Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Third Commandment and God's Name

Q. 53: Which is the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment is, 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.

Q. 54: What is required in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment requireth the holy and reverend use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.

Q. 55: What is forbidden in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.

Q. 56: What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
Answer: The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment. (WSC)

The first commandment specifies the object of worship and religious allegiance (God alone), the second commandment specifies the means of worship (only as God has prescribed, not by images), and the third commandment specifies the manner of worship, that we worship God with sincerity and holy reverence.

The third commandment forbids taking God’s name in vain, and therefore implies that we must use his name in a holy and reverent manner. Rather than using his name lightly or profanely, we must use it in a weighty manner as a holy thing.

And as the Shorter Catechism notes, the principle here refers to more than the use of a word or phrase, such as “Jehovah,” “the LORD,” “I Am,” or “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It also refers to “anything whereby God maketh himself known.” For example, the book of Malachi makes a strong connection between God’s name and his worship, word, and ordinances. The priests and people had despised God's name by treating these holy things with contempt. Jesus rebukes the vain oaths the scribes and Pharisees used by pointing out the connection between God and his altar and temple (Matt. 23:16-22). They had profaned God’s name when they had sworn by his altar and temple in vain.

Therefore, this commandment requires that we speak of God in a reverent manner. It requires us to hear and read his word attentively and reverently. It requires us to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. It requires us to remember our baptisms and to remember that we bear God’s name and ought not to profane it by living in a manner contrary to it. A false and empty profession of faith is an instance of taking God’s name in vain. This commandment requires us to pray with sincerity and honesty, and to not pray mindlessly or to show off before others (Matt. 6:5-13). It requires us to be careful in our use of oaths and vows, to swear only by God, to do so reverently, and to assert nothing but what we are fully persuaded is the truth and to bind ourselves only to what is good and just and what we are able and resolved to perform. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:12).

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