove his gratitude, if the favor shall
be granted. When we vow before a good is received, we express our judgment
of its value, and the obligations under which the receipt of it will bring
us. This helps us to resist the base ingratitude to which we are so prone
after mercies have been received.
All vows should be kept most conscientiously. "When you
make a vow to the Lord your God, be prompt in doing whatever you promised
him. For the Lord your God demands that you promptly fulfill all your vows.
If you don't, you will be guilty of sin." Deut. 23:21. "Do not let your
mouth bring guilt on you, and do not say in the presence of the messenger
that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy
the work of your hands?' Ecclesiastes 5:6 "It is a snare to say rashly, "It
is holy," and to reflect only after making vows." Proverbs 20:25. Vows
may be rash, and the fulfillment of them may cost us a great deal; but if
they are not wicked we ought to keep them, however, hard they may bear upon
our pride, or sloth, or covetousness.
III. The LOT is an appeal to God, to determine
a matter which the parties themselves are unable to adjust. It is a
confession of the universal providence and particular government of God.
"The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the
Lord." Proverbs 16:33. A recognition of this important truth is essential to
the lawfulness of the lot in any case. This acknowledgment should be made in
a pious and becoming manner; and the lot must be employed only in some grave
and important matter, concerning which God's will cannot otherwise be known,
or a satisfactory decision cannot otherwise be had. The general design of
the lot is very much the same as that of the oath, namely: the adjustment of
difficulties, and the settlement of disputes. Thus Solomon says: "The lot
causes contentions to cease, and parts between the mighty." Proverbs 18:18.
Lots are never to be used for divination.
We have examples of the use of the lot both in the Old
and New Testaments. The whole land of Canaan was thus divided as an
inheritance among the descendants of Jacob. Num. 26:55, and 33:54. The
apostles thus chose a successor to Judas, who fell from his office by
transgression. Acts 1:26. The lot seems to be taught by the light of nature.
The abuses to which the lot is liable are very
great. Vast schemes of gambling and lotteries under various
pretexts have been introduced into society, and have greatly corrupted the
morals of the people. Hardly a more appalling history could be written than
that of people who have become devoted to endeavors at gaining wealth by
gambling and lotteries. When they have been initially successful, in many
cases, reason has tottered and fallen from her throne; or sudden wealth has
begotten extravagance and dissipation. But in a larger number of cases, the
lack of success has driven to crime and then to despair those who have
risked much or all in this hazardous scheme. Gambling by means of lotteries
dates as far back as an early period of Roman history. The Republic of
Genoa, among the moderns, first resorted to the lottery. It was employed as
a state measure for supplying the treasury. Thence it was brought into other
countries, especially France and England. The first public lottery known in
English history dates as far back as 1567. The institution was soon felt to
be injurious and mischievous. Parliament undertook to control it. Through
the influence of the mother country, lotteries were introduced into the
colonies of North America.
After the establishment of the independence of the United
States, the system grew by degrees, until it threatened the most alarming
consequences. All classes of citizens finally became roused by the extensive
ruin wrought by the system. It perpetuated poverty among the humbler
classes; it produced much insolvency, many frauds, embezzlements, larcenies
and robberies. Its effects on those who won large prizes were hardly less
injurious than on those who lost everything. It led both classes to
intoxication and suicide.
In one of the large cities of the North, some years
since, the feelings of the community were most painfully and indignantly
excited by the case of Mr. A. He had been for ten years the "chief clerk in
one of the first importing houses in the city; and to the hour of his death
he enjoyed the unbounded confidence of his employers. "His character for
integrity and purity was unsullied. Modest and amiable in his manners,
temperate and domestic in his habits, he was endeared to all who knew him as
one without a vice." When the distressing tidings were first spread abroad,
that he had been found dead, not the most distant suspicion was entertained
that he could have ended his quiet existence by suicide. The rumor which
momentarily prevailed, that he had been robbed and murdered, was received,
it is true, with horror, but with implicit confidence; nor was it until the
fatal evidence of his rashness was found in his own hurried hand-writing,
that they who had known, and loved, and trusted him so long, were made to
feel that he had cruelly deceived them; and that in the distraction of
remorse he had attempted to atone for one crime by committing another—the
darkest crime of all.... In the short space between seven and eight months,
he embezzled the sum of $18,000, every cent of which was lost on lottery
tickets. This unfortunate man became so tortured in mind that he resolved on
self-destruction. In his desk, after his death, a paper was found, probably
written very shortly before the fearful deed which ushered him into the
presence of his Judge. It is a simple picture of human woe. In its untutored
language, we see to what a depth of wretchedness, one false step reduced a
man upon whose whole life before, not a blot had rested—
"I have for the last seven months gone fast down the
broad road to destruction. There was a time, and that too but a few months
ago, that I was happy, because I was free from debt and care. The time I
note my downfall, or deviation from the path of rectitude, was about the
middle of June last, when I took a share in a company of lottery tickets,
whereby I was successful in obtaining a share of one half the capital prize;
since which I have gone for myself, and that too, not on a very small scale,
as you can judge from the amount now due J. R. & Co., every dollar of which
has been spent in that way. I have lived, or dragged out a miserable
existence, for several past months. Sleepless nights and a guilty conscience
have led me on to the fatal act. The worse luck I had, the more I gambled.
Since I have reflected on my rashness, I cannot look back, and see how it is
possible I could have conducted in this way. When the situation I occupied,
and the confidence reposed in me, and the long time I have been engaged, and
the reward for my poor services—and that all should be lost in one
moment—the loss is too much for me to bear. Oh! that seven or eight months
past of my existence could be blotted out—but no, I must go—and before this
paper is read my spirit is gone to my Maker, to give an account of my
misdeeds here, and receive the dreadful sentence for self-destruction and
abuse of confidence. Relatives and friends I have, from whom I do not wish
to part under such circumstances, but necessity. Oh, wretch that I am!
Lotteries have been my ruin. I cannot add more."
Let all who have influence in controlling public affairs,
either on a large or small scale, see to it that so corrupting an
institution gains no footing in the community. Those amusements called games
of chance, if they are indeed such, are liable to the same objection.
