Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

The Third Commandment

by James Durham (16221658)



Thy Commandment is exceeding broad. Psalm 119.96.



Ver. 7. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

        The Third Commandment  
by James Durham  (16221658)

This classic exposition on the 3rd commandments
by Scottish puritan pastor and author James
Durham, was first published as part of his work
entitled, "The Law Unsealed", 1665

                The Ten Commandments

Index of Contents
    What Lotting or Lottery Is
    How Lots Concern the Third Commandment
    Distinctions Concerning Lots
    Lawful Lotting
    Unlawful Lotting
        Lotting Games: Dice, Cards, &c.
    Objections Answered
    The Threatening Of This Commandment
    Why Men Take Little Notice of The Third Commandment


     There is one particular which yet remaineth to be spoken of on this third command, which concerneth lots, omens, superstitious observations, and such like, whereby the name of God is wronged, in being not only slighted, contemned, and taken in vain in these events (which yet are guided by him) but the disposal of things which is due to God, is denied to him, and attributed to chance, luck, fortune, and such like.

     We shall then, (1.) Shew what lotting or lottery is. (2.) How it concerneth this command. (3.) Distinguish lots into several sorts. (4.) Shew what are lawful, and when they are lawful. (5.) What are unlawful.

What Lotting or Lottery Is

     A lot or lotting is, The committing of the decision of some things in an immediate way to divine providence, without the intervening casualties, or influence of any second cause, to sway in that decision: so that when the thing falleth out, and is decided, there can be no reason given, why it is so in men's part, but that the Lord was pleased to dispose. As it was in that instance of lotting about the election of the twelfth apostle, in Judas his room, Acts 1. So from Prov. 16.33. it is clear that that is a lot whereof the whole disposal is of God: And therefore it is said, chap. 18.18. To cause contentions to cease, and to part betwixt the mighty; because none can quarrel, concerning that which man hath no hand in.

A lot may be many ways appointed, either by the throw of a dice, or the like; or by some other mean putting difference betwixt one and other, even as men shall appoint: as when it is by what beast they shall first see, by what saying, or by what book they first hear, or look on, &c. Only we think lots differ from omens, or superstitious observations, thus: (1.) Lots are to decide betwixt two; the other are collections, which one may make concerning himself. (2.) Lots follow on some appointment that is mutual and is free; the other may be other ways.

How Lots Concern the Third Commandment

That lots, in the use of them, concern this command, these things will make it out several ways.

     1. That which putteth God to it, in an immediate way, concerneth this command, especially; I mean, whatever putteth him to declare his mind or reveal himself, that putteth him to it, and is a special implicit invocating of him: But lots or lotting putteth him to it in an immediate way; for, (1.) None other can dispose of them but he, Prov. 16.33. (2.) What is discovered by those lots is either God's mind or the devil's, or is by chance; but it cannot be any of the latter two, therefore it is the first. (3.) It is the putting him to it, more than he is by prayer; because, [1.] It is by an extraordinary way, and often added to prayer. [2.] It is for the manifesting of a secret decree; for by it we are to understand what God has appointed, and eternally decreed, concerning such an event. Hence it is, that in scripture, prayer is so often, if not always joined with it; and therefore it must in a special manner belong to this command: Yea, if God be slighted in it, he is wronged: If acknowledged, according to his interest, he is in a special manner concerned, where he wholly ordereth the thing.

     2. It is either a mean, appointed by him to understand his mind or not; if appointed by him, then it is insofar in his ordinance, and his name is concerned in it; if not, then it is abused.

     3. The meddling with God's secret, or with his will, or way of revealing it in his providence, must belong to this command; but this especially meddleth with all these: therefore, &c.

     4. That which cannot be gone about, but the name of the Lord is either wronged or honoured in it, must necessarily belong to this command, for that is the scope of it: but none can lot without either depending on God, for the ordering of, and acknowledging of him in it, when it is done; and so honouring him, or neglecting him, and taking his name in vain, (1.) By miskenning his providence, and thinking to get that decided some other way. (2.) By irreverent going about it. (3.) By attributing it to some other thing. (4.) By not acknowledging God in it, nor submitting to it when done so. So, then, these three ways men fail, and take God's name in vain. (1.) Before the lot. (2.) In the time of it. (3.) After it is past.

Distinctions Concerning Lots

     Lots are ordinarily divided into three sorts. (1.) Divine, which are from extraordinary warrants. (2.) Devilish, wherein the devil is either invocated, or in circumstances, the decision is put to him, and guided by him. (3.) Human, which are ordinarily gone about amongst men.

