Recorded in Exodus, chapter 20, and Deuteronomy, chapter 7, are these words:
And God spoke all these words, saying, ““You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
From the Shorter Catechism come these two questions and answers:
Q. 53. Which is the third commandment?
A. The third commandment is, 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.
Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works.
From the Larger Catechism come these two questions and answers:
Question 112: What is required in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment requires, that the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and: Whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holy and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.
Question 113: What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
Answer: 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 quarreling 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 anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or anywise 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.
As we read and write about the Ten Commandments in these Diligent discussions, I think it is useful for us to reflect upon the Catechisms. I really don’t just cut and paste these questions and answers to boost my word count so as to distress the editors. For those of us that don’t spend much time studying the Catechisms, they were written by church leaders in England in the 1600s and were for the purpose of stating church doctrine as part of the ongoing Reformation. As the naming convention and the foregoing excerpts indicate, the Shorter Catechism was (is) intended to be more concise, and easier to understand. The Longer is intended to be more complete and exact in its wordings.
On the face of it, the Third Commandment is simple: God is Holy, even His Name is Holy. We are not supposed to think about or talk about God in any fashion that does not respect His Holiness. This seems clear. It should be easy to do. But violation of this Commandment is all around us constantly. Such is the work of the evil one, reduce God to a casual irreverence in our culture and language lets darkness flourish. (Note to smartphone users: When you receive messages from friends who exclaim by typing “omg” you should be grossly offended. If you are not, be repentant: examine your heart and talk to God about it. If you are, be thankful: this what is known as a “witnessing opportunity”.)
I had a fraternity brother at Clemson who, when hearing someone take the Lord’s Name in vain, would always reply, “call on someone you know”. A good sobering thought that, I think.
As we reach further in our efforts to know God more fully, it is useful for us to struggle with the study of the law as aided by the catechism, but never should do focus so much on the law we forget Grace.
The Third Commandment reminds us that no one is guiltless who violates the law. Study of the law reminds us how often and carelessly we violate the law. Our risen Savior reminds us we do not stand condemned by the law, the separation between God and us has been bridged, and given the joyful anticipation of the day when our worship will be fully satisfying and appropriate to God in His Holiness.