Eliphalet Nott, President of Union College, has testified to the world that
even a young gambler has been so hardened as to play at cards on the coffin
of his dead brother. And the Gospels tell us that the Roman soldiers went to
gambling at the foot of the cross of the Redeemer.
IV. DOXOLOGIES. It is not without cause that
some have expressed surprise that doxologies were so little used in social
and public worship, in the pulpit and in the choir. True, we often have them
sung at the close of public worship, but they ought to be spoken as well as
sung. In printed works, and in familiar letters, they ought to occur more
frequently. So the Bible would teach. In the Old Testament doxologies
abound. A literary friend lately collected a list of doxologies from the Old
Testament. Those who saw it were constrained to admit that too little
attention was paid to this branch of worship. It seems to be forgotten by
some, that we have a rich variety of doxologies in the New Testament also.
So that they belong no less to Christian worship, than to Jewish worship.
The outburst of holy joy in the mother of our Lord was of the nature of a
doxology. That of Zacharias was so in form; Luke 1:46-55, and 68-79. So also
Simeon's song over the infant Jesus was a doxology; Luke 2:28-32. In like
manner, "praising and blessing God" was a good part of the work of the
disciples between Christ's resurrection and the day of Pentecost. So in the
triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the people uttered the loud
shout, "Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel, who comes in the name of the
But it is in the Epistles and in Revelation that
we have the fullest and most formal doxologies. Thus, in Romans 16:25-27, we
find the following, than which we could hardly conceive anything more fit to
bring in at the close of a missionary sermon, or a discourse on the
excellence of the gospel: "Now to him who is able to establish you by my
gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of
the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known
through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that
all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever
through Jesus Christ! Amen!" As no one now living can fitly say "my gospel"
a change may there be made, and we may say "the blessed gospel," or "the
Another very precious doxology is found in Ephesians
1:3-6, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has
blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm,
just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and
blameless in his presence. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself
through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will, so that we
would praise his glorious grace that he gave us in the Beloved One."
1. This doxology was written by Paul, a prisoner. No
chains, or bars, or stripes, could repress his adoring praises.
2. We may have all "spiritual blessings," when we have
few or no temporal blessings.
3. When the scriptural doctrine of election and
predestination offends people, it is either because they misunderstand it,
or because their hearts are not right. It filled Paul with praise, and it is
honorable to God. It is conducive to holiness.
The same Epistle to the Ephesians (3:20, 21) contains
another precious doxology: "Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond
all that we ask or think—according to the power that works in you—to Him be
glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and
On this notice—
1. That God's ability fairly implies his willingness.
2. That no difficulties to us—are hindrances to God.
3. That no words, no thoughts of ours, ever rise to the
dignity of the blessedness reserved for saints.
4. That the whole plan of salvation shall eternally and
more and more redound to God's honor.
The doxology in 1 Tim. 1:17, is very sublime: "Now unto
the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory
forever and ever. Amen." I marvel not that the chanting of this in some of
our churches produces so marked an effect on the audience.
In each of his Epistles the apostle Peter has a
short doxology: "To him [the God of all grace] be glory and dominion forever
and ever. Amen." 1 Pet. 5:11. "To him [our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ] be
glory both now and forever. Amen." 2 Pet. 3:18. The doxology in Jude
24, 25, is very full and very consolatory: "Now unto him who is able to keep
you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his
glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and
majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen." Could brighter or
more glorious prospects be presented? Could glory to God be more fitly sung
than in view of such prospects?
But the Apocalypse excels all the books of the New
Testament in the ardor, variety and copiousness of its doxologies. See Rev.
1:5, 6, 4:11, 5:12,1, and 7:12. "Unto him who loved us, and washed us from
our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and
his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." "You are
worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created
all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created." "Worthy is the
Lamb who was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honor, and glory, and blessing." "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and
power, be unto him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and
ever." "Amen! Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor,
and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen."
These doxologies clearly show—
1. That the worship of heaven is, in substance, the same
as the worship of earth.
2. That the honors paid to the Father in heaven and on
earth are properly paid to the Son. So that if men have no heart to love and
praise the Son, they do not love the Father; and if they have no heart for
spiritual worship here, neither would they have if taken to heaven.
Other forms of doxology are found in the New Testament.
Let them be sought out, and studied. If we shall be saved, doxology will be
our work eternally. Will not the ministers of Christ more abound in
doxology, at least in the conclusion of public worship?
Another act of worship is blessing the people. A
benediction is the ministerial and authoritative pronunciation of a blessing
upon the people in the name of the Lord, and is therefore not merely or
chiefly the expression of the private wishes of the minister. The ordinary
blessing of the Jewish dispensation, used by the priests to each worshiper,
who had brought his offering, and to the congregation of Israel was: "May
the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be
gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace."
This form is very full and very precious. The original of the word Lord is
Jehovah—a name applied to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From its being
repeated thrice, as the word Holy is in Isaiah 6:3, some have thought there
was an allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps there may be. The
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the one, self-existent, independent, eternal
and unchangeable Jehovah revealed in Scripture. This form is used as a
salutatory in opening the worship of some of our churches.
The forms of benediction in the New Testament are
numerous, various and very precious. Of the twenty-one epistles, only five
do not close with a benediction. These are the epistle of James, of 2 Peter,
the 1st and 2d epistles of John and the epistle of Jude. James nowhere has
any form of blessing. In the opening of his second epistle, Peter has this
form: "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God,
and of Jesus our Lord." So, near the beginning of his second epistle, John
says: "Grace be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father, and from the
Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love." So also Jude,
at the beginning, says: "Mercy unto you, and peace and love be multiplied."
So that there are but two epistles in the Bible entirely without some form
of benediction. These are James and 1st John.
