How You Say God’s Name Shows What You Think of Him
It’s always an interesting start to the day when I get to talk about vain janglings. Of the many unique things we come across in the Larger Catechism some of my favorites are the older words and ways used to describe particular violations of the law of God. They provide an opportunity for us to consider first of all, what they might be, and also remind of us of how seriously our forefathers in the faith took everything that they did. Kind of like the long list of names at the opening of 1 Chronicles can move us to boredom, it can be the case that when our WLC gets into the minute examples of the ways we can break the commandment we have a tendency to allow the particularity of it to make us think these guys were at best overly scrupulous and at worst that dreaded of all insults, Pharisees. Yet, their care and love and desire for all of us to be holy as our Lord is holy really shines through at these times. Their peculiarity on these matters actually has the effect of condemning, in my mind, our laxness in taking the totality of Christ’s call to obedience in faith with seriousness. In other words maybe the problem isn’t the Puritans after all.
Noting the fullness of the questions and answers this week on the third portion of the summary of the moral law let us go ahead and strike while the iron is hot.
Here they are:
Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or any thing contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
Q. 114. What reasons are annexed to the third commandment?
A. 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.
I am not generally the place to go to better understand the English language, however, the use of semi-colons in Q.113 can be helpful as we think about the categories covered by the third commandment. We open with a clear reminder as to what is understood by the law. Names are important for more than just ways to differentiate between one person and another. Names express virtues, place, and communicate our nature. When we as believers use the name God in our speech we are saying something about our relationship to the Triune One. God is a cry in itself. Whether it be used in prayer, proclamation, singing, or whatever the circumstance we are expressing our reliance upon Him. That is why we are to be very careful about how we use His name. To loosely say it is to make light of the gospel. That’s why we correct young children who through hearing the example of so much media and parental conversation just blurt it out when they are mad. It’s why even unbelievers have been culturally conditioned to speak an Oh My Gosh rather than the other option. However, something our catechism helps us to see more clearly is that even that “hidden” way is sin in itself.
We all know what we mean, and so does the Lord.
Likewise the same stress should be put on the second person of the Trinity. We are to never shorten His name in a way that rhymes with steeze. He deserves more than our hasty jesting. The reason why the catechism lists so many violations is that we are often most careless with our words. The apostle James notes, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. ”. (James 1:26). Again, we hear stuff like that and our souls feel the weight of it, both in our own transgressions and how far we individually need to go to cease from talking like that. As Christians that is a good thing. It means the law is doing its designed work. Our being convicted is a positive sign of a work of the Spirit. The commandments drive us to our Savior, both in our seeking forgiveness of sin and in our being reminded that He alone is able to fulfill the law perfectly. That doesn’t mean we sin so that grace might abound or just kind of give up and let antinomianism reign in our mind, but what it does communicate to us is that our meditating on what the law requires grows us in faith and trust, and shows us the wisdom of why God has called us to honor His name in all ways.
In closing, one other matter to consider in the third commandment is this call in Q.113 to be told again that the Lord does not miss or forget those violations which have to deal with His very person and work. Just because it seems like this (and in some ways all of the first table) word is spiritual in a way that the second table is not (i.e. – stealing is easier to understand than blaspheming in a sense) does not mean we should place stress on Christ’s forbearance. In fact our diligence to be sanctified in this matter should be even stronger for what we are being conformed for into the image of the Son. Watch your mouth, for it expresses your heart.
One more word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church