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EXODUS, xx. 7. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy
God in vain ; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that tuketh his name in vain.
The four commandments which compose the first table of the law delivered by God to Moses, proceed in that wise order that properly describes every duty and respect we owe to the divine Being. In the first, we are taught that there is but one true God, and that Him only we must serve. The second guards us against indulging profane faucies or vain superstitions as to the image or likeness of this glorious and invisible Spirit, whom no man hath seen, or can see, while in the body; and by which our worship will be kept more pure and deserving of him. In the third, he gives an additional solemnity to his holy nature, by forbidding any improper use even of his name : Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: and (as in the former commandment) he confirms the heinousness of this sin, by a positive threatening of judgment against all who are boldly guilty of it: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain ; that is, however men may disregard the consequence of this evil habit, God will most certainly punish those who wantonly or carelessly persist in this profaneness.
It would argue a very indifferent opinion of any man's understanding, to suppose he did not clearly perceive, that this commandment was expressly delivered against the useless, wicked, and dangerous practice of common swearing. Even in the earliest times it seems to have been a vice to which the depravity of human nature exposed mankind.
Vows and engagements have been universally confirmed by solemn oaths; and, to give weight to those marks of men's intentions to enter into any serious covenant with each other, they have been accustomed to call upon the higher powers to witness the sincerity of their designs. This is the origin of all swearing. The heathen nations called upon those gods whom their superstition, and ignorance of the truth, supposed to be the ruling powers over nature, and as the highest beings to whom they could appeal, to sanction their declaration. And when the light and knowledge of the one true God was increasing among men, it is natural to suppose the custom of binding solemn treaties, would receive additional force by calling upon the Supreme Being to attest the purity of intention in the parties. It is natural, I say, that men should shift their appeal from dumb idols to the living God, who, having made man, knoweth the heart.
But as God knew the deceitfulness, weakness, and wickedness of the creature, and that, by a too common use of calling upon him in this way, his holy name would be often abused, to the most unworthy ends, by those who had not his fear before their eyes, he appointed, for the honour due unto himself, and the prevention of all profaneness and treachery among men, that they should most cautiously observe this law; we will, therefore, now take a more particular view of the commandment,
1. By considering its general design : 2. By entering more closely into the various methods of breaking it, or (in the words of the commandment) of taking God's name in vain : 3. By instancing on what occasions God's name may be innocently made use of by us : and, lastly, By admonishing you to notice the punishment threatened to such as improperly employ the name of the Most High.
The principal end of this law is the securing that honour we ought to pay to God, by a reverent esteem of whatever relates to him; ,for by the name of God we are clearly to understand GOD HIMSELF, and whatever has any immediate connexion with him. When the Psalmist exhorts the mighty to give glory unto God, he speaks thus : (Psalm xxix. 2,) Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his NAME. And in Deuteronomy, xxviii. 58, the Lord, speaking by his servant Moses, among the grievous plagues he threatens to the people for their disobedience, particularly warns them of the respect due to this commandment, in these very awful words : If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name (THE LORD thy God); then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful.
By a too familiar use of any expression, people naturally lose sight of the weight and importance it was intended to convey, and thus is it with the respect due to the name of God. The spirit of the commandment, therefore, clearly confirms the sanctity of the end that may be answered by the use of this holy name. It is a security for the belief of the most solemn truths. Under the just idea of a religious conviction of the omnipresence and omniscience of the Deity, by invoking him as a witness, we afford the utmost possible confirmation of any fact that is known only to the person that asserts it, or that Being who searchs the secrets of
the heart. In a business of such serious concern God's honour cannot be too sufficiently guarded; and with this design, doubtless, this command was delivered.
It behoves us, then, in the next place, to examine when and how we may be accounted guilty of taking God's name in vain : and this may be done when we mention him, or any thing that belongs to him, rashly or irreverently, or in any way that is not suitable to his divine honour and majesty, nor becoming that submission we ought on all occasions to show to his sovereign power and authority over us. It is recorded of some of the wisest and best of men, persons famous in the history of our own nation, that they never mentioned the name of the Most High, without making a pause before it. These were men deeply versed in the works of nature, and the constitution of the human mind; and therefore their example argues powerfully what a just sense they had of the awful majesty of the Almighty; for they judged most truly that his name could not be too much honoured, at whose presence the very earth and heavens tremble. And it certainly is a mark of no less ignorance and vulgarity, than profaneness, in all who trespass against this coma mandment, as many do; and truly shocking is it, that the name of God is continually blasphemed, as he complains by his Prophet Isaiah