Deuteronomy 5:11


1. By Scripture instances (Joshua 7:24; 2 Samuel 12:14; 1 Kings 21:21, 29, etc.).

2. By observation and experience. The case of children suffering in mind, body, character, and fortune, as the result of the sins of parents, is one of the commonest and saddest things in life.

3. Science. The law of heredity. (For illustrations, see Rev. Joseph Cook's 'Lectures.')

4. Literature. Especially do the Greek tragedies give expression to, and strikingly work out, this thought.

II. A FACT MYSTERIOUS, YET TO BE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF VARIOUS RELIEVING CONSIDERATIONS. The difficulty is one of natural, quite as much as of revealed, religion. The following considerations relieve it only in part:

1. Every original disadvantage will be taken into account by the Searcher of hearts in estimating personal responsibility (Luke 13:48).

2. The final judgment on a man's character will turn, not on inherited tendencies, but on what he has made himself by his own moral determinations (Ezekiel 18.).

3. The less favorable conditions in which the sins of parents have placed the individual cannot turn to his ultimate disadvantage if he struggle well and persevere to the end (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on Exodus 20:5).

4. It is open to the evil-doer to cut off the entail of punishment by choosing for himself the way of righteousness (Ezekiel 18:15-18). God is reluctant to contemplate the heritage of evil descending further than the third or fourth generation, while thousands of generations are spoken of in connection with the blessing.

5. Experience of the effects of a parent's evil-doing is designed to act as a deterrent from like sins. The child is less likely to imitate the parents' vices, suffering these results, than if entirely exempt.

6. The Law is the consequence of a constitution of society originally intended for the conveyance, not of evils, but of blessings. This is a consideration of importance as throwing light on the equity, as well as on the goodness, of Divine providence. The design of the organic constitution of society is obviously to hand down to succeeding generations the moral gains of those which precede. It is sin which has wrought the mischief, reversing the operation of a constitution in itself beneficent, and making that which is good work death to so many.

Lesson - The tremendous responsibility of parents, and of all who have it in their power to influence the destinies of posterity. - J.O.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
I. WHAT IS REQUIRED IN IT. This supposes that it is an indispensable duty for us to make mention of the name of God.

II. THE SINS FORBIDDEN IN THIS COMMANDMENT; and accordingly we violate it by not using the name of God in such a way as it is required. This includes in it —

1. The not making any profession of religion, as being afraid or ashamed to own that in which the name of God is so much concerned.

2. Persons take the name of God in vain, when, though they make a profession of religion, yet it is not in such a way as God has required, and this is done by using His attributes, ordinances, or works, in which He makes Himself known, in an unbecoming manner.

3. The name of God is taken in vain by blasphemy, which is a thinking or speaking reproachfully of Him, as though He had no right to the glory that belongs to His name.

4. This commandment is broken by not using religious oaths in a right manner, or by violating them; and, on the other hand, by all sinful and profane oaths and cursing.

5. This commandment is also broken by murmuring, curiously prying into, and misapplying God's decrees or providences, or perverting what He has revealed in His Word, i.e. when we apply things sacred to profane uses, and have not a due regard to the glory of God, which is contained therein.

6. This commandment is further broken by making use of God's name as a charm; as when the writing or pronouncing some name of God is pretended to be an expedient to heal diseases or drive away evil spirits.

7. This commandment is further broken by reviling or opposing God's truth, grace, and ways; whereby we cast contempt on that which is most sacred, and lightly esteem that which He sets such a value on and makes Himself known by.


1. From the consideration of what God is in Himself, as He is the Lord, whose name alone is Jehovah; whereby He puts us in mind of His sovereignty over us, and His undoubted right to obedience from us, and hereby intimates that His excellency should fill us with the greatest reverence and humility, when we think or speak of anything by which He makes Himself known. Moreover, He reveals Himself to His people as their God, that so His greatness should not confound us, or His dread, as an absolute God, whom we have offended, make us despair of being accepted in His sight. Therefore we are to look upon Him as our reconciled God and Father in Christ, which is the highest motive to obedience.

2. The observation of this commandment is further enforced by a threatening denounced against those that break it.

(Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

The "Name of God" meant much more than the mere breathing of an articulate word by which men spoke of Him. It meant God in His reality, in His immanence, in His eternity. To take His name in vain — that is, to no purpose — is to trifle with Omnipotence; it is to treat Him as though He were not. Thou takest His name in vain when thou triest to forget or ignore Him, to live without Him, more defiant than the very devils, to believe yet not to tremble. Observe, there is no menace here. It is the awful statement of an eternal fact. If by godlessness, and disobedience, and hypocrisy thou art taking God's name in vain, thou art guilty; and if responsible, thou must bear the consequences whatever they should be. Being guilty, how can He hold thee guiltless who seeth through all shams and is the very God of truth? But it is too sadly possible to make life itself one long act of taking God's name in vain. Take, by way of illustration, the great world of business with which so many of us are in one way or another connected. Is there a man whose work is scamped work? Is there a man who is engaged in the accursed branch of trade, which sells spirits to drunkards or savages, or the owning of low gin shops, or tenements unfit for human habitation and often let for immoral purposes, or anything which gravitates to the misery of mankind? Is there a man who sweats his workers, defrauds them of their wages, grinds the faces of the poor, excusing himself by custom, treating human beings as though they were mere chattels and implements of trade? Is there a man who has made large sums of money by plausible astute bargains, palmed off under the form of honourable agreement upon the unsophisticated ignorance of non-business men? Well, all such men spend their lives in taking God's name in vain, for they spend their whole lives in conditions which defy the fundamental laws of that Being whom they profess to serve. The Third Commandment is far more searching than this. A man may be utterly respectable, a woman may be perfectly moral, yet both of them guilty of this sin, and what one has called the great slugs of commonplace and cant may be leaving their slimy trails all over their lives. The human being who is rendering no single true and self-denying service to his fellow men, the life that ignores God's essential requirement that we should love our neighbour as ourselves, is a life that He will not hold guiltless — a life that takes His name in vain. Nor does it matter in the least if in the man or in the priest this selfishness turns into the form of some religionism. Not only is that religion no religion which, loving its party more than the Church, goes on to love the Church more than God, and ends by loving itself more than all. Surely then, in conclusion, this is an intensely searching commandment. If we examine it, every one of us may well be afraid lest we, in not any slight or venial manner, but most guiltily, take God's name in yam. Let us search ourselves with candles and see whether by profanity, falsity, malice, sloth, self-indulgence, lust, worldliness, greed, or merely nominal profession, we in our whole lives have hitherto been taking God's name in vain; let us seek forgiveness where alone it can be found.