     Again, They are divided, (1.) In divinatory. (2.) Consultatory, whereby men find out somewhat that is secret, as Saul found out Jonathan, or are led to some duty. (3.) Divisory, by such the land of Canaan was divided, Josh. 13.6. (4.) Lusury, or for play: This division is large and comprehensive, and hath several steps, according to the weight of the things, as they are greater or smaller, or indifferent.

     Concerning them we say, That all consultatory and divinatory lots, except by an extraordinary warrant, are unlawful, and a tempting of God, who has now given us other ways and means to direct us in what is meet for us to do.

     2. Concerning those devilish lots, there is no question of the abominableness of them, such as foretelling of fortunes, horoscopes, or deaths; the finding of things lost, by naming all suspected persons, turning the riddle, &c.

Lawful Lotting

     Yet, 3. We dare not condemn all divisory lots, if rightly gone about.

     Because (1.) They are frequently made use of in the scripture, Josh. 6.13,14,15. &c. Acts 1. Yea, they seem to be, from the light of nature, Jonah 1. (2.) The use of them is moral and perpetual, Prov. 18.18. To cause contentions to cease, and to part between the mighty. (3.) When they are rightly gone about, they are an honouring of God, and are a manifest acknowledging of his providence. I say, rightly gone about: Where, 1. The matter should be weighty, or of some consequence; that is, It should be either weighty in itself; or it should be so by some consequence or inconveniency; making a light thing in itself weighty, otherwise it is (as swearing is, in a matter of no moment) but a baffling of his ordinance.

     2. It should be necessary; that is, a thing that, without many inconveniences, cannot be in another way decided; otherwise to put God to reveal his mind in an extraordinary way, when there is an ordinary at hand, is a tempting God; even as to leap over a wall is, while there is an ordinary passage to go through by.

     3. It should be with a due respect to God, acknowledging him to be the decisor, calling on his name in the use of it, and looking to him for the decision, as we see almost in all lottings, and even of those heathens, Jonah 1.

     4. It should be gone about in the right manner, (1.) With reverence, as if we were to hear God pronounce the sentence and speak his mind; as while Saul is a-taking, the people stand before the Lord, 1 Sam. 10.19-21. (2.) In the faith that God guideth it; and so, without anxiety and fear. (3.) In singleness, committing it to him, even in heart as well as in appearance; abstaining from all fraud or tricks, or any thing which may have influence, as a second cause, to mar or cast the decision; this were a high way of mocking God to put the decision to him, and yet to endeavor to give the answer ourselves.

      Lastly, After the lot, there should be a reverent acknowledging of God's mind, without fretting or grumbling, and a cheerful submitting to it, as we see in all the cases instanced in scripture. These rules being observed, we think that for dividing of stations or charges; or of portions, which cannot be otherwise done, without offense or prejudice, lots may be used.

     Yet, I would say these few things for caution here: 1. Ye should not in petty things use them, when the matter is of no value at all, or of very small value; so that ye are indifferent how it falls out: Or when it is not of that weight, that ye would give an oath in it; but rather quit it, (and there would be here a proportion kept,) ye should rather, in such a case, hazard some loss, than put it to a lot, out of that reverence ye owe to God's name: All the cases in scripture are weighty: In your ordinary merchandise I desire you to remember this:

     2. Ye should not fail to use your reason, and honest skill, more in sharings and divisions, for preventing of lot. Folks sometimes betake themselves to these for ease, when yet their reason, rightly made use of, might bring to a satisfying decision. God hath not given reason to man in vain, or for nought: when reason then may do it, essay it, and forbear a lot.

     3. Let it be in such a matter, and so used, as ye may seek God in it, and in-call his name in prayer; to lot in a thing, that folks will not, or dare not pray in, agreeth not with scripture examples, nor with that tenderness which a believer should have at such a time: It should then be in a thing respecting a promise.

Unlawful Lotting

     On the contrary, we may see how men fail here, (1.) In weighty things, by not keeping the right manner before the lot, in the time of it, and after it is past, when it endeth not strife. (2.) In trivial things, by making this too customary; so that folk use the lot almost in every thing, making that which is extraordinary to become ordinary, contrary to the nature thereof. It is an ultimate judge and decider, even as an oath is for ending all controversies: It is like unto Moses (as one saith) the great matters should be reserved to it; yea, it is greater than Moses, it is God himself, thus in his providence passing a decision: The lesser things should be otherwise decided.


     3. We may gather from what is said, what is to be thought of such games and pastimes as run on lottery (having that for the very foundation of them) and having an immediate dependence on providence for the issue of them.

