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The Signs of the Times, vol. 13

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    August 11, 1887

    “The Third Commandment” The Signs of the Times 13, 31, pp. 487, 488.

    “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 name of God is holy and must not be used lightly, profanely, nor vainly. Often in the Scriptures the direction is given, “Neither shalt thou profane my holy name.” The word profane means to make common. The name of God is not to be used in a way, nor with a frequency, that will make it to us as a common word or name. To use that holy name unnecessarily is to use it vainly, and is transgression of the commandment. To speak it in a connection, or with a frequency, that will detract from the reverence that becomes that sacred name, is to take the name of the Lord in vain, and is sin. The word reverend is used but once in the Bible and then with sole reference to that holy name, saying, “Holy and reverend is his name.” Psalm 111:9. And his express will is “that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD.” Deuteronomy 28:58.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.1

    In view of this it is certain that the practice of relating anecdotes, or of inventing or repeating witticisms, in which the name of the Lord is used, is transgression of this commandment, and therefore is sin. Whether those who do such things mean wrong by it, is not the question. It is wrong whether they mean it so or not. It is sin in itself. Its tendency is to reduce to the level of common things the name of “the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy;” and it makes that “glorious and fearful name” to be the butt of the silly pleasantries and would-be witticisms of the profane lips of irreverent men. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.2

    Nor is the transgression of this commandment confined to those who make no pretension to godliness. It is often broken by professed Christians, and that too in their prayers. We have heard people pray, by whom almost every sentence was introduced with the name of the Lord. In fact, in some instances about the only use of that name in their prayers, after the first personal address, seemed to be simply as a catch-word, and was in every sense of the word taking the name of the Lord in vain. Its use, in such cases, is purposeless so far as any idea of reverence, or any just conception of the holiness of the holy name, is concerned. Such a practice is a violation of the third commandment, and such prayers are sinful. The practice is plainly forbidden by the Saviour in his instructions on the subject of prayer: “When ye pray, use not vain repetitions.” Matthew 6:7. And to use the name of the Lord at the beginning of every sentence, or of every alternate sentence, is nothing else than “vain repetition,” and is sin.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.3

    We do not say that every repetition of the name is vain, nor that to repeat the name more than once in a prayer of considerable length and fervency would be sinful, because such a thing might be done with becoming reverence. In Jacob’s prayer when he was “greatly afraid and distressed” because of his fear of Esau, the name of God is not used at all after the address to him at the beginning. Genesis 32:6-12. It is so also in the prayer of Abraham’s servant. Genesis 24:12-14. In Solomon’s long prayer at the dedication of the temple the name of the Lord is only used ten times. 2 Chronicles 6:14-42. In the prayer of Moses which occupies the whole of the ninetieth psalm—seventeen verses—the name is used but four times. In David’s deeply penitential prayer—the fifty-first psalm—he uses the holy name but seven times. In Ezra’s most sorrowful prayer the name is used but nine times. Ezra 9:6-15. In the longest prayer in the Bible the sacred name is used only seven times. Nehemiah 9:6-38. In Daniel’s prayer of thanks for the secret of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he used the name but twice. Daniel 2:20-23. The prayer in which that name is used the most of any in the Bible is Daniel’s of the ninth chapter, when he was earnestly pleading for an understanding of the word of the Lord—a prayer that ended in a holy vision with the angel Gabriel talking to him. There the name is used seventeen times.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.4

    Now we believe it a perfectly safe rule to follow, that unless our prayers shall exceed these both in length and fervency, the name of the Lord should not be used more than it is in these. In fact, the model which the Saviour gave does not use the holy name at all except in the form of address, “Our Father, which art in Heaven,” and then says, “hallowed be thy name.” Matthew 6:9-13. We are sure that this means something in this connection, especially as it is given immediately after the command to “use not vain repetitions.” Oh, that those who pray would heed these words, and really learn to fear “this glorious and fearful name, The Lord thy God”! Nor is this wish confined to those who pray, while they are praying. We would that these words might be heeded by those who preach as well as pray, and be heeded while they are preaching. Time and again have we been pained by the light, frivolous, and irreverent use of this holy name by preachers, even in the pulpit. We heard one “evangelical” minister in the presence of a house full of people use that name in a way which, if used by anyone else out of the pulpit, would be set down at once as outright profanity. Sacred names were used glibly, in a way in which we should not dare to write them even in giving an account of it. There is more depth of sacred meaning in that third commandment than half of even professed Christians have ever dreamed of. “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.”SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.5