The shortest benediction in the Bible is that of 3 John:
"Peace be with you." In Colossians we have: "Grace be with you. Amen." In
Titus we have: "Grace be with you all. Amen." In Peter we have: "Peace be
with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen." In 1 Timothy we have: "The
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen." In Philemon we read: "The
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." In 2 Timothy it
is: "The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen." In
Romans, Philippians, and 2 Thessalonians, it is: "The grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." In 1 Corinthians it is: "The grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." In 1 Thessalonians it is the same, with
the addition of the amen. In Galatians the apostle says, "Brethren, the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ bewithyour spirit. Amen." In Ephesians he
says: "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
In Hebrews we have two forms of blessing in the last
chapter. The last is the same as that in Titus. The other is exceedingly
rich, and might be appropriately used with much greater frequency than it
is: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,
that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting
covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you
that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be
glory forever and ever. Amen." In 2 Corinthians we have what has often been
called by way of pre-eminence, the apostolic benediction, though it is no
more entitled to that designation than others. Yet it is rich and full: "The
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of
the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." But the fullest form of benediction
is that given by John in Rev. 1:4, 5. "Grace be unto you, and peace, from
him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven
Spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the
faithful Witness, and the First begotten from the dead, and the prince of
the kings of the earth."
Besides these seventeen forms of blessing, we have in the
beginning of ten of Paul's epistles this form of blessing: "Grace to you and
peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ;" and in each of his
three pastoral epistles this form: "Grace, mercy and peace from God our
Father and Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus we have nineteen forms of
benediction given us in the New Testament. Ought they not all to be used?
Why should ministers confine themselves to one, that in 2 Corinthians,
13:14? It is precious indeed, but no more so than several others. Some of
the others have also peculiar appropriateness to special occasions.
The last thing said in the Bible is a benediction. "The
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." The Hebrew form of
blessing was: "Mercy to you;" the Greek, "Grace to you;" and the Roman,
"Peace to you." Paul uses them all, and tells us whence they come, even
"from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ." Interpreters are in
doubt whether the phrase, "through the blood of the everlasting covenant,"
in Heb. 13:20, qualifies one of the preceding clauses or that next
succeeding, or whether it has special reference to the word great, meaning
that the Shepherd of the sheep is great through the blood of the everlasting
covenant. Why may it not refer to all these? By "the seven spirits" in Rev.
1:4, is meant the Holy Spirit, seven being the number of perfection, and the
Holy Spirit being the absolute perfection of spiritual existence.
Generally the benedictions are plain. Let them all be
studied and used at appropriate times. A part of God's worship in every
dispensation has been blessing the people in his name.
6. Care in using of the name of God in the use of speech,
and in making impressions on our fellow men. He who has so little
reverence for the Most High as carelessly to utter whatever comes into his
mind, whether it be true or false, will not be long in becoming a gross
violator of this commandment. The subject is now merely hinted at. So also
whatever use is made of God's name should be sincere. We should never employ
God's name to deceive our fellow-men, to make an impression that we are
pious and so trustworthy, and thus lead men to confide in us. This
commandment clearly forbids the following sins.
1. BLASPHEMY. In Scripture language, to
blaspheme is to reproach or revile either God or man. 1 Kings 21:10. But for
a long time, blasphemy in the English language designates an offence against
God. George Canpbell says, "Blasphemy invariably implies an expression of
contempt or detestation, and a desire of producing the same passions in
others." Linwood says, "Blasphemy is an injury offered to God, by denying
that which is due and belonging to him, or attributing to him what is not
agreeable to his nature." Blackstone defines it as a crime "against the
Almighty, by denying his being or providence; or by disdainful reproaches of
our Savior Christ. Where also may be referred all profane scoffing at the
holy Scripture, or exposing it to contempt and ridicule." In the Apocalypse,
John describes the great beast as "having a mouth, speaking great things and
blasphemies." "And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to
blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven." Rev.
13:6. According to modern usage, understanding, scorn and malignity against
God are essential to the commission of this crime. In some of the states of
North America, legal blasphemy is punishable at common law. In the Jewish
commonwealth blasphemy was punishable with death. Lev. 24:16. Of the offence
as against municipal law, nothing is here said. But of it as a breach of the
third commandment, a few things are offered. Boston says, "Blasphemy is a
wronging of the majesty of God by speeches tending to his reproach." Durham
says, "There are three sorts of blasphemy.
1. When anything unbecoming God is in word attributed to
him; as that he is unjust, unholy, unmerciful, etc., such as that complaint,
(Ezek. 18:25,) 'The way of the Lord is not equal.'
2. When what is due to him is denied him; as when he is
said not to be Eternal, Omniscient, Almighty, Sovereign, etc., as when
Pharaoh said, 'Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?' Ex. 5:2, or as
when railing Rabshakeh in his master's name said, 'Who is the Lord that is
able to deliver you out of my hand?' Isaiah 36:20.
3. When what is due to God is attributed to a creature,
or arrogated by a creature: thus the Jews, supposing Christ to be a creature
charged him with blasphemy, (Luke 7:49; John 10:33,) because he forgave sins
and called himself God."
In strict propriety of modern parlance, blasphemy always
includes insolence. But in the Bible use of the term, it is much more
comprehensive. So that we blaspheme, not only when we speak against God
directly, but when we revile his word, his way, his children, his
ordinances, or his works. 1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:2; 1 Cor. 4:13;
Mark 3:29, 30. The judgment of the Christian world is that blasphemy is the
greatest possible violation of the third commandment. Durham: "The great
breach of this command is blasphemy, though perjury be more direct." Boston:
"Blasphemy is the most atrocious of all sins." It is clearly our duty to
express our abhorrence of it. The Jews rent their garments at the hearing of
blasphemy. Our mode of testifying against it must depend upon our
circumstances; but it should always be decided. At such a time even silence
is sinful, much more then is smiling or laughing at it. It is truly
appalling to reflect how even good men sometimes, by an untender walking,
excite the blasphemies of their fellow-men. 2 Sam. 12:14, Romans 2:24. Nor
is it possible for some truly converted men to forget how in the days of
their own unregeneracy they led others to commit this crime. Even inferiors
in station may lead their superiors into this sin, 1 Tim. 6:1.
A great source of blasphemy is ignorance, 1 Tim. 1:13. No
doubt it is committed also from lack of watchfulness over our hearts and
lips. The great source of blasphemy is the corrupt heart of man, as
the Savior himself explicitly taught, Matt. 15:19. The Scriptures speak of
blasphemy against the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Lev. 24:16, Matt. 12:31,
32, Mark 3:28, 29, Luke 12:10.