(Dean Farrar.)

I. Has our CONVERSATION been always such, as that there was never anything dishonourable to His glory, and always everything suited to do Him honour?

1. Has there been nothing dishonourable to God upon our lips? Have we profaned God's name, taking it in our mouths lightly, irreverently, and without design of doing Him honour? Have you never treated irreligiously God's Word, and the truths it contains? And this, whether by disputing against what it saith, or by indecently using the expressions of it? Have you never spoken lightly of God's ordinances, His day, sacraments, His worship, and especially the preaching of the Word, wherein we are most apt to offend because it comes to us through the hands of men? Have you never spoken rashly of God's people; too hastily judging and censuring them; too readily receiving and propagating evil reports concerning them; running them down for their infirmities, and giving a malicious turn to their graces; and so miscalling the profession of Christ? Have you never spoken disrespectfully of God's providence and grace? (Deuteronomy 8:17; Deuteronomy 9:4.) Have you never spoken dishonourably of God's promises?

2. Has our conversation been always not only not dishonourable, but such as in everything was suited to glorify God? Have we always in circumstances required spoken for God? (Psalm 119:46.) Also, when we have been speaking of God, have we always done it with all that reverence which became us towards Him, so as to exalt Him, and express a lively sense upon our hearts of His being that glorious God we say He is?

II. In CONDUCT have you not been guilty of taking God's name in vain?

1. Negatively: has there been nothing in your conduct dishonourable to that Jehovah whose servant you profess yourself to be?(1) Consider your general calling as Christians, have you done nothing dishonourable to the name of Jesus therein? Looking back on your past years can you say, "I am pure from the blood of all men? Have you in no instances, at no time, set before the world an example dishonourable to your Lord? What, did you never show forth any pride, anger, envy, resentment?(2) Besides our general, we have all of us a special calling, and it is peculiarly needful we should all inquire if we have not, by our conduct therein, dishonoured God's holy name. Did you never betray your truth through idleness, vanity, company keeping, desire of man's favour? Did you never pervert it to the ends of pride and vain-glory? Has the world never seen anything in your conduct respecting your calling which has been dishonourable to the Christian name?

2. The positive side. Have we so conducted ourselves always in our general and special calling as might most tend to glorify God's name? The Scripture is express (Matthew 5:16).(1) In our general calling, have we been always shining lights? Was the will of God our rule always, and our only rule? Have we been always examples of faith and heavenly-mindedness, hope and charity, meekness and humility, patience and contentedness, diligence and zeal?(2) Also, in our special callings, have we done all we might for God's glory? Have we been faithful, diligent, cheerful, unwearied, upright day after day ill our Father's work? Have we always said in our hearts, thus and thus shall God be glorified, and has this stirred us up to labour and not to faint?

(S. Walker, B. A.)

I. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN may be advantageously unfolded by considering it as it respects the name and the works of God. The name of God is profaned, that is, treated with irreverence —

1. In perjury or false swearing.

2. When the name of God is used in any light, irreverent manner, the same sin is committed.

3. We are guilty of this sin also when we invoke the name of God lightly and irreverently in prayer, or without that seriousness, humility, and religious awe which are indispensable to the acceptable performance of this duty.

4. A still more heinous transgression of the same nature is using the name of God irreverently in the solemn act of dedicating the soul to Him in the covenant of grace.

5. As this sin respects the works of God, or, in other words, whatever He has done, declared, or instituted, the profaneness, whenever it exists, is exactly the same in its nature, but different in the mode of its existence. In all instances included under that head, it is directed against God immediately; but mediately in those now referred to; the irreverence being pointed immediately against the works themselves, and through them against their author. God is often treated with irreverence —(1) In the works of creation and providence. The works of creation and providence are merely manifestations of their Author. In all of them His character is more or less visible; His wisdom, power, and goodness; His omniscience and immutability. Whenever we complain, murmur, or ridicule them, the ridicule is not against the works themselves, but their Author.(2) The same irreverence is abundantly exercised towards the Word of God. The Scriptures are not infrequently made the object or the means of sport and jesting. The same irreverence is exercised when the Scriptures are neglected. The same irreverence is exercised towards the Scriptures when we do not duly respect their authority. Of the same nature is the contempt, obloquy, and ridicule often east upon the Scriptures.(3) This irreverence is, perhaps, not less exercised towards the institutions or ordinances of God.

II. THE GUILT OF THIS SIN is evident —

1. From the tenour of the command.

2. This sin is an immediate attack on God Himself, and is therefore peculiarly guilty.

3. Profaneness is in most instances a violation of peculiarly clear and peculiarly solemn inducements to our duty.

4. Profaneness is a sin to which there is scarcely any temptation.

5. Profaneness is among the most distinguished means of corrupting our fellow men.

6. Profaneness prevents or destroys all reverence towards God, together with all those religious exercises, and their happy consequences, of which it is the source.


