|RPM, Volume 11, Number 43, October 25 to October 31 2009|
"Many ministers have written sermons on the fifty-two Lord's Days as we find them in our Heidelberg Catechism. One of these ministers and servants of the Most High, is the late Rev. G. Van Reenen, of the Netherlands. When he was not able to preach any more because of a throat ailment, God inclined his heart to write sermons, and work while it was day. This work he continued until the day of his death in the year 1946. Rev. Van Reenen has written these sermons for the common people. In all these sermons he breathes the spirit of humility and self-denial. Throughout all these sermons he indicates the necessity of knowing by experience these three important parts, misery, redemption, and gratitude, as he himself was not a stranger thereof. Rev. Van Reenen does not know that his Catechism sermons and others have been translated into the English language. He confessed in his life not to be worthy of any honor or praise; that we may then by grace give all honor and praise to Israel's God and King, saying with the Psalmist, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth's sake." Psalm 115:1. (Pastor J. Van Zweden).
Reprinted and Translated from the Holland by the Netherlands Reformed congregations in America (1955). This series on the Ten Commandments was taken from the W. B. Eerdmans' December, 1979 edition of the book, The Heidelberg Catechism, by Rev. G. Van Reenen.
You see, beloved, by a sin such as this one the entire community to which the sinner was externally bound, became guilty with him. It is true, they had but received this guilt, this guilt had forcibly been laid upon them, but it would have become their own personal sin if they had not returned it to the one from whom they had received it. The return of this guilt was accomplished by the destruction of the sinner by the entire congregation after they who had heard the blasphemy and cursing had laid their hands upon the head of the blasphemer, by which action they symbolically laid upon him the sin by which they had been polluted. The procedure prescribed by the law here and everywhere in a case of public offense should be carefully studied also by us. For the evil committed by few or many infects others like a penetrating poison, to some it causes loathing, to others it is a temptation. Therefore by exercising justice the evil must be punished and the course of the poison must be checked.
And do you not also think that if every blasphemer and curser in this country was to be stoned, there would not be enough stones? And would we, would I and you go free?
That dreadful sin and its just punishment we will now discuss.
You will find our text in Exod. 20:7. "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.
Upon these words our catechetical instruction is based as you will find recorded in the Heidelberg Catechism:
A. That we, not only by cursing or perjury, but also by rash swearing, must not profane or abuse the name of God; nor by silence or connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others; and, briefly, that we use the Holy Name of God no otherwise than with fear and reverence; so that he may be rightly confessed and worshipped by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.
Q. 100. is then the profaning of God's name, by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavor, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?
A. It undoubtedly is, for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of His name: and therefore He has commanded this sin to be punished with death.
Dear Hearers! Once and again we have tarried in thought at Horebs mountain.
We have first considered the significant and comforting introduction to the law, which was heard from the lips of the Lord when He spoke: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
After that we considered the first commandment, in which the Lord erects a bulwark against the idolatrous nature of the deeply fallen man. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." And that is precisely what the unregenerate wants, he wants to kneel to a thousand gods, and he adds to their number again and again. But for the true God he will not bow, Him he will not honor, upon Him he will not depend. For that matter, he does not know the only true God, and hence does not love Him; he is afraid of Him; he wishes He were not there.
And when he acknowledges that there is a God, and that this God should and must be served, he wants to do it in a visual and sensual manner. Led by his foolish and errant conceit, he attempts to make the Invisible God visible in countless forms and shapes. This was done and is still done among the heathens. This was done by Israel at Horeb, where they made a calf to represent God. This is done especially in the heathenish papacy. And in a more refined manner each one of us does so, even the people of God who have received grace.
But the Lord disallows all such visual and sensual religion, all that making of images. Such a religion does not please Him. Such a visual and sensual religion provokes His Holy displeasure, that is no religion. That is cursed image worship which He shall visit with His Holy wrath upon even the fourth generation. By making images one does not honor God, He calls it hating Him, and shall visit it terribly in His own time.
And when the Papacy tried to justify its image worship by calling its images books to the laity, the Instructor gives this excellent answer, "We must not pretend to be wiser than God, Who will have His people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His word." And so it is. When God wants to instruct a concerned Ethiopian, God does not send an image, but Philip to preach God's Word. When the Lord wants to establish a church somewhere, He sends the lively preaching of His Word. When He wants to bring His children to faith and cause them to grow in faith, He uses the lively preaching of His Word. Indeed, the establishment, the maintaining and the reformation of His church is entirely done by the lively preaching of His Word. Oh, beloved hearers, let us then always esteem highly that preaching of His Word and let us support it by our prayers and our gifts.
And now we are called to tarry again for a moment at Mount Horeb to listen to and meditate on the third commandment. In this commandment the Lord lays His hand on the sin which has made our country notorious among foreign nations. In other countries we are called "a cursing people."
And still there is no sin more provoking to God than this sin. He will also punish this sin terribly.
What a privilege it is when the Lord plants His fear in our heart; then we have reverence and high esteem for God's dear Name.
These matters shall become more clear to you as you give us your attention while we are called, in accordance with Lord's Day 36, to speak about the third commandment or the abuse of God's Holy Name.