     1. That they are lottery cannot be denied, for they have all that is in lotting; there is in them a putting of things to a doubtful event as to us; and that event is either guided by God, or by some other, and which ever of the two, we say, it will be a breach of this command, so trivially for our pleasure to take the name of God in vain, as many formally do; for none can tell how such a thing will come to pass by any reason.

     2. That to do so, or to use a lot in this case is a sin, may also be made out clearly, (1.) Because it is against the end of lots which is to divide or decide where there is a controversy, and so it interverteth their end, and becometh sinful; even as swearing, where no controversy is, is a sin. (2.) There is either no necessity at all to take that away, or there is but a made necessity of our own; it must therefore be a tempting of God: as suppose this to be the end of lotting to know in the upshot whether so much money should belong to you, or to me; no doubt that point of right to whom the money belongeth, may be decided as well at the entry; therefore this way of decision is in vain.

     3. That lotting which hath in it no reverence to God, but baffleth his name, nor is consistent with the right manner of lotting, cannot be lawful; but this is such, for it is not only, de facto, contrary to the former rules, but in its own nature is inconsistent with them; this is clear, (1.) From the great frequency of lotting in these games. (2.) In the little dependence on God for the event that is in them; and indeed a spiritual frame of dependence on him, cannot well, if at all, consist with them. (3.) From its consistency with serious prayer: What! can or dare men pray in earnest for God's guiding in these things, in every throw of dice, or shuffling of the cards? or in faith expect still the revealing of his decree that way? or when it is done and past, can they suitably acknowledge him in it? Men dare not look so seriously on these things, yea, they know they dare not.

     4. That way of lotting, which cannot but occasion the wronging of the name of the Lord, and his providence, cannot be right; but this is such: for we must say, that either God's hand is not at all in such things, and so we deny his providence; or we must say that he may be put to it by this common and course way, and that in our sport, and for our pleasure, in his immediate providence to declare his mind; which is a notable baffling (to say so) and profanation of his name; hence it is, that men so often swear, curse, fret, and exclaim in these games at cards, dice, &c. (wherein chance, luck, fortune, &c. are so much looked to, and in a manner deified) and altogether overlook and disregard the majesty of God, as if he had no providence at all in such things.

     5. What is done without warrant of either scripture, precept, or practice, cannot be done in faith. Now, there can be no such warrant drawn from scripture for such plays or games, the very foundation whereof is lottery, and not only accidentally and rarely incident to them, as may be on the matter to other lawful recreations, if that can be called lottery at all, which is rather an undesigned, unexpected surprising incident of providence; whereas, in the other, the decision by a lot is designed, waited for, and all along the game referred unto, and hung upon: yea, it is unsuitable and inconsistent with the scripture-way of using lots, which is always in most grave and important things; but this way of using them is manifestly to abuse them.

     6. That which hath a native tendency to make any ordinance of God vile and contemptible cannot be warrantable: Now, that lotting in these games hath such a tendency to make the ordinance of a lot, and of prayer, which should at least be joined with it, contemptible, is obvious to any serious and impartial considerer of it; neither can it in reason be thought, that that which is in so sacred a manner, and with prayer to God, to be gone about in one thing, and is by him appointed such an end as an oath is, can warrantably be used in a manner, and for ends so vastly different from the former in another thing.

     7. If lots belong at all to this command, then these lotting-games are unlawful; for they cannot, with any religions reason, be supposed to be commanded in it, and therefore they must be forbidden. And if in trivial things lots may be unlawful, much more in such games which end not strife and contentions, but often and ordinarily begin them, and bring them to a height: and therefore do the ancients declaim against this as a sacrificing to devils, and invented by idolaters.

Objections Answered

If it be said here, That these things are thought but very little of by men:

     Answer. It is true, and no great wonder; for most men use but to think little of the breach of this command, yet are their breaches sinful notwithstanding; as many take God's name in their mouth lightly, and think but little of it, and yet that maketh not their doing so cease to be a sin. God hath added this certification here the more peremptorily for that very end, that men may not think little or lightly of the very least breach of this command, to let pass more gross breaches of it.

If it be further objected here, Why may not such plays or games be used as well as other plays, wherein sometimes chance or fortune (as they call it) will cast the balance?

     Answer. (1.) Though in those other, chance may now and then occasionally occur, yet it is but accidental; these are simply, or at least mostly guided by lotting, and immediate providences, and cannot be prevented or made to be otherwise by the best art and skill of men. (2.) In these other games there is an intervention of second causes, and an use of men's parts, natural and moral, for obtaining such an end, ultimate (in some respect) and immediate; as, for example, when men strike a ball with a club, or throw a bowl to a hole, they are guided therein rationally, as they are in coming down a stair; and they act therein, as in other things, by second causes and use of means, whether of body or mind; but in these lotting games it is not so, for all is cast and hung upon extraordinary providence, even as if a man, who cannot, would betake himself to swimming in, or walking upon the water, when another betaketh himself to a bridge or a boat.