Of all blasphemies, only that which is against the Holy
Spirit is unpardonable. It has never forgiveness, neither in this world nor
in that which is to come, Mark 3:29. It is the sin unto death, 1 John 5:16.
Of course it is a sin that is never committed by one of God's chosen people.
There is an impression very common among the best theologians that it is not
often committed. But that it has been committed, we have the most alarming
evidence in the New Testament. Some have said that this sin could not be
committed in our day. But why not? It is a sin against light. And are not
men much instructed in our time? Is not the truth preached with great
clearness and power at least by some? and does not the Holy Spirit bear
witness in many hearts by strong convictions and clear impressions of
religious truth? and do not men assail the great fundamental truths of
religion now as in the days of our Savior? Does not their opposition assume
the form of deadly malice against the gospel itself? Have they not both seen
and hated both Christ and his Father? John 15:24. Yes, do they not show
despite not only to the Savior, but to the Spirit of grace? Heb. 10:29.
It is commonly agreed that if Peter had denied his Lord
with the malice with which Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church, he would
have committed this sin. Or if Saul of Tarsus, with the threatenings and
slaughter which he breathed out, had enjoyed the light and advantages of
Peter in his fellowship with Christ, he would have committed this sin. It is
pretty clear that in all cases where there is a sincere desire to turn from
sin and cleave to God, the unpardonable sin has not been committed. But let
men beware how they embrace damnable heresies; how they deliberately set
themselves against God; how by words, or writing, or painting, or acting,
they represent anything sacred in an odious or ridiculous light; or how they
stand silently by and connive at the blasphemies of others, Jer. 36:24, 25;
or how they excuse, defend, or plead for, any form of ungodliness; or how in
any way they walk untenderly.
Especially let them be very guarded against all scornful
words and acts towards the Most High against all mocking and derision of
sacred things; against all jibes and jests at the things of God; against all
thoughtless use of God's name, or irreverent speaking, as using the names of
God in mere exclamation, or as by-words. All these things lead directly to
blasphemy against the people of the Godhead, and particularly against the
2.PERJURY. Cicero says that an oath is a
religious affirmation. Of course perjury is an ungodly use of a solemn
institution, the object of which is the ascertaining of the truth. Perhaps
the most correct definition of legal perjury is that it consists in making a
false oath, when lawfully administered, in some judicial proceeding, by a
person who swears willfully, absolutely and falsely, in a matter material to
the issue. Blackstone: "The law takes no notice of any perjury, but such as
is committed in some court of justice, having power to administer an oath;
or before some magistrate or proper officer invested with a similar
authority, in some proceedings relative to a civil suit, or a criminal
prosecution." But we are interpreting the law of God and not the municipal
regulations of men.
In the sight of Heaven, all false swearing is perjury.
Boston: "Perjury is falsehood confirmed with an oath." In God's esteem a man
commits perjury, when upon oath he affirms as truth that which he knows to
be false, or that which he does not know to be true, 1 Kings 21:10; or, when
one engages upon oath to do something which is impossible, or which he is
afterwards careless to perform. The word perjure is of Latin origin. The
word forswear is of Anglo-Saxon origin. In ordinary language they have the
same signification; though some have pretended to refined distinctions
between them. Hopkins: Perjury is the chief and most notorious abusing of
God's name. And indeed what greater sin can there be, than to bring God
to be a witness to our lie? to make him, who is truth itself, attest that
which is falsehood or deceit?"
All nations have punished perjury with severity. By
ancient English law the punishment was death; afterwards deportation or
cutting out the tongue; then forfeiture of all property. Although the
punishment of this crime has been somewhat varied, yet in England and
America, the criminal party is forever disqualified from bearing testimony,
and so is subjected to perpetual infamy. The judicial regulation of the
Jewish commonwealth on this subject was excellent, Deut. 19:16-19. For a
long time it was, and perhaps still is the law of France. It provided that
perjury in the case of prosecution for capital offences was itself a capital
crime. And surely he who takes a false oath to screen a murderer from death,
or to punish an innocent man with death, deserves to die. This crime is as
ancient as perhaps any other. Paul mentions perjured people, 1 Tim. 1:10;
but long before his time God ordained by his prophet Moses severe laws
against swearing falsely, Lev. 19:12, Deut. 19:18, 19. Indeed the Scriptures
array themselves with great rigor against perjury. "Love no false oath,"
Zech. 8:17. "I will be a swift witness against false swearers" Mal. 3:5. See
also Zech. 5:4, Hos. 10:4.
OATHS OF OFFICE. Perjury may be committed not only by
testifiers in judicial proceedings, but by merchants in the custom-house,
and by the servants of the public, who bind themselves by an oath faithfully
to perform the duties of their office. Every unjust judge is a perjured
monster. Every magistrate, who violates the laws, which he is sworn to
execute, is guilty of perjury. Every legislator, who has sworn to maintain
the Constitution under which he is acting, and then is led away by selfish
or party considerations, is perjured. And the executive officer, who for
fear or favor, for bribe or reward, fails to do all he has sworn to do, is
also a perjured wretch. The commonness of these sins does in no degree
whatever abate their enormity.
A CASE OF CONSCIENCE. May we press a man to swear when we
have good reason to think he will swear falsely? This is a very serious
question. In one sense indeed, every man shall bear his own burden. But on
the other hand, we are warned not to be partakers of other men's sins. The
correct answer seems to be, that if the matter is of no great weight,
Christian tenderness on our part should not press him to the oath, if we
seriously fear that in testifying he will commit perjury. This reason
derives strength, if the matter in contest involves our own private
interests only. In such a ease, we may lawfully yield our rights. But if the
matter at stake is of great importance to the public, or to private parties,
then we may require the oath; for it is the appointed instrument of public
justice. We cannot certainly know but that God will so fill the mind of the
witness with a sense of his fear, as that the truth may come out. In no case
has a judge a right to release a competent witness, duly brought forward, by
3. PROFANENESS. The general definition of
profaneness is irreverence for sacred names, or things, or institutions, or
people. A more specific definition is, that profaneness is the act of
violating anything sacred. The grossest form of profaning the name of God is
by common swearing, in which oaths and curses are usually united; for very
few men swear profanely without cursing also. Blackstone speaks of this as
one sin, and calls it, "the offence of profane and common swearing and
cursing." This sin consists, (besides the cursing,) in making an appeal to
God in a light, passionate, or wicked manner, for no important purpose, and
when not required to do so by any competent authority. Perhaps there is no
branch of morals concerning which it is more difficult to preserve a healthy
state of the public conscience. The difficulty is found,
1. In the natural lawlessness of the heart. It does not
like to be under restraint to God.