    Nor yet does the commandment stop with forbidding the vain use of that name itself. The commandments of God are “exceeding broad.” The commandment not only forbids the overt act of transgression, but it forbids everything which in its nature would lead to the overt act of transgression. Thus the Saviour magnified the law of God. On the subject of this commandment, he said: “Ye have heard that it hath been said to the of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne; not by the earth; for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shal thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Matthew 5:33-37.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.6

    This at once and forever forbids all manner of by-words, and every form of extravagant expression confirmation of our plain statement. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. That is the truth. Whether you mean evil by it or not does not enter into the question at all. It is evil whether you mean it so or not. It cometh of evil, and is evil in itself. If to make your word acceptable to your neighbor, you require more than your plain, unvarnished statement, then you have taken the first step in the course which leads inevitably to the taking of the name of God in vain; it is the first step in that evil way which ends in the open transgression of the commandment of God. The whole way is evil, do not walk in it; the first step cometh of evil, therefore do not take it. “Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” James 5:12. Therefore all by-words, all extravagant expressions in confirmation of our plain word, “whatsoever” is more than yes, or no, is a transgression of the third commandment, and therefore is sin. It “cometh of evil,” and whoever does it will surely “fall into condemnation.” Whosoever has done it is in condemnation, and can only be released by the faith of Christ and the merit of his precious blood.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.7

    There is nothing in this, however, that should be construed into the prohibition of the judicial oath. Civil government is of God and to promise to civil government, in other words to the whole body of civil society, in response to the just demand of the body politic, that with the help of God you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is not forbidden by the word of God. The Saviour “held his peace” until the high priest in his official capacity put him on his oath, saying, “I adjure thee [to charge on oath] by the living God” (Geikie translates it, “I put you on your oath by the living God); then Jesus answered. The example of Christ therefore is in favor of the judicial oath. But both his example and his word are against all other oaths.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.8

    Another view of this subject is given in Ecclesiastes 5:2-6: “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.... When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error; wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?” To vow a vow unto God and not to pay it is to take the name of the Lord in vain. In the one hundred and seventh psalm David shows how this is often done. Men will wander in the wilderness, and get hungry and thirsty, and their soul faints in them—they nearly perish, and suppose they are really going to perish—then they cry unto the Lord, and make confession, and strong promises of service to him if only they should be allowed to live; the Lord hears them and delivers them, then they will be very sober and exemplary for a little while, then they go back to their old ways and are as bad as ever. Or they may be seized with sickness, and draw near to the gates of death; or perchance go down to the sea in ships, a storm rises, and they think they are about to be swallowed up; then they will pray, and call loudly unto God, and he hears and delivers them, raises them up from the bed of languishing, or brings them unto their desired haven, they appear very pious for a little while and then it is all forgotten—by them. But it is not forgotten by the Lord. Such doing is taking the name of the Lord in vain and is sin, and in the day when he visits he will visit their sin upon them, except indeed they shall show genuine repentance and amendment of life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet we are all ever ready to form good resolutions, and make vows and promises to God, when we are in trouble. And that is all right. God many times suffers us to get into straits so that we may see ourselves and awake to our real relationship to him. It is right for us to make good resolutions, and vows, and promises to God. The wrong is in not sticking to the resolutions and not keeping the promises, nor paying the vows. David said: “I will go into thy house with burnt-offering; I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.” Psalm 66:13, 14. David was just like all the rest of us when he got into trouble, he made vows and promises and prayers, but he was also unlike the great majority in that he stuck to them when he got out. When he got out of trouble he paid to God the vows that he had made when he was in trouble.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.9

    Others there are who make vows to God at other times than when they are in trouble. They go to church; they hear an earnest presentation of the needs of the cause of God, and under the good influences of the Spirit of God they will vow to the Lord that if only he will enable them to secure the means they will make a donation of perhaps $500, or $1,000, or $2,000, or $5,000, or may be more. The Lord puts the money into their hands, and they keep the last cent of it, and let their vow go with the breath that uttered it, and so take the name of the Lord in vain, and live on in the sin of it, and think they are doing God service. “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.” Deuteronomy 23:21-23.SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.10

    “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.” “That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD.” “Wherefore ... let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.”SITI August 11, 1887, page 487.11