     In sum, As lots and oaths are much for one end, to wit, the ending of controversy and strife, Heb. 6.16. Prov. 18.18. so ought the same rules almost to be observed in them both. Then, (1.) Before the lot, we should look to and follow God's call, and depend on him in it. (2.) In the time of lotting, we should act reverently. (3.) After the lot, we should reverence the Lord, and submit to the event of it as to his mind, even though our frame has not been so right: As an oath bindeth, when taken in a lawful matter, though there hath been rashness as to the manner, by virtue of God's name which is interposed; so do lots, because, however we be as to our frame, it is he who decideth as to the event; therefore ought that decision to be looked on as most sacred: God having thought good, beside the general rules in his word, to give evidence of his mind by lots, as to some particular events; and though these games at dice or cards may, in the complete frame of them, require some skill how to manage such throws, or such particular cards when a man hath gotten them; yet that that throw is such, casting up so many blacks and no more, that such a man hath such cards and no other, that is merely by immediate providence, and so must of necessity be a lot; or it is by some other means which would (if assayed) wrong God also very much; and though skill may possibly influence the event as to the upshot of the game, yet, in these throwings or shufflings, there is no skill, or if there be any thing that is accounted art or skill, it is but deceit, seeing the scope is by these to leave it to providence in its decision.

     This doctrine concerning such games was the doctrine of the ancients, who did vehemently inveigh against this sort of lottery, see Cyprian de aleatoribus, who fathereth it on Zabulus, and calleth it the snare of the devil, and compareth it with idolatry, so Ambrose de Tobia, page 590. It was also in some councils condemned, Can. apost. canon. 42. Con. Trull. canon. 50.

     This hath been the constant ordinary judgment of Protestant writers on this command, and some of them have written peculiar treatises to this purpose, particularly Danæus; wherein he proveth that such lottery is unlawful in itself, and most prejudicial to men; this is likewise the doctrine of the schoolmen, though none of the most rigid casuists; yea, it is the doctrine of our own church, these being as unlawful games condemned of old; and of late, to wit, anno 1638 by the General Assembly of Glasgow, according to a former act of an assembly held at Edinburgh, anno 1596.

     Lastly, Consider, for scaring from such games, these two things, (1.) The contrary events that follow most ordinarily on such lottery: strifes and contentions are occasioned, if not caused by them, which are ended by the other, so very different are the events. (2.) Consider that most men who use them fall often into gross profaning of God's name, or into high passions at best.


      An omen, or sign, or token is, When men propose to and resolve with themselves, that if they meet with such and such a thing, they will construct so and so of it, or when they seek it from God for that end: Thus Abraham's servant did, at the well, seek to know the mind of the Lord, and accordingly drew conclusions about it, concerning a wife to his master's son, Gen. 24. So did Jonathan about his assaulting of the Philistines, 1 Sam. 14. So likewise did Gideon about his success against the Midianites, Judges 6. And Mary, for confirmation of her faith, concerning what was told her by the angel, Luke 1.34. This is still to be understood as to some particular fact or event, and not in a common tract, or for the determination of a general truth; as, for example, Mary believed that Christ was to be born, but knew not that she was to be his mother; but Zacharias, John the Baptist's father, did, it seemeth, doubt of God's power, or of the event or truth of what was told to him; and therefore he sinned in seeking a sign, when the other did not. The Philistines sinned most grossly, when they sent back the ark, and did hang the decision of that question, Whether their plagues came from the hand of God, or by chance, upon the motion of the kine. 1 Sam. 6. And it is always a sinful tempting of God, when men, out of mere curiosity from unbelief, or needlessly, put him to give a sign, that they may thereby know his power, will, or wisdom.


     An observation is, when we gather such a thing from such a providence that occurreth without any fore-casting of ours, or determining with ourselves beforehand about it, being a merely surprising unexpected emergent: we shall only say in general, concerning omens and observations, that when they agree not with the word, and our duty revealed and enjoined therein, they are not to be adventured on nor regarded, but utterly slighted, because then certainly they degenerate and become extravagant; neither are they examples of such, who being led by an extraordinary spirit have used them, to be followed by others who have not the same spirit; doubtless it is safe for us to take heed to the more sure word of prophecy, and to follow the unerring rule of the word of God, and not extraordinary examples for which we have no warrant.