2. The habits of men are extensively corrupted in this
3. Some moralists have written loosely on the subject.
4. Men in high places often set a very bad example.
These causes have always been at work. They were felt in
the days of our Savior. Strict as the Pharisees were, in some things, they
held that common swearing was no sin, even if it were by the name of God,
provided what we swore was true; that no oath was binding where the name of
God was not expressly used; and that we might swear as much as we pleased
without offence, if we swore by heaven, by Jerusalem, etc. Thus they
subverted the entire system of morality of speech built on the third
commandment. The rebuke of our Savior to them was dreadful. "How terrible it
will be for you, blind guides! You say, 'Whoever swears an oath by the
sanctuary is excused, but whoever swears an oath by the gold of the
sanctuary must keep his oath.' You blind fools! What is more important, the
gold or the sanctuary that made the gold holy? Again you say, 'Whoever
swears an oath by the altar is excused, but whoever swears by the gift that
is on it must keep his oath.' You blind men! Which is more important, the
gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? Therefore, the one who swears an
oath by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. The one who swears
an oath by the sanctuary swears by it and by the one who lives there. And
the one who swears an oath by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one
who sits on it. "(Matthew 23:16-22)
The Old Testament no less distinctly condemns swearing by
anything but God. "How shall I pardon you for this? your children have
forsaken me, and sworn by those who are not gods." Jer. 5:7. To the same
effect our Lord speaks in Matt. 5:33-37, where he notices the fact that the
Pharisees condemned perjury, requiring the fulfillment of oaths to the Lord,
but admitting common swearing. "Again, you have heard that it was said to
those who lived long ago, 'You must not swear an oath falsely,' but 'You
must fulfill your oaths to the Lord.' But I tell you not to swear at all,
neither by heaven, because it is God's throne, nor by the earth, because it
is his footstool, nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the Great
King. Nor should you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair
white or black. Instead, let your word be 'Yes' for 'Yes' and 'No' for 'No.'
Anything more than that comes from the evil one."
The sin of swearing by anything but God is positively
forbidden. "You shall fear the Lord your God, and serve him, and shall swear
by his name." Deut. 6:13; Deut. 10:20. Swearing is an act of worship. When
it is right to swear, such worship should be offered to none but him who
searches the heart, and knows whether we swear truly; and who has
almightiness, and justice, and sovereignty, and so can punish if we swear
falsely. Swearing by any creature is therefore so far an act of idolatry,
and yet, because it is a creature of God, we do in the esteem of Heaven take
an oath, when we swear by it; and so, if we swear not truly, even by a
creature, we do commit perjury in the sight of God. God's creatures were
given us for other and lawful uses, and not to supplant our Maker.
The reasons against profane swearing are many, and
entitled to the most solemn consideration.
1. Profane swearing never does any good. It makes no one
wiser, better or happier. It inspires no respect for him who uses it. It
casts no light on any subject. It gives force to no argument. It strengthens
no assertions. It gives no edge to wit. It does not promote cheerfulness,
justice, truth or any good thing. It is a wholly useless practice. More than
2. It always does harm. It must give pain to all
right-minded people, who hear it. It is so much the language of passion that
it either grieves or irritates. It often makes enemies, and weakens a good
3. It is, therefore, a wanton sin, committed for the love
of sinning, and not for any good to be secured in time or eternity. It is a
gratuitous expression of contempt towards God and all that is sacred.
4. It is confessedly a vulgar practice. Even Chesterfield
says that swearing is inconsistent with the character of a gentleman. In a
world like this, virtue and happiness greatly depend on godly manners.
Everyone is bound to be truly gentle and polite. He owes it to his
neighbors, not to offend against good breeding. Have you ever seen a man,
who justified profane language as a branch of godly manners?
5. Profane swearing is forbidden by the laws of every
well regulated government. The wisdom of lawgivers, sitting in council on
the affairs of nations, has uniformly condemned profane oaths. We are bound
by all the principles of citizenship, to maintain, both by speech and
example, all good rules and laws made for the country in which we live.
6. Swearing leads to other evil practices. He who uses
profane words, easily falls into the use of angry and bitter language.
Cursing commonly goes with swearing. It is also generally conceded that
swearing leads to obscene conversation. So utterly subversive of all good,
was profane swearing considered by the heathen, that the ancient Scythians
punished it with the loss of the estate, the Persians with slavery, the
Greeks with cutting off the ears, the Romans with hurling from a high rock.
7. Profane swearing is a shocking sin. South: "All
profanation and invasion of things sacred is an offence against the eternal
laws of nature." It is never found alone. It dreadfully hardens the heart
against God, and inclines men to reject both his mercies and his authority.
It indisposes them to pray, to repent, to forsake any sin. While indulged it
makes prayer a mockery. To swear one hour and pray the next is so
inconsistent that very few men do both. Yet the poor, profane swearer is as
feeble and dependent as his pious neighbor, and constantly needs the divine
blessing to make existence desirable. How dreadful then must be that sin,
which cuts off the soul from access to God! How seldom are the profane
inclined to repentance!" Dwight: "Profaneness is the mere flood-gate of
iniquity, and the stream once let out, flows, with a current daily becoming
more and more rapid and powerful. It is the very nurse of sin; the
foster-parent of ingratitude, rebellion and impiety. This witness is true."