1. Profaneness is eminently the source of corruption to the whole character. Almost all moral attributes and employments operate mutually as causes and effects. Thus irreverence of thought generates profaneness of expression, and profaneness of expression, in its turn, generates irreverence of thoughts. Thus, universally, the mind moves the tongue, and the tongue, again, in its turn, moves the mind. The person who speaks evil will always think evil.

2. Profaneness is a sin which is rapidly progressive. Every act of profaning the name, perfections, works, words, and worship of God, is obviously a presumptuous attack upon this glorious Being. The sinner, having once dared so far, becomes easily more daring; and passes rapidly from one state of wickedness to another, until he becomes finally hardened in rebellion against his Maker. That most necessary fear of God, which is the great restraint upon sinful men, is speedily lost. The sinner is then left without a check upon his wickedness. At the same time the tongue is a most convenient instrument of iniquity, always ready for easy use. We cannot always sin with the hands, and are not always sufficiently gratified by mere sins of thought. The sins of the tongue are perpetrated alike with ease and delight every day, and in every place, where even a solitary individual can be found to listen. Hence transgressions of this kind are multiplied wonderfully.

3. Profaneness, particularly that of the tongue, naturally introduces men to evil companions, and shuts them out from the enjoyment of those who are virtuous.

4. Profaneness exposes men to the terrible denunciation of the text.

1. These observations exhibit in a strong light the depravity of the human heart.

2. These observations teach us the goodness of God in alarming mankind concerning this sin in so solemn a manner.

3. Let me warn all those who hear me to shun profaneness.(1) To this end, fix in your minds a solemn and controlling sense of the evil and danger of this sin. Feel that you will gain nothing here, and lose everything hereafter.(2) Under the influence of these views, keep the evil always at a great distance. Mark the men who are profane; and avoid their company as you would avoid the plague.(3) Carefully avoid mentioning His great name on any except solemn occasions; and in any manner which is not strictly reverential.

4. Let me solemnly admonish the profane persons in this assembly of their guilt and danger.

(T. Dwight, D. D.)


1. The abuse and violation of oaths. The command is clearly violated when we —(1) Swear to the truth of what we either know to be false, or to the falsehood of what we know to be true, or to the truth or falsehood of what we do not know to be either true or false.(2) When we swear to do what we know we cannot do, what we do not intend to do, or what we intend to do, but not in the sense in which we are aware our oath of engagement is understood by those who require it, and for whose assurance it is given.

2. Profanity of speech.

3. Hypocrisy in worship. And this hypocrisy may be either deliberate or thoughtless. All careless, heartless, irreverent worship of God, involves a taking of His name in vain. Is not the Lord's name profaned and taken in vain by every man who calls himself by it and belies his profession by his character — professing that he knows God, while in works he denies Him?

4. Irreverence of heart. The man who can laugh at another taking God's name in vain, virtually takes that name in vain himself.

II. THE GUILT AND DANGER OF THE PROHIBITED SIN. "The Lord will not hold him guiltless," etc.

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

I begin with the precept itself, and there first it will be necessary to show what is meant by the name of God. By this we are to understand —

1. God Himself, His Divine being and essence; for in the holy writings name is put for the person or thing that is named.

2. That which is more strictly and properly called His name, i.e. the title of God or Lord which is given to Him.

3. The properties and attributes of God.

4. His works and actions.

5. His ordinances and worship.

6. His words, i.e. the Holy Scriptures. And in brief, all things appertaining to God. To take (or as the original word more properly signifies), to take up a name, is to mention or rehearse it. Thus the Psalmist saith with relation to false gods and idols, and the sacrifices and oblations which were offered to them, he will not take up their names into his lips (Psalm 16:40, and so in Psalm 50:16).And a name is then said to be taken in vain when it is used in an undue, Unfit, and unlawful manner.

1. This commandment condemns those who question the being and essence of God.

2. By virtue of this commandment all irreverent mentioning of the very title or name of God is vicious. The common using of the name of God or Lord, as is done by most people, the asking of alms in God's name, or Christ's name, as is done by beggars generally, is a profanation of those holy names.

3. Then, this precept of the moral law lets us know that we must not by any irreligious manner of speaking profane the Divine attributes, for these also are meant by the name of God. A near approach to this blasphemy is the common deportment of men; they excessively fear them that can kill the body, but they disregard what the Almighty is able to execute; they do in effect say that the Divine power is inferior to that which is bodily and finite. God's purity and holiness are also blasphemed by those who assert Him to be the author of sin; or who lay their faults upon God Himself, or who maintain that He takes no notice of the sinful miscarriages of the faithful, and is never displeased with them. God's justice is profaned either by men's questioning it, or disputing about the equity of it, or by not expressing a sufficient fear of so terrible an attribute. God's mercy is abused on the one hand by presumptuous boastings of the benefits of it, and on the other hand by words of despondency and despair. God's infinite knowledge and wisdom whereby He directs all things to the best ends, are blasphemously dishonoured, not only by an atheistical disowning of them, but by preferring our own shallow conceits. God's truth and faithfulness are reproached by us, when we doubt of the reality of them, or when we speak unbecomingly of them, as if we gave no credit to the Divine word and promises.

