THE SECOND COMMANDMENT.
Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain.
Precisely as the first commandment instructs our hearts and inculcates faith, so this commandment conducts us, and directs our lips and tongues toward God. For the first, which proceeds from the heart and exhibits itself, is language. Now, as I have given instruction above how to answer, what it is to have a God: so you must likewise learn to comprehend in a simple manner the meaning of this and all commandments, and to recite them. When it is asked:– How do you understand the second commandment, or what is meant by a vain use or misapplication of God's name? Answer in the most brief manner thus;– This is misusing the name of God, when any one mentions God the Lord, in whatever manner it may occur, for the confirmation or defence of falsehood or any other species of vice. Therefore, so much is commanded, in order that no one may repeat the name of God with levity, or take it in his lips, when the heart is at the same time, or at least should be conscious of the opposite; for instance, among those who make oath before a court of justice, and one party bears false witness against the other. For there is no way in which the name of God can be more misused, than in falsifying and deceiving by it. Let this be considered the plain and simple meaning of this commandment.
From this every one can easily calculate for himself when and how variously the name of God is misused, although it is impossible to enumerate all the abuses; let it however be briefly said that the divine name is abused, first, in political transactions and secular matters, which concern pecuniary interests, property and honors, whether it be publicly before court, in the market, or some other place, in which persons swear or make false oath by the name of God, or appeal to their souls to sustain the matter. And especially is this customary in matrimonial affairs, where two associate and privately betroth themselves to each other, and afterwards deny with an oath the effiance. But most of all does this abuse occur in spiritual matters which concern the conscience, when false preachers arise and deliver their lying errors for the Word of God.
Behold, all this is decorating one's self with the name of God, or it is a desire to be fair and righteous, whether it happens in ordinary secular transactions, or in high subtle matters of faith and doctrine. And slanderers also belong to the class of liars, not only the most rude, who are well known to every one, and who without fear disgrace the name of God, (who belong not to our school, but to that of the executioner,) but also those, who blaspheme the truth and Word of God, and impudently affirm that it is of the devil: concerning these persons it is not necessary at present further to speak.
Here then, let us learn and take to heart how much depends on this commandment, so that we may with all diligence guard ourselves against, and dread every kind of abuse of the divine name as the greatest sin which can be externally committed. For lying and deceiving, are in themselves great sins; but they become much more weighty when men wish to justify them, and refer to the name of God to confirm them, and make it a pretext for turpitude, so that from one lie, a twofold falsehood, yes, a series of falsehoods, results.
God has, for this reason, annexed also to this commandment a solemn threat, which reads thus: "For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." That is, it shall not be allowed in any one, nor passed by with impunity. For as little as God will leave unavenged, the turning away of our hearts from him, so little will he suffer us to use his name as a disguise for falsehood. But alas! it is a general misfortune in the world, that, few as there are who cordially rely on God alone, there are equally few who do not use the name of God for defending falsehood and all manner of wickedness.
For this disingenuous propensity we all possess by nature, that, whoever has committed a crime, ardently desires to disguise and conceal his disgrace; and there is no one so audacious as to boast in presence of any one of the crime which he has perpetrated: all would rather have it kept concealed than to have it known. For if you charge a person with something of this kind, he will abuse the name of God, by representing his villany as piety, his disgrace as an honor. This is the common course of the world, like a great deluge overflowing every region of country. Therefore we have as reward that which we seek and deserve, pestilence, wars, famines, destructive fires and inundations, impious wives, children, and domestics, and all kinds of evil. From what other source should so much calamity originate? It is still a great favor that the earth supports and nourishes us.
It is therefore, above all things, necessary to train up and accustom young people to hold high in their estimation this commandment and others, and if they transgress, they should immediately be checked, the commandment should be presented to them, and continually be impressed, in order that they may be reared up, not only by chastisement, but also in fear and reverence to God.
Thus you perceive then, what an abuse of the divine name is; namely, (in order to a brief recapitulation,) to use it either simply in defence of falsehood, and in publishing any thing which is not true, or in cursing, swearing, deceiving, and in short, in whatever manner a person may desire to commit evil. it is necessary, moreover, for you to know how the name of God may be used correctly; for by these words, which he declares: "Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain," he gives us to understand that his name should be used in a proper manner. For it was revealed and given to us for the very purpose of being used to our benefit. It conclusively follows, since it is here forbidden to use the divine name in defence of falsehood or vice, that it is, on the other hand, commanded to use it in defence of truth and all honorable actions; for instance, if a person swears truthfully where required and where it is necessary; also when we teach correctly; when we invoke this name in adversity, praising it and returning thanks to it in prosperity. All of which is comprised and commanded as it were in a summary, in the fiftieth Psalm, verse 15: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." In all these cases the invocation is sincere and his name used appropriately; or, as the Lord's Prayer expresses it, it is hallowed.