     Superstitious observations are not so much about daily occurring providences, which all are obliged piously to mark and improve to the best spiritual advantage, and in the careful marking and suitable improving whereof, there lieth a special piece of spiritual wisdom, more especially of such providences which may, from the Lord, help either to confirm a man in his duty, or deter him from a sin or snare; as they are about some set and marked actions of creatures, and these very feckless and silly too (though I deny not, but that simply they are providences also) which are reputed to be so many fixed rules and canons of natural wisdom, but really instituted spells, or frets, or the devil's rudiments and grammar (to say so), to sink men's minds into atheism. And observations always very superstitious, when we collect and conclude that such and such events, evil or good, will happen to us, or befall us, from such and such occurring works and passages of providence, for which no reason can be drawn either out of the word of God, or out of the course of nature; in a word, for which there is neither scripture-warrant, nor can any natural cause or reason be assigned: as, for instance, to think it is unlucky to meet such and such persons first in the morning (which used to be called an evil foot) for a woman with child to step over a hair tether, for folks to sneeze putting on their shoes, for one to have salt falling towards him on the table (the fear whereof maketh some to suffer no salt to come to their table), to have a hare cross one's way, to burn on the right ear, to bleed some drops of blood, &c. Again, to think that it boadeth good luck for folks to have drink spilt on them, to find old iron, to burn on the left ear, to dream on such and such things, &c. There is a multitude of such frets and superstitious observations which many retain still, and but few without some and free of all; a sin from which it is to be feared the land hath never been thoroughly purged, since it was Pagan, a sin very natural to men, and which hath amongst Christians its observable increase and decrease according to the more or less free course and success of the gospel: All Christians should abhor such frets, as smelling strong of much ignorance of God, of much atheism and paganism.

     Of this sort, or very like them, is folks meeting with such a word in such a sermon, which may have some allusion or seeming answerableness to a case, or particular, formerly dark or doubtful to them, which they take for clearing of them, or deciding of the thing without due examination thereof, according to the true meaning of the scripture, and the analogy of faith. And their having such a place of scripture brought to their mind, or at the first opening of the Bible cast up to them, which they look on as more befitting their condition, and that because so suggested and cast up, without pondering the word itself; and lay more weight on that word on that very account, for solving of such a doubt, and for clearing and determining them as to such a thing, than on any other having the same authority and no less, and it may be much more suitableness to the thing, without any further tender and serious scrutiny, as if that were a special and extraordinary revelation of God's mind to them thereabout; which is a most dangerous practice. And (as we discoursed before on the practical breaches of the second command) is to make a weird or a fortune book of the book of God, which he never appointed for such an end; again I say, a most dangerous practice, and yet too frequently incident to some religious persons, especially in their trouble and difficulty, whereof some stupendous instances might be given, which would fright all from ever daring any more to adventure on such a practice not bottomed on the word itself, which God hath certainly given to his people to be used by them with Christian prudence according to its own principles, and not to be lotted with, or to have their state or condition, or the decision of what they are dark or doubtful about, at hap-hazard cast on it, according to their own groundless fancies and imaginations.


    We come now to the threatening or certification wherewith this command is pressed, The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. In which, three things are contained:

     (1.) The fearfulness and terribleness of the judgment and punishment, whereby the Lord will avenge the breach of this command. (2.) The extent of it as to every particular individual person found guilty, The Lord will not hold him guiltless, him, whoever he be, whatever he be, if there were but one, he shall not escape; and if there be many, not one of them shall be missed or passed by in this reckoning. (3.) There is the peremptoriness and infallible certainty of it, God will not be dissuaded from it, nor will he alter his sentence, but it must and shall stand against him.

     The punishment is implied in that, Not to be holden guiltless, wherein there is more contained than is expressed, implying these three: (1.) That he shall not be forgiven nor absolved, and so shall never enjoy God's favour and friendship, which no man, who hath sinned can, without pardon, enjoy; thus the judgment is negatively to be understood, he shall never enter into heaven, nor see the face of God, if he repent not. (2.) Positively it implieth that he shall be found guilty, and shall be dealt with as a guilty person; that he shall be certainly condemned, shut out from God's presence, and cast into hell, to be there tormented for ever and ever. (3.) Eminently it implieth a very high degree of punishment, that the degree shall be eminent, and that, in respect of other sins, this sin shall have a peculiar weight added unto its curse, and be ranked amongst those sins which shall be, in the justice of God, most severely punished; a particular instance and proof whereof is in hypocrites, whose judgment shall be in hell amongst the sorest; the hypocrite's portion of wrath will be a large portion.

