The Third Commandment
     by Thomas Watson

'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.' -Exod 20: 7.

    This commandment has two parts:

1. A negative expressed, that we must not take God's name in vain; that is, cast any reflections and dishonour on his name.
2. An affirmative implied. That we should take care to reverence and honour his name.

Of this latter I shall speak more fully, under the first petition in the Lord's Prayer, 'Hallowed be thy name.' I shall now speak of the negative expressed in this commandment, or the prohibition, 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' The tongue is an unruly member. All the parts and organs of the body are defiled with sin, as every branch of wormwood is bitter; 'but the tongue is full of deadly poison.' James 3: 8. There is no one member of the body breaks forth more in God's dishonour than the tongue. We have this commandment, therefore, as a bridle for the tongue, to bind it to its good behaviour. This prohibition is backed with a strong reason, 'For the Lord will not hold him guiltless;' that is he will not hold him innocent. Men of place and eminence deem it disgraceful to have their names abused and inflict heavy penalties on the offenders. 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain;' but looks upon him as a criminal, and will severely punish him. The thing here insisted on is, that great care must be had, that the holy and reverend name of God be not profaned by us, or taken in vain. We take God's name in vain:

    [1] When we speak slightly and irreverently of his name. 'That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord thy God.' Deut 28: 58. David speaks of God with reverence. 'The mighty God, even the Lord.' Psa 50: 1. 'That men may know, that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth. Psa 83: 18. The disciples, when speaking of Jesus, hallowed his name. 'Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.' Luke 24: 19. When we mention the names of kings, we give them some title of honour, as 'excellent majesty;' so should we speak of God with the sacred reverence that is due to the infinite majesty of heaven. When we speak slightly of God or his works, he interprets it as a contempt, and taking his name in vain.

    [2] When we profess God's name, but do not live answerably to it, we take it in vain. 'They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him.' Titus 1: 16. When men's tongues and lives are contrary to one another, when, under a mask of profession, they lie and cozen, and are unclean, they make use of God's name to abuse him, and take it in vain. Simulata sanctitas duplex iniquitas [Pretended holiness is merely double wickedness]. 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.' Rom 2: 24. When the heathen saw the Jews, who professed to be God's people, to be scandalous, it made them speak evil of God, and hate the true religion for their sakes.

    [3] When we use God's name in idle discourse. He is not to be spoken of but with a holy awe upon our hearts. To bring his name in at every turn, when we are not thinking of him, to say, 'O God!' or, 'O Christ!' or, 'As God shall save my soul' - is to take God's name in vain. How many are guilty here! Though they have God in their mouths, they have the devil in their hearts. It is a wonder that fire does not come out from the Lord to consume them, as it did Nadab and Abihu. Lev 10: 2.

    [4] When we worship him with our lips, but not with our hearts. God calls for the heart, 'My son, give me thy heart.' Prov 23: 26. The heart is the chief thing in religion; it draws the will and affections after it, as the Primum Mobile draw the other orbs along with it. The heart is the incense that perfumes our holy things; is the altar that sanctifies the offering. When we seem to worship God, but withdraw our heart from him, we take his name in vain. 'This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me.' Isa 29: 13.

    [5] When we pray to him, but do not believe in him. Faith is a grace that greatly honours God. Abraham 'was strong in faith, giving glory to God.' Rom 4: 20. But when we pray to God, but do not mix faith with our prayer, we take his name in vain. 'I may pray,' says a Christian, 'but I shall be never the better.' I question whether God ever hears or answers such. It is to dishonour God and take his name in vain; it makes him either an idol, that has ears and hears not; or a liar, who promises mercy to the penitent, but will not make good his word. 'He that believeth not God has made him a liar.' 1 John 5: 10. When the apostle says (Rom 10: 14): 'How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?' the meaning is, How shall they call on God aright, and not believe in him? But how many do call on him who do not believe on him! They ask for pardon, but unbelief whispers their sins are too great to be forgiven. Thus to pray and not believe, is to take God's name in vain, and highly dishonours God, as if he were not such a God as the word represents him. 'Plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon him.' Psa 86: 5.