In this manner you have the sum of this whole commandment illustrated. And from this view it is easy to solve the question, with which many teachers have perplexed themselves: why is it forbidden in the Gospel to swear, when at the same time Christ, St. Paul, and other saints have frequently sworn? This is briefly the meaning: no one should swear to wicked things, that is, to falsehoods, and in cases in which it is unnecessary; but in allowable cases and for the benefit of our neighbors we should make oath; for it is really a good deed, through which God is praised, truth and justice established, falsehood suppressed, the parties reconciled, obedience exhibited, and contentions settled; for here God himself interposes, and discriminates between justice and injustice, good and evil. But if one party swear falsely, they have their sentence, that they shall not escape punishment. And even if it be delayed for a while, nothing shall prosper for them of that which they obtain by perjury, and hold in their possession; and they shall never enjoy it peaceably; as I have observed in many persons who abjured their matrimonial vows, that they afterwards enjoyed no pleasant hours, nor healthful days, and thus they were miserably injured both in body and soul, as well as in property.
For this reason I say and admonish, as before, that children should, in due time, be trained up, by admonition and warning, by restraint and chastisement, to avoid falsehood, and especially the use of God's name to confirm it. For if they are allowed to indulge this practice, nothing good will result from it; as it is now evident that the world is worse than it formerly was, and that there is no government, obedience, fidelity, or faith existing, but an audacious, ungovernable race, with whom neither instruction nor punishment avails any thing. All which is an exhibition of the displeasure of God, on account of such wilful contempt of this commandment.
They should, moreover, be urged and induced, on the other hand, to venerate the name of God, and continually to have it in their lips in all that may occur and present itself before their eyes; for this is the true honor of the divine name, to expect all consolation of him, and to call upon him for the same, so that the heart (as we have already stated) first gives God his honor, through faith, afterwards the lips, through confession.
This is a salutary and useful custom, and very effectual against the devil, who is continually around us, and lurking about for an opportunity to bring us into sin and shame, into difficulty and misery, but very reluctantly hears, and cannot long abide if the name of God is mentioned and implored from the heart; and many terrible and calamitous disasters would befall us, if God, through the invocation of his name, did not protect us. I have felt and truly experienced myself, that frequently sudden and grievous misfortunes have been averted and removed, during such supplication. To conquer the devil, I say, we should continually have this sacred name in our lips, so that he may not be able to injure us as he desires.
It also conduces to this effect in all casual dangers and distresses, if we cultivate the habit of committing ourselves unto God daily, with soul and body, wife and children, domestics and all that we have. From this custom the recital of benedictions, short prayers, and other morning and evening blessings, has originated and continues to exist. Again, children should be exercised in uttering a prayer when any thing terrific and horrible is seen or heard, saying:– Lord God, protect;– Help, beloved Lord Christ. So again, on the other hand, when any thing good occurs unexpectedly, no matter how insignificant it is, we should say:– God be praised and thanks,– This he has conferred on us,– just as the children were accustomed in former times to fast, and pray to St. Nicholas and other saints. But the practice we recommend, would be acceptable and more pleasing to God, than any monastic life or Carthusian sanctity.
Thus, in a manner adapted to their capacities and juvenile tastes, we might train the young in the fear and honor of God, so that the first and second commandments might move on harmoniously, and be in continual exercise. Then something good might be accomplished, and persons might grow up, in whom a whole country could rejoice and delight; and this would be the proper method for rearing up children correctly, since they can be gained by affection and tenderness. For that which we enforce by the rod and chastisement alone, produces no good effect; and even if it succeeds to a considerable extent, they will not however continue dutiful longer than the rod lies on them. But here it takes root in the heart, if God is feared more than the rod and staff. This I state in a manner so simple, for the benefit of the young, that it may at some time have its effect; for while we are preaching to children, we must also prattle with them. Thus we have provided against the abuse of the divine name, and taught its proper use; which should consist not only in words, but also in practice and conduct, so that we may know that it is well-pleasing to God, and the he will as abundantly reward it, as he will horribly punish that abuse.