Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
There is No Escape from God for Blasphemers
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
Today’s article comes from Question 114 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What reasons are annexed to the third commandment?” It gives the answer, “The reasons annexed to the third commandment, in these words, [The Lord thy God], and, [For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain], are because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment, albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men.” Last week we looked at the sin of hypocrisy. This week we consider how there is no escape from God’s judgment for those who take His name in vain.
The Catechism notes four commandments where God annexes (or attaches) reasons to them in order to better enforce them. Consider just that fact for a moment: that almighty God, the Lord of the universe, the Maker of all that is, would condescend to sinful human beings, to not only give to them His perfect rule of righteousness in the form of ten commands, but then, within forty percent of those laws, to provide a further reason for us to obey them! When God speaks all the world should obey, immediately and without question; for God is so honorable and so good, and we are so dependent upon Him for everything. Yet God knows our frame. He is aware of our weaknesses. So He gives us additional reasons to obey Him. Sometimes these reasons come in the form of a promise, as Lord willing we will see in the fifth commandment, sometimes they come as an explanation, as in the fourth commandment, and sometimes they come as a threat, as we find here in the third commandment.
The commandment is: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” The reason God gives as to why we should keep this commandment is: “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” God will not hold him guiltless means God will hold him guilty! Of all the reasons that God could have given as a further incentive for sinful men to keep this commandment, why does God emphasize the fact that he will surely punish those who break it? Now the obvious answer as to why God chose this reason rather than some other one is because God in His infinite wisdom knows that this is the reason we most need to be given to us. So God chose to give us this reason because it is the best reason to give. But why is that the case? Because of all of the commandments on this list, taking God’s name in vain is without a doubt the one the natural man is least of all concerned to keep.
We can all see the necessity of obvious moral prohibitions against murder, stealing, and the like; and the good effect such laws have on a society. Furthermore, most people realize that being jealous or covetous is harmful and undesirable, children should listen to their parents, having a day of rest is useful, bowing down to wood and stone is silly, etc., but how many people see any good coming from honoring God’s name? I mean, seriously, what harm can possibly come from someone exclaiming “Oh my God,” in a moment of happiness, or colorfully ascribing holiness to cows or smoke when surprised? “After all,” it will be claimed, “It’s only an expression. I didn’t mean anything by it.” I’m convinced that is the universal self-justification whenever someone is accused of breaking this command: “I didn’t mean anything by it.” That is the very sentence that everyone who stands before God thinks will get them off “not guilty” when confronted with this transgression. People all think that God will hold them guiltless for taking His name in vain. And thus God assures us, He swears to us as it were in a holy oath, “I will most assuredly NOT hold him guiltless who takes My holy name in vain.” Consider: not meaning anything by it IS the definition of taking God’s name in vain! Claiming this as a defense against breaking the third commandment is like saying “I murdered him,” as a defense when accused of breaking the sixth! It is not a defense but a confession of guilt. And here God reminds us that even though we think taking God’s name in vain is no big deal, God does not agree. And so for all who think God doesn’t care about His holy name being taken in vain, God offers this much needed warning that oh yes He does! May God grant us the grace to hear and to heed this truly generous warning, so that we will not take His name in vain and incur His holy wrath!