    [6] When in any way we profane and abuse his word. The word of God is profaned, in general, when profane men meddle with it. It is unseemly and unbecoming a wicked man to talk of sacred things, of God's providence, and the decrees of God and heaven. It was very distasteful to Christ to hear the devil quote Scripture, 'It is written.' To hear a wicked man who wallows in sin talk of God and religion is offensive; it is taking God's name in vain. When the word of God is in a drunkard's mouth, it is like a pearl hung upon a swine. Under the law, the lips of the leper were to be covered. Lev 13: 45. The lips of a profane, drunken minister ought to be covered; he is unfit to speak God's word, because he takes his name in vain.

    More particularly they profane God's word, and take his name in vain:

    [7] When we swear by God's name. Many seldom mention God's name but in oaths, for which sin the land mourns. 'Swear not at all,' that is, rashly and sinfully, so as to take God's name in vain. Matt 5: 34. Not but in some cases it is lawful to take an oath before a magistrate. 'Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God and serve him, and swear by his name.' Deut 6: 13. 'An oath for confirmation is the end of all strife.' Heb 6: 16. When Christ says, 'Swear not at all;' he forbids such swearing as takes God's name in vain. There is a threefold swearing forbidden:

    [8] When we prefix God's name to any wicked action. Mentioning God in connection with a wicked design, is taking his name in vain. 'I pray,' said Absalom, 'let me pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron.' 2 Sam 15: 7. This pretence of paying his vow made to God, was only to cover his treason. 'As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet ye shall say, Absalom reigneth;' chap. 15: 10. When any wicked action is baptised with the name of religion, it is taking God's name in vain. Herein the Pope is highly guilty, when he sends out his bulls of excommunication, or curses against the Christian; he begins with, In nomine Dei 'in the name of God.' What a provoking sin is this! It is to do the devil's work, and put God's name to it.

    [9] When we use our tongues any way to the dishonour of God's name. As when we use railing, or curse in our passions; especially when we wish a curse upon ourselves if a thing be not so, when we know it to be false. I have read of one who wished his body might rot, if that which he said was not true; and soon after his body rotted, and he became a loathsome spectacle.

    [10] When we make rash and unlawful vows. It is a good vow when a man binds himself to do that which the word binds him to; as, if he be sick, he vows if God restore him, he will live a more holy life. 'I will pay thee my vows which my lips have uttered when I was in trouble.' Psa 66: 13,14. But Voveri non debet quod Deo displicet; 'such a vow should not be made as is displeasing to God;' as to vow voluntary poverty, as friars; or to vow to live in nunneries. Jephthah's vow was rash and unlawful; he vowed to the Lord to sacrifice that to him which he met with next, and it was his daughter. Judges 11: 31. He did ill to make the vow, and worse to keep it; he became guilty of the breach of the third and sixth commandments.

    [11] When we speak evil of God. 'The people spake against God.' Numb 21: 5.

How do we speak against God?

    When we murmur at his providences, as if he had dealt hardly with us. Murmuring accuses God's justice. 'Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?' Gen 18: 25. Murmuring springs from a bitter root, it comes from pride and discontent; it reproaches God and thus takes his name in vain. It is a sin that God cannot bear. 'How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against me?' Numb. 14: 27.

    [12] When we falsify our promise; as when we say, if God spare our life we will do a certain thing, and never intend it. Our promise should be sacred and inviolable; but, if we make a promise, and mention God's name in it, but never intend to keep it, it is a double sin; it is telling a lie, and taking God's name in vain.

    Use. Take heed of taking God's name in vain in any of these ways. Remember the combination and threatening in the text, 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless.' Here is a meiosis; less is said, and more intended. 'He will not hold him guiltless;' that is, he will be severely avenged on such a one. 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless.' Here the Lord speaks after the manner of a judge, who holds the court assize. The judge here, is God himself; the accusers, Satan, and a man's own conscience; the charge is, 'Taking God's name in vain;' the accused is found guilty, and condemned: 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless.' Methinks these words, 'The Lord will not hold him guiltless,' should put a lock upon our lips, and make us afraid of speaking anything that may bring dishonour upon God, or may be taking his name in vain. It may be that men may hold such guiltless, when they curse, swear, speak irreverently of God, may let them alone, and not punish them. If one takes away another's good name, he shall be sure to be punished; but if he takes away God's good name, where is he that punishes him? He that robs another of his goods shall be put to death, but he that robs God of his glory, by oaths and curses, is spared; but God himself will take the matter into his own hand, and he will punish him who takes his name in vain.

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