4. The unlawfulness of speaking irreverently concerning God's works and actions (for they likewise are included in His name) is here discovered. First, it is a great sin to disparage the works of God's creation. It is related of Alphonsus, the tenth king of Castile (he that was called the wise, because of his skill in philosophy and astronomy), that he blasphemously bragged that he could have ordered things better in the heavenly bodies than God had. And Plempius, a physician of no mean account, seems to find fault with the structure of the eye, and pretends it might have been amended. Some have lately been so audacious as to blemish the make of the earth, and to represent it in several respects unworthy of its Creator. Others are heard to complain that there are a great number of creatures in the world that are made for no use. But certainly this is a great degree of profanation, because whatsoever God made is the product of His wisdom. Therefore on that very account we ought to believe that it is some ways worthy of Him. Far be it from us then to disparage it. Secondly, it is an equal crime to speak ill of God's work of providence, to find fault with His conduct in the world. And yet this is a very common miscarriage, and sometimes the very best men are incident to it. Job cursed the day of his birth, and impatiently wished for death, and was very much dissatisfied with the afflictive circumstances he was under. David, Jeremiah, Jonah, and some others who have a good character in Scripture, are sometimes heard to murmur at the Divine dispensation; but these were but transient fits, and soon vanished. Those of a profane, spirit retain this temper a long time, yea, indeed, upon all occasions (i.e. whenever their condition is dangerous or calamitous) their speeches discover the inward rancour of their minds, and their hellish disgust of God's dealings with them. But nothing can be more irrational, for as we are creatures we are dependent beings, and subsist by our Creator's bounty, and therefore we are to be wholly at His disposal.

5. So do they likewise who irreverently make their addresses to God in His worship and ordinances, for these are included in His name. How frequently is this commandment broken in men's prayers, whilst they profane this holy duty by rash and impertinent multiplying of words, by using vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7) unbecoming this solemn exercise of devotion! In hearing, likewise as well as praying, men take God's name in vain when they receive the Divine message in a negligent manner, when they do it without attention and reverence, but especially when they take no care to practise what they hear. This is done in fasting and all other external acts of humiliation where there is not a real intention of glorifying God by abandoning their sins and reforming their lives. Then for the sacraments; how many take God's name in vain whilst they celebrate them without a right understanding of what they do, and without a sense of the great work they undertake, and without a desire to reap some spiritual benefit by them.

6. The Word of God, the holy writings of the Old and New Testament, whereby He makes Himself and His will known to mankind, are comprehended under His name, and the profaning of these are taking His name in vain. Again, God's Word is abused by perverting the meaning of it, and wresting it to wrong purposes This is done by all heretics and false teachers. They constantly quote the Bible, but at the same time distort it and make it speak what they please. Lastly, seeing all that is sacred and religious and hath reference to God is expressed by His name, it follows that taking God's name in vain includes actions as well as words, and therefore takes in everything that is done whereby God's name is profaned. In this commandment, then, are forbidden all those actions whereby a dishonour is brought upon our religion, and the name of God is evil spoken of. Thus we see what sins are forbidden in this commandment, you see what vast numbers of men in the world take God's name in vain. And yet the chief transgression of this commandment is yet behind, which I will in the next place distinctly consider; and I purposely defer it till now, that I may discourse of it by itself and give a full account of it. The unlawful using of Gods name in swearing is the more particular, special, and direct breach of this precept of the moral law.This in a more signal manner is taking God's name in vain. First, I will inquire into the true nature of an oath. Secondly, I will inquire what an unlawful oath is, or what that swearing is which is taking God's name in vain.

1. That it is unlawful to swear by any feigned deity or idol; for we must swear by the true God only. But if you ask, how is this properly an oath, seeing here is no swearing by the true God? I answer, there is an invocation of God even in the swearing by idols, for those that swear by these take them to be true gods, or they place them in the room of the true God.

2. To swear by any creature must needs be unlawful, because this part of worship is due only to God.

3. To swear by any gifts and endowments of the body or mind, or by the life and soul of ourselves or others, is utterly unlawful.

4. Seeing an oath is to be used only in some weighty matter, it follows that swearing in common discourse, or upon a trifling account, or rashly and unadvisedly, is unlawful. First, I say, it is highly wicked to swear in our ordinary conversation and discourse, which yet is the reigning vice of this age; for there are great numbers of men everywhere that can scarcely open their mouths without an oath. The only proof of these men's acknowledging such a being as a God, is their swearing by Him. And yet this swearing is a proof that they own no God; for if they did, certainly they would not be customary swearers, and unhallow so sacred a thing as an oath. Secondly, therefore, it cannot but be very criminal to swear upon every trifling account, on every trivial occasion, in every ludicrous matter. In the most foolish occurrences God's name is made use of. Whilst they are at their recreations, in the midst of their jesting, they will not forbear to do this. Thirdly, to swear, though it be in a weighty matter, rashly and unadvisedly, is a great crime. For this being a religious act, it requires deliberation.Fourthly, seeing oaths must be in a lawful matter only, it follows that such oaths as these are absolutely unlawful.

1. To swear things that we know to be false. And accordingly you will find that the Hebrew word "shua" (which with a preposition before it is here rendered "in vain") is the same with "false" (Ezekiel 12:24; Hosea 12:9).