Thousands have testified as much. Boston, who had long noticed the effects
of evil habits on mankind, says, "Profane swearers do seldom reform. Many
are very extravagant otherwise in youth, who afterwards take up themselves;
but ofttimes swearing grows gray-headed with men." How much like a madman
the swearer is in closing even the door of repentance and mercy against
8. The corrupting influence of profane swearing on
society is terrible. The prophet Jeremiah says, "Because of swearing, the
land mourns." Jer. 23:7. How our land mourns by reason of this sin, almost
all classes are made to feel. Among all profane swearers, you shall not find
a teacher of Sabbath Schools, or one who reproves sin in his family, or who
seeks the salvation of his fellow-men, or is otherwise a safe guide to those
around him. You may search nations and empires throughout, and you shall not
find a godly person among all the armies of profane swearers.
This crime diminishes reverence for God, relaxes the
force of solemn oaths, and prepares men for perjury and general ungodliness.
If the people of this nation continue thus to insult the Most High, we may
look for even more dire calamities than are now, (1864) in the midst of
civil war, poured upon us out of the vials of God's wrath.
"The mischiefs of evil examples," says one, "are always
great; in the present case they are dreadful. The tongue is obviously the
prime instrument of human corruption; of diffusing and perpetuating sin;
of preventing the eternal life of our fellow men; of extending perdition
over the earth; and of populating the world of misery.... Among all the evil
examples, which I have heard mentioned, I do not remember that a mute man
was ever named as one. No person, within my recollection, ever attributed
his own sins to the example of such a man. Men corrupt each other
pre-eminently by their speech. No individual, perhaps, ever began to swear
profanely by himself: and few, very few, ever commenced the practice but
from imitation. Let every profane person, therefore, solemnly remember how
much guilt will be charged to him in the great day of accounts."
9. God has put this sin in a catalogue of the worst
offences. "Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has
a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or
steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing,
lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and
bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in
it languish." Hos. 4:1-3.
10. Dreadful judgments often overtake people and
communities, on account of this sin. This has often been declared by
inspired and uninspired men. Jer. 7:9-16; Zech. 5:4. But should no curse
fall on the profane in this life—there is an eternity of retribution before
us all. We must reap that which we sow. We must give an account to Him, who
says of all profane swearers, that he will not hold them guiltless. What
everlasting sorrows await all who go to the next world with their souls
defiled with wicked oaths!
And now, dear reader, are not these reasons good? Ought
they not to decide the case? You are a poor feeble worm, living on God's
daily bounty. You need his favor. At any moment you may be called out of
time into eternity. How dare you provoke his wrath by treating his name with
contempt? If even one profane oath has escaped your lips, humble yourself
before God, heartily repent of your iniquity, and plead for forgiveness
through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the
penitent who forsakes sin, there is mercy. Ask for it now. Give your heart
to Christ. How dreadful it will be to spend an eternity with all the
foul—mouthed, who shall day and night curse and blaspheme the God of heaven,
and with all the vile from among men, sink down in endless, hopeless sorrow!
The following little scrap, written by a pious man, has
been used so often to impress upon the minds of men a sense of the sin of
profane swearing, and even to persuade them to turn to God and live, that it
is here inserted without alteration. It is entitled, "THE SWEARER'S PRAYER,
OR HIS OATH EXPLAINED." "What, a swearer pray! Yes, swearer, whether you
think so or not, each of your oaths is a prayer—an appeal to the holy and
Almighty God, whose name you dare so impiously to take into your lips. And
what is it, do you think, swearer, that you call for, when the solemn
imprecations, damn and damnation, roll so frequently from your profane
tongue? Tremble, swearer, while I tell you! Your prayer contains two parts:
you pray, First, that you may be deprived of eternal happiness! Secondly,
that you may be plunged into eternal misery! When, therefore, you call for
damnation, do you not, in effect, say as follows?
'O God! you have power to punish me in hell forever,
therefore, let not one of my sins be forgiven! Let every oath I have
sworn—every lie that I have told—every Sabbath that I have broken—and all
the sins that I have committed, either in thought, word or deed, rise up in
judgment against me, and eternally condemn me! Let me never partake of your
salvation! May my soul and body be deprived of all happiness, both in this
world and that which is to come! Let me never see your face with
comfort—never enjoy your favor and friendship; and let me never enter into
the kingdom of heaven!'
This is the first part of your prayer. Let us hear the
second. 'O God let me not only be shut out of heaven, but also shut up in
hell! May all the members of my body be tortured with inconceivable agony,
and all the powers of my soul tormented with inexpressible and eternal
horror and despair! Let my dwelling be in the blackness of darkness, and my
companions accursed men and accursed devils! Pour down your hottest anger;
execute all your wrath and curse upon me; arm and send forth all your
terrors against me; and let your fierce, your fiery, your fearful
indignation rest upon me! Be my eternal enemy, and plague, and punish, and
torment me, in hell, forever, and ever, and ever!'
Swearer, this is your prayer! Oh dreadful imprecation! Oh
horrible, horrible, most horrible! Blaspheming man, do you like your
petition? Look at it. Are you sincere in your prayer, or are you mocking
your Maker? Do you wish for damnation? Are you desirous of eternal torment?
If so, swear on—swear hard. The more oaths the more misery; and perhaps, the
sooner you may be in hell. Are you shocked at this language? Does it harrow
up your soul? Does the very blood run cold in your veins? Are you convinced
of the evil of profane swearing? How many times have you blasphemed the God
of heaven? How many times have you asked God to damn you in the course of a
year, a month, a day? Nay, how many times in a single hour have you called
for damnation? Are you not yet in hell? Wonder, O heavens and be astonished,
O earth, at the goodness and patience of that God whose great name swearing
people so often and so awfully profane! Swearer, be thankful, O be
exceedingly thankful, that God has not answered your prayer, your dreadful
prayer—that his mercy and patience have withheld the request of your
Never let him hear another oath from your unhallowed
tongue lest it should be your last expression upon earth, and your swearing
prayer should be answered in hell. O, let your oaths be turned into
supplications. Repent and turn to Jesus, who died for swearers as well as
his murderers: and then, O then, though you may have sworn as many oaths as
there are stars in the heavens, and sands upon the seashore,
innumerable—then you shall find, to your eternal joy, that there is love
enough in his heart and merit sufficient in his blood, to pardon your sins,
and to save your soul forever. Swearer, can you ever again blaspheme such a
God and Savior as this? Does not your conscience cry, God forbid? Even so,
It is a vain endeavor on the part of some to avoid the
guilt of profane swearing by mincing their oaths, as is the practice
of many whose consciences still trouble them so much as to hinder them from
the more vile forms of this sin. Minced oaths are either oaths, or they are
nonsense. If oaths, they are of course profane. If they are nonsense, they
are not "good nonsense," and are clearly forbidden by Matt. 12:36. They are
certainly offensive to godly manners and to God's people, 1 Cor. 15:33,
Matt. 18:6, 7.