     The peremptoriness is implied in these words, The Lord will not hold him guiltless. The Lord will not, &c. which implieth, (1.) That sinners shall be reckoned with, and judged for sin; in which reckoning this sin shall be especially taken notice of. (2.) That all sinners shall be summoned to appear before the judgment-seat and tribunal of God, and have their particular libel and accusation of their particular sins, wherein this sin shall be particularly taken notice of as a main article. (3.) That there shall be a sentence and doom passed upon the guilty; and that whosoever shall be found guilty of this sin, shall find justice severely passing sentence upon them. (4.) That there shall be a holy, rigid execution of that sentence without mercy, by a high degree of wrath upon all who shall be so sentenced.

If any ask, How this threatening is to be understood? for

     Answer. We should distinguish betwixt such, who, repenting for it, do by faith in Christ make peace with God, and others who continue in it without repentance, and so say, (1.) That it is not to be understood as if the breach of this command were declared to be simply unpardonable to any who shall be guilty of it; for that is neither consistent with the grounds of the gospel, nor with experience, whereby it is found that grace often extendeth itself to the pardoning even of such. (2.) But that is in itself a sin most hateful to God, and a sin that bringeth great wrath on all that are guilty of it, and shall be found to be so, before his judgment-seat. (3.) It saith that all who are guilty of it, while their peace is not made with God through Jesus Christ, yea, in some respect thereafter, should look on themselves as thus highly guilty; and that all who are not pardoned should account themselves to be liable to this stroke of wrath, and to be under this sentence of the law that standeth particularly pronounced against them. (4.) It saith, That men do, by this sin, exceedingly hazard their eternal salvation, and that their repentance is rare, and so likewise their pardon; it being found, in experience, that men, habituated to this sin of taking God's name in vain, do but seldom get repentance. (5.) That, when repentance cometh, and is given, such as are guilty of it will be in an especial manner challenged for it, and found to be, in a high degree, bitter unto them in all their after reflections upon it. (6.) That it will very readily have much influence in marring a man's peace, and obstructing the intimation of God's favour, and the joy of his salvation, even when it is pardoned; as we see in David, who made the name of God to be blasphemed, and was therefore put, Psalm 51. to cry and cry again for the joy of God's salvation; for removing, amongst other reasons, of that scandal. And withal, it bringeth on temporal judgments, as it did on David, 2 Sam. 12. (7.) That when it is pardoned, it will, in the sad remembrance of it, make them loathe themselves, and walk humbly, softly, and in the bitterness of their souls; and withal, to think much of, and to magnify and wonder at grace, that did ever pardon such sinners, as it did Paul who loatheth himself, and highly exalteth grace on this account, That it pardoned him who was a blasphemer.

     As for such who never betake themselves for pardon, nor obtain mercy, it has these effects: (1.) It maketh their conscience liable to the sore and grievous challenge of this sin, and to the plain and sharp threatening that is pronounced against it, which being despised, and God himself much wronged thereby, cannot but bite, nay, gnaw the conscience so much the more. (2.) Justice hath a clear ground to proceed upon against them, not only as sinners in general, but as guilty of this sin in particular, and so, because of it, in a special manner liable to wrath. (3.) An eminent degree of wrath in hell; for as there are different degrees of torment in hell, so this sin, no doubt, will make those who are guilty of it share of torment in a high degree. (4.) That it further hardeneth and incapacitateth for pardon, though not simply, the persons that are guilty of it.

If it be asked, Why this sin is so threatened, and punished even beyond other sins?

     Answer. Because it is accompanied with the most heinous aggravations, and so draweth on the greatest guilt; As, (1.) It is a sin immediately against God himself, and is not, as sins of the second table, nay not as other particular sins of the first table, whereby men divert from God to idolatry, giving to idols what is his due, or turn their back on him, or slight his commanded worship, as in the first, second, and fourth commands; but this doth immediately and directly, and by commission, terminate on God himself most daringly and presumptuously, as it were baffling and affronting him who has made himself known by his name. (2.) It is the fruit, sign, or symptom, yea, and cause of the most gross atheism in the heart, and enmity against God; for it is his enemies' property to take his name in vain, Psalm 139.20. It cannot be in the height, but where atheism is, and the awe of God is not; and where there is much of it, there is proportionably much atheism; it speaketh forth plainly, that there is no right knowledge or faith of his greatness, holiness, power, justice, &c. which would make men fear him, and stand in awe of him: Hence ordinarily those who are gross in this are otherwise gross in many other things; for it fitteth and disposeth for atheism, and it inureth and habituateth a man to contemn and despise God; whereas, on the contrary, if a man make conscience of any thing, it will be of this.