2. To oblige ourselves by oath to do that which is not in our choice and power, is unlawful.

3. An oath which is prejudicial to our neighbour's right is unlawful, because the matter of it is so; for it is against the law of God and man to bind ourselves to anything that we know will prove injurious to another. "Thou shalt swear in judgment" (or justice) "and in righteousness" (Jeremiah 4:2). Therefore to swear to do unjustly cannot be lawful. Lastly, to sum up all, you may conclude that to be an unlawful oath which engages you to commit any sin, anything that is derogatory to God's glory and honour. I proceed now to the third thing I undertook under the negative consideration of this commandment, namely, to endeavour to dissuade from the practice of unlawful swearing, by showing the heinousness of it. And here I will distinctly refer to both the kinds of oaths before mentioned: those used in common conversation, and those that are false and injurious to our neighbours. First, as to those which are used in ordinary discourse, think of it, how high a profanation they are of God's name, which ought to be used with all reverence. It has been well observed that there is no temptation to this vile sin. The corrupt nature of man can allege something for other vices, but the irreverent abusing of God's name hath nothing to tempt men to it. It satisfies no appetite, no vicious affection or inclination, as covetousness, lust, pride, ambition, revenge, etc. Which shows that it is an inexcusable crime, and that nothing can be pleaded for it. To this purpose consider further, that he that swears falsely injures God, his brethren and himself. He is injurious to the first, and that in general, because he profanes that name which ought to be sanctified; and more particularly, because when he appeals to God, and yet swears to a lie, he either imagines that the Divine Being knows not the truth, and so imputes ignorance unto Him to whose eyes all things are naked and open; or he persuades himself that He is not displeased with falsehood, and so he denies His holiness; or else he derogates from His power, and implies that He is not able to be avenged on the liar. Secondly, he is injurious to his neighbours, because hereby all converse is spoilt, or society ruined. Thirdly, a false swearer injures himself, he apparently hazards his own soul; for he binds himself over to the just judgment of the Almighty, yea, he solemnly calls upon God to execute this vengeance upon him. Thus having done with the negative part of this commandment, wherein hath been showed what the sins are which we are to abstain from, I proceed to the affirmative, where I am to show what is enjoined us. And what is it but this? namely, to perform the contrary virtues and duties. That is, we must vigorously assert the being and essence of God; we must reverence His holy name, and more especially when we have occasion to make use of it in lawful and necessary oaths. We must mention God's titles with seriousness and awe. His glorious attributes and perfections are to be discoursed of with reverence; and so are all His actions and works, whether of creation or providence, or redemption. In this commandment is required that we worship God with a due sense of His transcendent majesty, that we decently and solemnly behave ourselves in all parts of Divine adoration, that we celebrate the ordinances and institutions of Christ in a becoming manner, that we be reverent, hearty, and fervent in all our religious addresses, and that we worship God in spirit and in truth.But the main things which are more immediately contained in it are these two —

1. Invocating of God's name by solemn oaths when we are called to it.

2. Performing the oaths we make. First, by virtue of this part of the Decalogue we may, and we ought to, swear on lawful occasions. It requires us to invoke God's name in the way of religious oaths. For these were always a part of religion; whence swearing is sometimes put for God's service and worship, and the open profession of it (Ecclesiastes 9:2; Jeremiah 12:16). In an oath praise and honour are given to God; to His infinite knowledge and wisdom, that He knows what we say; to His holiness, that He loves truth and abhors falsehood; to His power and justice, that He can and will avenge the latter. Thus swearing is a great act of piety and worship, if it be performed as it ought to be. Further to evince the lawfulness of this practice, I will appeal both to Scripture and reason. As to the former, it is evident that swearing is commanded as a duty. In Deuteronomy 6:18 it is not only said, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him"; but "thou shalt swear by His name." If you think yourselves obliged by this text to fear and serve God, you are equally engaged by it to swear by His name, namely, when you are lawfully called to it. This duty likewise is implied in the law (Exodus 22:27, 28). Again, this is grounded not only on positive commands in Scripture, but on the examples and practice of holy men recorded in those sacred writings. They swore themselves, and they caused others to swear. There are abundant instances of the former (Genesis 21:31; Genesis 26:31; Genesis 31:53; Joshua 14:9; 1 Samuel 20:3; 1 Samuel 24:22). The latter is confirmed by several examples, as that in Genesis 24:3. Secondly, not only Scripture but reason obliges us to make use of oaths in a pious and religious way. There are laudable ends of swearing which render it a reasonable service. I have already showed that it is an act of worship towards God, and it is as certain an act of charity and righteousness towards men. For it is sometimes absolutely necessary for discovering the truth, for the detecting of wicked actions, for helping men to recover their rights, and to be instated in what is their own. Oaths are (as the apostle observes, Hebrews 6:16) to be a remedy against disputes, and therefore are of great use in litigious cases. They are sometimes requisite as a badge of loyalty and subjection, and to express our obedience to princes.But notwithstanding this, I am clearly of opinion that these two things are included in the words of our Saviour and the Apostle James —

1. That Christians should as much as possible abstain from swearing.

2. That these professors of the purest religion should attain to such an integrity, such faithfulness and sincerity, that an oath should be altogether unnecessary, and that Christians should be believed and trusted upon their bare words. Thus I have finished the first grand thing contained in the affirmative part of this commandment, namely, using God's holy name in solemn swearing. We are authorised by this precept to have recourse unto religious oaths on lawful occasions. The second great thing enjoined us is this, to perform our oaths, to do according to what we swear. Both the negative and affirmative branches of this commandment are thus represented to us by our Saviour, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself: thou shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths" (Matthew 5:33). This latter is that which I now urge, namely, that we take care, after we have sworn, to act according to that solemn obligation. Let us remember that there is no dallying here. An oath is an engagement of the highest nature imaginable, and therefore it must be a very heinous offence to neglect it, much more to violate it.Whatever we have by this sacred tie bound ourselves to we must punctually observe, unless it be these following cases —

1. Unless it be in a matter that is unlawful in itself.

2. Unless it be of such persons who at the time of their swearing were not sensible of what they did.

3. In some cases an oath is not to be looked upon as obligatory, if it was imposed by mere violence and compulsion, and the party was not left at all to his freedom and choice; for then it is not a voluntary act, and consequently not a moral one, and therefore is of no force.

4. We must faithfully perform what we have sworn, unless the person or persons to whom the oath was made will remit the performance of it. We cannot release ourselves; but if he or they will recede from their right which they have in our engagement, then we are no further engaged.