The following hints may be useful in restraining men from
all profane swearing.
1. "I do not know that when a man is called to account
for this his sin at the bar of God's judgment seat, that he will much mend
the matter by pleading that he had been guilty of it so often, at last it
became a second nature to him, and he got to swear ever and always without
so much as intending it." (Hare)
2. Commit to memory the third commandment. Its language
is clear and solemn. Very few men are able to remember its words and to
swear profanely at the same time.
3. Cultivate the fear of God in the heart. Let a sense of
the solemn majesty of the Most High fall upon you.
4. Beware of needless social fellowship with men who are
5. Control your passions amid needless and violent
6. Whenever you go out into the world, try to carry with
you the spirit of prayer.
7. If at any time you fall into this sin, deeply humble
yourself on that account and repent in deep sorrow.
SWEARING REPROVED. The following narrative is known
to many to be substantially correct. It has found its way into the public
prints: A physician left his residence to ride on horseback towards the
lower part of the main street. He had not proceeded far when he met a
well-mounted man, who was much excited with liquor. He hailed the doctor in
a harsh and rather sharp manner. The latter stopped and looked him steadily
in the face. Soon the excited man asked, "Have you seen a young man passing
this way with a wagon?" The doctor replied in the negative. From the lips of
the inquirer soon escaped a number of profane and foolish oaths respecting
the strange disappearance of the team and driver. The doctor sat still on
his horse, greatly moved with compassion, and tenderly but steadily fixed
his eyes on the face of his neighbor. Presently the excited man asked for
some trifling favor. The doctor promptly gave it, saying, "I take great
pleasure in doing anything to oblige you, although you have greatly hurt my
feelings." The other replied, "How can that be? I did not intend to do so."
The doctor replied, "You have spoken very disrespectfully of my best
friend." The reply was, "What do you mean? I have said nothing against any
one." The doctor answered, "The best Friend I have in the universe is God.
Both to you and me He has done more kindness than all others besides. You
have used his name here in my presence in a very profane way, and yet you
ask, 'What have I said to hurt your feelings?' Can I hear my God and Savior
spoken of contemptuously, and not be hurt?" "Sir," said the man, "I ask your
pardon." The doctor replied, "My pardon is nothing. I am a worm of the dust.
Like you, I must soon stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and give up
my last and solemn account. Ask pardon of God."
By this time the countenance of the man revealed shame
and remorse, and he said, "Sir, allow me to ask your name." The doctor said,
"Oh, that is a matter of no importance. I shall soon meet you at the
judgement bar of God. I hope for salvation through the grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ. Do you?" Thus saying, he bade good-bye to the excited man, and
rode away. Neither party in this strange interview knew the name of the
other. About nine or ten months after this, the doctor was delivering an
address on temperance, and when the meeting was over, a man well-dressed and
having an appearance of respectability, came to him and said, "I suppose you
do not know me." "I do not," was the reply. "Do you not remember," said he,
"that last summer you met a man, and reproved him for swearing?" "I do,"
said the doctor. "I am that man," he replied. "I went home distressed, and
wondering who you were. I described your appearance to my son. He told me
you were a minister of the gospel, and gave me your name. Since that day I
have drunk no liquor; I have stopped swearing; and that is not all"—tears
starting in his eyes—"the best of all is, I hope God has converted my soul."
The affecting character of this meeting can be better
conceived than described. Subsequent inquiry showed that the reformation was
entire, and that the former swearer was now a praying man, and the former
drunkard was leading a consistent Christian life. From this narrative it
1. There may be exceptions to the rule laid down by that
wise and godly man, Ebenezer Porter: "I will not talk to a man intoxicated
with strong drink." Such conversation is sometimes dangerous, seldom
improving, but not always without advantage. Let us be civil to even drunken
men. Who knows but that we may do them good?
2. "Love—and say what you please." A stern or harsh
manner commonly makes men worse; but true tenderness commonly disarms
3. "In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening
withhold not your hand; for you know not whether shall prosper, either this
or that, or whether they both shall be alike good." Let us be always at
work, both in season and out of season.
4. Let us overcome the fear of man. It brings a snare. It
makes us cowardly. It excites the contempt of the wicked. "Be of good
courage." When the council saw the boldness of Peter and John they marveled,
and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.
5. We must not treat all wicked men alike. Of some we
must "have compassion, making a difference." They must have none but gentle,
persuasive words and tones. Others we must "save with fear, pulling them out
of the fire." To such we must often present the terrors of the Lord, and in
his solemn name point them to the wrath to come.
6. How rich is divine grace how abundant is divine mercy!
It saves even profane swearers and drunkards. It can do all things. Oh that
men would accept the salvation so freely and so sincerely offered to them by
An asseveration is to affirm or assert positively or
earnestly. It may be either with or without an oath. The primary
signification of the term pointed to an oath. But now we are said to
asseverate when with repetition or solemnity we assert positively: a
declaration without repetition is a simple assertion. An asseveration
expresses vehemence, and is designed to give emphasis to one's declarations.
Asseverations are right or wrong according to the occasion and manner of
using them. When lawful, they do not materially differ from persistent
declarations. Thus Rhoda constantly affirmed that Peter was at the gate.
Acts 12:15. We may make our asseverations very strong, even as Elisha did to
Elijah, when he said, "As surely as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives."
2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6. This is not really an oath; and yet it is an appeal to
God and an assertion hardly less solemn than an oath.
But asseverations are sinful when they are made without
thoughtfulness or without any proper call for them. Ray: "Another abuse of
the tongue, I might add; vehement asseveration upon slight and trivial
occasions." We ought especially to guard against making any asseveration
rashly or needlessly, as it tends to weaken our regard for sacred things.