     3. It is that which dishonoureth God most amongst others, and giveth them occasion to blaspheme, as David's sin did, and as those false prophets and seducers, with their followers, are said to do, 2 Pet. 2.1,2.; and, where this prevaileth, all religion is accounted, among such, but as a fancy and nothing, and therefore he will punish it severely.

     4. It is often and most ordinarily the guilt of such as acknowledge God in profession, but in works deny him, and do not worship him as God: It is against light and convictions, yea, and professions of an interest in God; therefore, there is an emphasis here, The name of the Lord thy God.

     5. It is not so of infirmity, as other sins which pleasure or profit may push men on to; there is ordinarily here none of these but either simple atheism, or profane custom, that maketh it so much the worse that it is customary.

     The second reason why the Lord thus threateneth and punisheth that sin is, that he may thereby vindicate his own holiness, and imprint the awe and terribleness of this great and dreadful name, the Lord our God, upon the hearts of all, it being one of the greatest benefits bestowed, or which can be bestowed on men, to wit, the manifestation of the name of God, when it cometh to be abused, (being the abuse of the best thing, and so the greatest abuse) it is the more severely avenged, and thus one way or other the Lord will have his holiness and greatness known amongst all his creatures; and, therefore, whosoever shall think little of his blessed and holy name here, and thereupon baffle and profane it, God shall make them think more of it hereafter, when he riseth up to take vengeance.

     3. He so threateneth and punisheth it, because men take a liberty and latitude in it, in formal praying, rash swearing, jestings, writings, tenets, disputes, plays, by lots, &c. and therefore he putteth the greater stamp of his indignation on it, either to restrain them from that liberty, or to make them smart for it; and men also but very seldom severely punish it, therefore he himself will.

Why Men Take Little Notice of The Third Commandment

     If any should ask the cause, why men do ordinarily take so little notice of this command, and so generally sin against it? I confess it may be at the first wondered at, considering that it has such peremptory threatenings, and is very often followed, even here in this world, and in the sight of men, with shame and visible judgments; and that there is ordinarily no profit, nor credit, nor any such satisfaction to carnal lusts or pleasures to tempt and push on to it as are to other sins; and that yet, notwithstanding all this, men should so frequently sin this way, must be also as wonderful as it is abominable. But we may conceive it to proceed form these causes.

     1. Much atheism, and the little heart-esteem that there is of God and of his majesty; the little faith that there is of his dreadful justice, and severe and peremptory execution of his threatenings; little of these within maketh men careless to be watchful, and what wonder, if this break forth, when in his heart the man saith, There is no God; then this followeth, as is clear, Isa. 37. in Sennacherib, who, when once he saith, Who is the Lord? then he treadeth on his name.

     2. There is a natural pride and stout-heartedness in men against God, flowing from the former, whereby they set their mouth against God, and think it is a piece of bravery not to stand in awe of him; and (as Goliath did) to defy the living God, and to contemn and trample upon all religion and holiness, which appears sooner and more clearly in nothing, than in stout words against the Lord, Mal. 3.13. and in profaning of his name.

     Hence it is to be observed, that where this sin reigneth, there is either a height of desperate security and stupid senselessness, or a devilish gallantry in contemning God and all religion, all prayer and other spiritual exercises, as not becoming pretty men, or men of spirit; as if, forsooth, topping with God, and bidding a defiance to the Almighty, were true knowledge, and the grand proof of a brave and gallant spirit, and of a pretty man! O! what a dreadful length is this that men are come? to say, in effect, Who is the Lord, that I should reverence his name?

     3. The devil, knowing well both these, taketh occasion to stir men up to it, and what be offering occasions of irritation to vent their passion, and what by habituating them to it from custom, and the example of others, whereby keeping them off some other sins, which others may be guilty of, he is in God's righteous judgment permitted to harden them in this.

     4. There may be also something in the nature of this sin, because it doth not ordinarily wrong others externally, or because it may be in a truth, or in profession of duty, or in worship; or because it may be fallen into inadvertently, without forethought or deliberation; therefore the devil hath the greater advantage to drive men on to it, if not by swearing falsely, yet profanely and rashly; if not by God, yet by some creature; or if not so, yet by formal and fruitless discharging of duties, or some other way; and because ordinarily there is no such evil that sticketh thereby to others as to make them resent it, nor no ill meant to themselves, as they, in their proud self-love, do conceit; therefore they are the less afraid of it before, and the less challenged for it afterward.