5. Our oath binds us, unless there was a condition tacitly implied in it. The last thing I undertook to treat of, is the reason of this commandment, "For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."Which contains in it these two things —

1. That God will not clear such a one of the fault; He will not look upon him as a pure, innocent person; He will reckon him a guilty person, one that is a great sinner. This being added to this commandment, and none of the rest, marks out this sin of taking God's name in vain as very heinous.

2. It is more plainly comprehended in this clause that God will not clear such an offender from punishment; He will be avenged on all that are thus guilty. There is a flying roll against swearers in Zechariah 5:4 which is very frightful, for a dreadful curse is written in it: "I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of him that sweareth falsely by My name; and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof." Goods gotten by swearing falsely and by breach of faith are like the leprosy spoken of in the law that infected even the walls of the house; they are the ruin of the family, they are a curse upon whatever is enjoyed or possessed. God will not be mocked, He will take notice of the profanation of His name, and He will not always let impunity be the attendant of it. Which is the purport of St. James's words (James 5:12).

( J. Edwards, D. D..)

Now consider some of the reasons given for swearing, and some of the arguments alleged in its defence.

1. One of the most usual excuses of the common swearer is, that he has got such a habit of it, that he does not know when he offends. This may be said perhaps with equal truth of many other ill habits, but is in fact not the least extenuation of their guilt; it is, indeed, rather an aggravation of it, for to what a degree must we have offended before we become so hardened as not to be sensible whether we offend or not.

2. Another excuse of the common swearer is, that he really means no harm — this is a curious plea; he is daily perhaps insulting his God to His face, and he thinks to atone for it by saying that he means no harm!

3. A third set of swearers are those who profess that they are obliged to it; they say that their oaths are merely intended to procure belief to their assertions, or give importance to their commands, reproofs, and menaces. To say nothing of the reflection which, by such a defence, these persons throw on their own veracity and dignity, it is much to be suspected that the end, which they propose to themselves by the violation of a plain precept of their religion, is not attained. As to the plea — that the orders, the reproofs, or the threats of a person in authority, are more efficacious from being attended with imprecations, it is liable to the same objection which I have just made; when oaths and curses are used on every occasion, they are no more regarded than other words, they are looked on as coming of course, and those to whom they are directed are not influenced by them in any additional degree.

4. I shall conclude with observing that there are many to be met with who would be shocked at the idea of plain, downright swearing, with whom it is yet grown into a custom to approach very near to it; they dare not take the name of their Creator in vain in a direct manner, but show the badness of their intentions by disguising solemn words, till they are less disgusting to the ear, though equally offensive to the judgment. These half-bred reprobates prove that they would be wicked, if they durst; and I know not whether the consciousness of being wrong, which their caution declares, does not augment their criminality.

(G. Haggitt, M. A.)

This command is susceptible of a threefold violation — by sacrilege, by blasphemy, by profanity. Sacrilege is the desecration of things sacred to the Almighty. Blasphemy is the ill-treatment of the person of God. It is the aspersion of His glorious character, it is the denial of His existence, it is the attempt to alienate the affections of His friends from His person and His throne. Blasphemy is committed when His providence is held in contempt, His attributes depreciated, His creation set at nought, His wisdom ridiculed, and His claims treated with scorn. In the exaltation of His glorious person He is far beyond the insults of His creatures. He does not demand our reverence because it would add to HIS glory, but because of the reflex influence on the reverential mind and upon His intelligent creation. To reverence His glorious person is to exalt our own condition. How profound the reverence of Christ for the person of His Divine Father! What feelings of obedience, what entireness of consecration, what unfailing loyalty He displayed! There are three ways in which men profane the name of God — by false oaths, by useless oaths, and by profane oaths. And how many are the evils of this prevalent social vice! It destroys good taste, which naturally belongs to an accomplished gentleman; it is subversive of self-control. He is a slave to his passions who is a slave to his voice. How vast are the motives against this social vice! God has said, "I will not hold him guiltless that taketh My name in vain." This prohibition is benevolence acting by law; it is for man's sake. When the last profane tongue is silent in the grave, and the soul that used it is with the lost, then the glorious God will live surrounded by the highest hierarchy of angels; cherubim will fold their wings in reverence to cover their faces in His presence, and will banquet His ear with songs of praise. While He cannot be personally affected by the language of the profane, yet profanity traduces the soul, wrecks the stamina of oar moral being, corrupts the fountain of life.

(J. P. Newman, D. D.)

The name of an object is that by which we distinguish it from every other object. The name of a person is that by which we distinguish him from any other person. The name may be chosen without any thought of adaptation or fitness. It may be chosen arbitrarily, or it may be descriptive of the person or object. We read that, "Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." The names of persons in the Bible are always significant. Abram, "the lofty father, became Abraham, the father of a great multitude. Jacob, the supplanter," became Israel, "the prince of God." There is unutterable importance attached, then, to the greatest, the Highest Name. Poor savages in their ignorance and superstition have been groaning, "Tell me Thy name." The Greeks and Romans, with their civilisation and culture and learning, were repeating the entreaty, "Tell me Thy name." And today, in Hindooism, with its unnumbered gods, in Buddhism with its dreams, and in other false systems of religion, there is the same sad undertone to be heard, "Tell me Thy name." In agony, in uncertainty, often in despair, the cry is uttered; and what more important question can come from the human heart than this, "What is the name of God?" There is very much, then, said in the Bible about the name of God. His name means His revealed character; it is not a mere title. The word "Highness" may be associated with great moral debasement The word "Majesty" may be associated with meanness. The word "Grace" may be associated with conduct that is ungracious. The title may be a sign of dignity and honour when there is no dignity or honour in the person wearing it. The name of God is not a mere title of honour. Nor does it mean the entire character of God; for there is no name that can reveal it fully. Language is insufficient to reveal man's being fully; after all that is written and spoken, there is much still lying unrevealed. The channels of language are too narrow to hold the overflowing river of human thought and feeling. We may form some conceptions of God, but we cannot call the idea we have of Him, His name, except so far as that idea is in harmony with the revelation. Jehovah is the great name in the Old Testament; Father is the great name in the New. Eternal Being is Eternal Love. "I have declared unto them Thy name." "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me."