Attestations are nothing more than giving evidence
without oath. But ordinarily they have in them a tone of positiveness and
absolute certainty, not belonging to ordinary testimony, and they may
partake and often do partake of an appeal to God. If the occasion is
sufficiently solemn and important, and the attestation reverent, it is not
sinful. It is frequently accompanied with such phrases as 'truly,' 'indeed,'
'I solemnly declare,' etc. But when made in rashness, or on frivolous
occasions, or with irreverence of manner or of heart towards God or sacred
things, it is contrary to the spirit of this commandment.
Obtestations are exceedingly earnest entreaties or
supplications, made to our fellow-men, respecting something which we desire.
When lawful, they are solemnly made. Paul used such: "I beseech you,
brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living
sacrifice, etc." Romans 12:1. Again, "I, Paul, beseech you by the meekness
of Christ." 2 Cor. 10:1. These too are contrary to the spirit of the third
commandment, when made without just cause; much more when employed to
persuade men to that which is sinful.
Imprecations are prayers, by which we seek evil to
ourselves or others. They are conditional or unconditional. If
unconditional, they are mere curses. The general spirit of the gospel and of
its precepts is counter to them. "Bless, and curse not." "The wrath of man
works not the righteousness of God." "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says
the Lord." When directed towards others, if they partake of the spirit of
railing, this adds to their sinfulness. Jude 9. There may be solemn
occasions when we may conditionally imprecate evil upon ourselves, as did
the royal Psalmist. Psalm 7:3-5. All imprecations, however, are sinful—when
our appeal is to Satan; when they are made to establish a falsehood; to
express malignant passions against others, and when there is no solemn
occasion for them.
8. SUPERSTITIOUS OBSERVANCES.
These are so numerous, and vary so much with the country,
and even the neighborhood where they prevail, that a detail of them would
fill a volume. Sailors are superstitious about having a gospel minister on
board their vessels; and about sailing on Friday. Some farmers are
superstitious about almost everything they do. Some will hardly sow flax,
except on Good Friday. Some people are alarmed if they spill salt on the
table; if they sneeze when putting on their shoes; or if they have a burning
sensation in the left ear. All these and like things are senseless, are
calculated to make life miserable, and to reduce us to slavery to perpetual
9. GENERAL IRREVERENCE.
Our Savior and his apostles very carefully guard us
against all needless introduction of the name of God into common
conversation. "let your word be 'Yes' for 'Yes' and 'No' for 'No.' Anything
more than that comes from the evil one." Matt. 5:37. "Above all, brothers,
do not swear oaths by heaven, by earth, or by any other object. Instead, let
your "Yes" mean yes and your "No" mean no, lest you fall under
condemnation." James 5:12. It may greatly encourage us to pay a strict
regard to these injunctions, to know that those who keep at the greatest
distance from all irreverence and needless appeals to God, other things
being equal, probably suffer least in their reputation for veracity.
And in general, we should avoid everything that seems
to us inconsistent with profound and solemn reverence for the Divine Majesty.
The Westminster Assembly say: "The sins forbidden in the third commandment
are, the not using of God's name as is required; and the abuse of it in an
ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning, or
otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy,
perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths
and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring
and quarreling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God's decrees and
providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the word,
or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain
janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures,
or anything contained under the name of God—to sinful lusts and practices;
the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any ways opposing of God's truth,
grace, and ways, making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister
ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by uncomfortable, unwise,
unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it."
The THREATENING annexed to this commandment.
This is expressed in terms well-suited to fill the mind
with reverence and awe. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in
vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, who takes his name in
vain!" (Exodus 20:7). The threatening is delivered in a figure of
speech, common to all languages, wherein much more is implied than is
expressed. When the apostle Peter, exhorting the early Christians to
holiness, says, "The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles
want to do," he means to say, that we have spent far too much time in that
wicked course of life.
This threatening clearly implies,
1. That we shall have a solemn and awful reckoning with
God—a reckoning in which his creatures shall have all their conduct
investigated with the scrutiny of omniscience, shall all be found innocent
or guilty, and shall all be condemned or acquitted.
2. In that solemn account, we shall answer to God for
all irreverence of thought, or feeling, or speech, or action.
3. God will by no means clear the guilty, and in
particular, by no means clear those who shall then be found guilty of
breaking this commandment.
4. No mercy shall be shown to men whose souls shall then
be found defiled with the guilt of this sin. Yes, the Lord will not hold
him guiltless, who takes his name in vain! Such a one may perhaps hold
himself guiltless; he may esteem himself a fine fellow; he may think that he
graces his profanity with the air of a gentleman; he may imagine that he is
quite above all responsibility even to God. Moreover his fellows may hold
him guiltless; may make light of his sin; may call him brave and elegant.
But Jehovah, the lawgiver of heaven and earth, will not acquit him! To God
he is responsible, and in God's sight he is criminal.
If the profane man, at the last day, stands alone, still
God will reckon with him. If hand has joined in hand, and he is surrounded
by a crew of the ungodly, their numbers shall not protect him. Proverbs
11:21. If he is poor, and steals, and takes the name of his God in vain,
Proverbs 30:9, still his poverty shall not screen him. If he is rich and
gifted and honorable in men's esteem, and violates this command, his pomp
shall be brought down to the grave, yes, he shall be brought down to hell,
to the bottom of the pit. Isaiah 14:11, 14.
In all cases the violation of this commandment has many
aggravations. It is committed immediately against God. It is in the teeth of
the expressed letter of the law. It is vile. It is suited to lead others
astray. It admits of no reparation. It is against the law of nature. It is
against, all the pious instruction we have ever received. It is against the
laws of common politeness. If open, it is against every man's convictions of
right. It is exceedingly impudent. It is heaven-daring. It is an expression
of deep malignity against God. Psalm 139:20. While indeed the profane
person, who shall repent, shall obtain forgiveness; profaneness is a sin
which greatly disinclines men to turn to God. To the penitent, the offence
is not unpardonable. But how hard it is to bring a man to cry for mercy—when
for a long time he has been insulting the Father of all mercies and the God
of all grace!