     Let us make some use of all this in a few words, 1. Then see and gravely consider what sin this is, what wrath it deserveth, how far, and how wide in its guilt it extendeth itself, and what severe reckoning will be for it? O then! what is your hazard, and what will be your sentence when this judgment shall be set, and when the Judge cometh to pronounce it? Tell me who of you will be able to purge yourselves of this guilt? This sentence may and will one day make many of you to tremble, when the Lord will say, Man, thou tookest my name in vain in such a company, at such a play and sport, in such a contest, in such an oath, yea, in such a prayer, &c. Here is your sentence, I will not hold you guiltless, but guilty for this course. This, this is the truth of God, if we believe his word, yea, whether we believe it or not.

     Let me therefore speak two words further to all of you, old and young, godly and profane, rich and poor, &c. O take more notice of this sin, and be more watchful against it, think more of it, and look more to every way it may be fallen into; and by all means study to prevent it; fear to name the great and dreadful name of the Lord our God irreverently; tremble when ye hear it named; and when ye read, hear, pray, or do any duty, as ye would eschew this curse and threatening, and be found guiltless in the day of the Lord, eschew this sin of taking his name in vain.

For helps to this, let me commend unto you,

     1. A serious endeavour to walk under the impression of God's greatness, and to have your heart filled with his awe; if his fear be in the heart, there will be expressions of reverence to his name in the mouth.

     2. Believe, and be persuaded of the reality of this truth concerning the terribleness of the reckoning for this sin, and the fearful judgment that will certainly follow it.

     3. Use and mention his name reverently in prayer, hearing, conference, &c. for habituating ourselves to formality in such duties maketh way ordinarily for more gross violations of this command; and study to be more affected even when narratively ye are telling something wherein his name is mentioned, than otherwise.

     4. Tremble at this sin, and suitably resent it; when ye hear it in others be affected with it, and labour to make them so, that ye may thus train yourselves to an abominating of that evil.

     5. Let it never pass in yourselves, especially without some grave animadversion: Look back on all your life, and see if ye can remember when and where ye were grossly guilty; reflect on your worship, and observe omissions and defects, at least in respect of what ye might have been at, and learn to loathe yourselves for these, and to be in bitterness for them; especially if the escapes have been more late and recent, let them not sleep with you, lest ye be hardened, and the sentence stand in force unrepealed against you. What! will ye sleep, and this word stand in the Bible, on record as a registered decree against you?

     6. Seek for much of the Spirit, for none can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. 12.3.

     7. Frequently and seriously put up that petition to the Lord, Hallowed be thy name, Matth. 6.9.

     The other word of use is for what is past; I am sure, if we could speak of it, and hear it rightly, there is here that which might make us all to tremble, and evidence convincingly to us our hazard, and the necessity of repentance and flying to Christ: Tell me, hearers, believe ye this truth, that there is such hazard from this guilt? tell me, (if ye remember what we spoke in the opening of it) is there any of you that lieth not under the stroke of it? If so, what will ye do? fly ye must to Christ, or lie still; and can there be any secure lying still for but one hour, under God's curse drawn out? O ye atheists, that never trembled at the name of the Lord, and that can take a mouthful of it in your common discourse, and ye who make it your by-word, and mock, or jest; ye whom no oaths can bind; and all ye hypocrites, who turn the pretended honouring of the name of the Lord, and the sanctifying of him in his ordinances into a real profaning of it; let me give you these two charges under certification of a third, (1.) I charge you to repent of this sin, and to fly to Christ for obtaining pardon; haste, haste, haste, the curse is at the door, when the sentence is past already; O sleep not till this be removed. (2.) I charge you to abstain from it in your several relations, all ye parents, masters, magistrates, church-officers, school-masters, and teachers; I charge you to endeavour to prevent this sin in yourselves and others: It is said that the children of many are brought up in it, the most part live in it, our streets are more full of it than the streets of heathens: Advert to this charge, every soul, or, (3.) I charge you to appear before this great and dreadful God, who will not account any such guiltless, and to answer to him for it.

Puritanism and Scottish Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century had many bright and shining lights. Of these, James Durham (16221658), ranks alongside the greatest of his generation for his theological depth, faithful preaching, and particularly for his moderate spirit at a time when such was in scarce supply. He was a leading Scottish Covenanter, minister, professors of divinity, and highly esteemed author in the Reformed tradition. He was known as a very candid and searching preacher who in an instant was in the utmost corners of your bosoms, though with the utmost caution and meekness, without giving any of his hearers the smallest ground to fret and repine at his freedom in dealing with them.

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