1. To take God's name in vain is to use it in confirmation of a falsehood. To take an oath is to declare solemnly that we are in the presence of God, and that He hears our words, and that in our testimony we appeal to Him as the searcher of hearts, and the judge of character. And to make this appeal in confirmation of a falsehood is a terrible crime against God and against society. To think lightly of an oath is to think lightly of God. Lying lips are an abomination unto Him.

2. This is also a warning against all profanity. This sin is not so common now as in olden times. Then a gentleman could hardly speak without uttering an oath; now a profane swearer is excluded from all decent society. It is said that this vice was so prevalent in the days of that he delivered no less than twenty sermons against it, and yet found it too hard for all his reason and rhetoric, till at length he entreated and begged his hearers to leave off that sin, if for no other reason, yet that he might choose another subject.

3. This word also forbids any unmeaning, thoughtless use of the Divine name. "The fear of the Lord" is the common Old Testament expression for true piety. I would rather have the reverence that borders on superstition than the boldness which glides into profaneness or blasphemy. Give me the reverence of Samuel Johnson, who never passed a church without uncovering, rather than the inconsistency of the man who says that all places are equally sacred, and acts as if there were no sacred spot on earth. Give me the solemn awe with which the Puritan spoke of the authority and righteousness of God, rather than the liberty which the religious demagogue takes with the great and holy name. God is jealous of the honour of His name. Every man's good name is dear to him; it is worth more than his property, worth more than his exalted position. And God's name is dear to Him. It was a frequent plea with ancient saints in their supplications for help, "And what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?" Let us "exalt His name together." "Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men. God be thanked for the promise, "From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts."

(James Owen.)

Now, we have five reasons why the name of God should not be taken in vain.

1. It is useless. Did curses ever start a heavy load? Did they ever unravel a tangled skein? Did they ever collect a bad debt? Did they ever accomplish anything? Verily, the swearer is the silliest of all dealers in sin. He sins gratis. He sells his soul for nothing.

2. It is cowardly to swear.

3. To swear is impolite. Can he who leads every sentence with an oath or a curse, wear the name and garb of a gentleman? This reminds me of that incident of Abraham Lincoln, who said to a person sent to him by one of the Senators, and who in conversation uttered an oath: "I thought the Senator had sent me a gentleman. I see I was mistaken. There is the door, and I bid you good day." Profanity indicates low breeding. It detracts from the grace of conversation. It is an evidence of a weak brain and limited ideas.

4. Swearing is wicked. It springs from a mere malignancy of spirit in man against God, because He has forbidden it. As far as the violation of the command of God is concerned, the swearer is equally guilty with the murderer, the unchaste person, the robber, and the liar. Whose is this name which men roll off the lips of blasphemy as though they were speaking of some low vagabond? God! In whose presence the highest and purest seraphim veil their faces, and cry in notes responsive to each other. "Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of Hosts!" Every star in the heavens flashes rebuke into your face; every quivering leaf, every lurid shaft of lightning, every shock of thunder, all the voices of the tempest, the harping angels, and the very scoffing devils rebuke you.

5. Swearing is a dangerous sin. The Third Commandment is the only one in the Decalogue to which is affixed the certainty of punishment. It was a capital offence under the Levitical law (Leviticus 20:10). Profane swearer, whether you think so or not, your oath is a prayer — an appeal to God. Be thankful that your prayer has not been answered. The oaths that you utter may die on the air, but God hears them, and they have an eternal echo.

(M. C. Peters.)

With what the heart is full the mouth runs over. If in men's hearts there is the spirit of the idolator, etc. "Mouth and heart," says the proverb, "are but a span apart." "The heart is the spring, the tongue is the stream."


1. The name of the Lord. There are terms by which we speak of God — the Lord, Almighty, the Son, etc., etc.; terms, also, which remind us of Him, and tell of His power, etc. — the Gospel, etc., the sacrament, Cross, heaven, etc. All such terms we are not to misuse.

2. The command is against swearing. Swearers are to be found everywhere, of every age and condition. The young boy, the old man, grey headed and feeble, etc., who curse about nothing and about everything — in wrath, at work or play, everywhere and in every position. Every street and lane witnesses the transgression of this commandment. How can it go well with any who curse more than they pray?

3. The command is against false swearing — against false oaths. Ill every oath conscience should speak. And it matters not whether the perjury is committed for self or for others, or in company with many, or whether it be in regard to a promise, to allegiance, etc.

4. The command is against needless oaths — men are not to swear about trifles. In common life the rule is "swear not at all." Will none believe you unless your words are clinched by an oath? Shame upon you, then!

5. The command forbids lying or deceiving in God's name; it is against hypocrisy. Every preacher of the Gospel should be penetrated with the spirit of the apostle (Galatians 1:8). Yet there are many who are false prophets (Jeremiah 5:31). They appeal to Scripture against Scripture, and destroy those weak in the faith. Those break this command who misuse the Bible and Bible phrases; who, e.g., mock at the sin of a David and leave his repentance unnoticed; who read the Bible to oppose it — making the Word of Life to become a word of death; who, in common conversation, use as exclamations the name of God, Christ, etc.; who mock among themselves at the Christian faith, and yet in the presence of men approach the table of the Lord. To all such the command says, "The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."


1. Whilst we are not to misuse God's name, at the same time we must not neglect it. What kind of friendship would that be with one whose name is never on our lips? So with the name of God. It must not be used in cursing, etc., but in time of need we must call upon Him.

2. Not only in time of need, however. It were a poor friendship that would lead as to think of our friend only in hours of need. We must "call upon the name of the Lord" in all conditions and circumstances — in joy as in sorrow, in our outgoing and incoming, in our work as in our worship, etc.

3. But we must not only be led to call on God in prayer — at the memory of His goodness and grace, His might and majesty, we should "praise His great and holy name." And whilst those who break this command have their favourite oaths, etc., we shall have our favourite expressions in prayer and praise.

4. It is also oftentimes a sacred duty to praise God, as saw it, to be before his judges when he was asked to curse Christ. "How could I curse my King who has saved me? So for thirty, forty, or fifty years He has followed us with blessing. Is it not our duty openly to praise His name?

5. We should remember also God's name with thankful gratitude. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits." In the world, in heaven and earth, in the history of humanity and of His Church, His praise is written — and in our individual lives. The centuries and millennia proclaim His praise; but so also do yesterday and today — the morning on which you awoke refreshed, and the night which brought you and yours peace and rest (Psalm 92:1, 2).

6. We must thank God for everything, even for the Cross He sends. Thus thanksgiving is often harder than supplication. When we can render both we have learned a noble art. If our life pass in prayer and thanksgiving, then it will follow a true courser and men will see therein how true it is.

"With thy God to begin — with Him to end,

This is the fairest way thy life can tend."

(K. H. Caspari.)

It is apparent how closely connected this third Word is with what has gone before. As if it were said, Jehovah alone is God: this one God Jehovah is to be suitably worshipped; nay, in the use of His name, and in all our transactions with Him, this God Jehovah is to be regarded most reverently. Surely all the knowledge we have of God, supplied to us by His names and titles, His Word and works, is calculated to convince us of His greatness and majesty, and how very worthy He is of fear and reverence from every one of us. This third Word is connected with the preceding also in the reason here assigned. For the shadow of God's jealousy is thrown over this command, as we read that God will not hold guiltless the breakers of it, or that He will not let such pass unpunished. Then, again, the fact that God is in covenant with Israel, and Israel in covenant with God — "Jehovah thy God" — does not make it at all the more becoming that they should take undue liberties with anything connected with Him. Even in this loving fellowship He is ever God, Jehovah thy God, and as such to be reverently regarded. We must make no use of our covenant standing to drag Him down, as it were; or in any way injure, or cause to be injured, His glory, and do Him gross irreverence. That is not how we do with even the friendships and the fellowships of earth. And if anyone, especially a greater than ourselves, have made us his friends, we do not thus abuse the friendship or the fellowship. If we have due regard for our friend we never take advantage of the friendship to do him injury, to treat him with disrespect, or bring him dishonour. In Parliament it is esteemed extremely unbecoming to drag in the name of the king unnecessarily into party debate. Even if no misrepresentation be made it is an unbecoming and irreverent thing to do, and to be rebuked. If that be so as regards the great ones of this world, how much more is it to be the case in the relation of men to the mighty God! How unpardonable is irreverence towards Him, the wanton disregarding of His high and holy position, the tampering with the sacredness of His name, or of anything of His!

(James Matthew, B. D.)

1. It is a sin that points more directly than almost any other against the Supreme Lord of all, the Majesty of the universe. It is a direct affront put upon Him. Would men but think whose name it is they are abusing, by associating His purity with all that is vile, His truth with all that is false, and His greatness with all that is mean, there should no further argument be needed to impress the guilt of the practice upon their minds, and to make "their hearts meditate terror" at the thought of committing the trespass.

2. It is a sin eminently prejudicial to men. The swearer may think otherwise. His words, he may allege, are his own; and the guilt of it, be it what it may, lies with himself. On himself comes all the evil. But no mistake can be more palpable. The example is eminently pernicious, and especially to the young and inexperienced. And such language reduces in society the tone of that first and highest of principles, reverence of God.

3. It may be added further, that of all sins it is the most profitless, that to which, therefore, there is the least of tangible and appreciable temptation — the most "unfruitful" of all the "unfruitful works of darkness."

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The Rev. Professor Lawson, minister of Selkirk, had a medical attendant who used oaths. Dr. Lawson sent for the physician to consult him about his health. Having learned what his symptoms were, the M.D. exclaimed (with an oath), "You give up that vile habit of snuffing; unless you give it up (oath), you'll never recover." "It's rather a costly habit," replied Dr. Lawson, "and if it is injuring me, I must abandon it. But you, too, my dear doctor, cherish a bad habit — that of swearing — and it would comfort your friends much were you to give it up." "It's not a costly habit like yours," rejoined the physician. "Very costly, indeed, you'll find it," said the professor, "when you receive the account."

Profaneness is a mean vice. According to general estimation he who repays kindness with contumely, he who abuses his friend and benefactor, is deemed pitiful and wretched. And yet, oh profane man! whose name is it you handle so lightly? It is that of your best Benefactor!

(J. Chapin.)

Profaneness is an unmanly and silly vice. It certainly is not a grace in conversation, and it adds no strength to it. There is no organic symmetry in the narrative that is ingrained with oaths; and the blasphemy that bolsters an opinion does not make it any more correct. Our mother English has variety enough to make a story sparkle, and to give point to wit; it has toughness enough and vehemence enough to furnish sinews for a debate and to drive home conviction, without degrading the holy epithets of Jehovah. Nay, the use of those expletives argues a limited range of ideas, and a consciousness of being on the wrong side. And, if we can find no other phrases through which to vent our choking passion, we had better repress that passion.

(J. Chapin.)

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