Permit me with a few words to show you:
"Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain." Thus, dear hearers, we hear the highest Law-giver and Judge earnestly warn us, for the abuse of His Holy Name is regarded by Him as doing violence to the highest Majesty of God, which shall be punished by the severest penalty in body and soul.
Let us then first notice the sin here forbidden.
Thou shalt not take—literally it says "take up"—the Name of the Lord thy God in vain"—that means lightly.
By the "Name of the Lord" you must understand all that the dear Lord has revealed about Himself. Some think especially of the name Jehovah which is always written in capitals in good Bibles. And truly, this is God's most significant name, as Hellenbroek says in his instruction book, the name that may not be given to any creature. "I am the Lord: that is My Name: and My Glory will I not give to another, neither My Praise to graven images." (Isa. 42:8.) This Name signifies the self-existence, the immutability and faithfulness of God. It is the same Name which the Lord spoke to Moses and with which He sent Moses to the children of Israel in Egypt: "I am that I am!" (Exod. 3 :14.) Yet even this name can not circumscribe the entire Divine Being, God's infinite Being can not be expressed by one name, nay, not by a thousand names. No, we may not take this name, nor any other name of the Lord in vain. Yea, nothing by which the Lord reveals Himself may be taken in vain, hence not the names of His attributes, nor His Word, nor His works.
And that is to be understood. Is not the Lord thy God the Most High Majesty? Is He not the King of kings and the Lord of lords? Is He not the Righteous One, but also the Most Gracious One, Who a thousand times was our Benefactor? Is He not our Best, our Heavenly Father, Who provides for all our temporal and spiritual needs, and Who pardoned us a thousand times. And shall we then take His Holy Name in vain? vDear hearers, taking His Name in vain is contrary to man's calling. Has He not created man to declare His praise and glorify His Name? Has He not for that purpose revealed His Name, that is Himself? Has He not for that purpose revealed His attributes and perfections?
And how gloriously that took place in the state of rectitude. All that was in paradise proclaimed the praises of God. Trees, and flowers and plants, fish and birds, four-footed and creeping animals, yea, everything, though it be unconsciously, proclaimed the glorious Name of God. And above that chorus of creatures praising God, sounded the mighty voice of Adam and Eve as a silver trumpet through the garden of the Lord, to praise and glorify the Name of their Creator.
Then the third commandment was not necessary. To use the Name of their Maker and Benefactor except with deepest and childlike reverence was unthinkable. They could not do so. Would not their voices have sounded more pure than the heavens which declare the glory of God and the firmament which showeth His handiwork?
Oh, had it but remained thus! But alas, we have fallen, we have sinned. We have not regarded nor honored the Name of the Lord. We listened to him who was the first to take the Name of the Lord in vain, when he lied to our first parents saying that they would not die, not even if they ate from the forbidden tree, even if they transgressed the laws of the Lord. And when Adam listened to the voice of the tempter and transgressed the commandment, he, and we in and with him, lost that reverence and child-like fear for that dear Being. We knew Him no more; we retained no respect for Him any more, then a root was planted in our soul, which brought forth both cursing, and lying. Then it was also necessary that the Lord included the third commandment in His holy law. And it is His unutterable goodness that He was willing to do it and that He actually did it.
Hence the fact that there is a third commandment is an accusation against us. The Apostle says, "Where no law is, there is no transgression." We can also say, Were there no sins there would be no need of a law. Every commandment accuses us. It is proof that we do not do that which is commanded, nor refrain from doing that which is forbidden. Hence we are guilty of sins of omission and commission.
The third commandment then speaks of a shameful abuse. For we ask You whereas the Lord in condescending goodness made known to man by means of His names His being and His attributes, so that we may learn to know Him to our salvation, is it then no abominable and shameful abuse of the names of the Lord by the enemies of God when they take them lightly upon their lips to blaspheme their Creator or to curse their neighbor by the names of God? I
n the third commandment the Lord does not forbid the proper and reverent use of God's name, but the light and sad abuse of it. Hence we must not do as the superstitious Jews do, who when reading God's Word omit the name Jehovah and substitute another name. And why do they do that? We noted before that literally the commandment reads "take up." The opposite of take up, reasons the Jew, is let lie, hence, not use. And because, that boy of whom we spoke in the introduction was stoned because he blasphemed the Name, and because of many other superstitions, the Jew does not use the name Jehovah.
But again: here we find forbidden using the name of the Lord thoughtlessly or without reverence and for an improper or shameful purpose.
In the third commandment God forbids not only cursing, but also, as our Catechism correctly observes, perjury. That this commandment refers especially to this terrible sin is evident from Lev. 19 :12, "And ye shall not swear by My Name falsely; I am the Lord."
And truly perjury may particularly be called a blasphemous and vain abuse of the Name of God, for in perjury we call upon God that He will bear witness to our lie and treachery; yea, we would make the spotlessly holy One a servant of sin. And this sin, however terrible it is, is repeatedly committed in many ways.
Profaning the Name of God is also done by rash swearing, either by the attributes of God or by thunder and lightning, as is heard repeatedly, even from lips of which you would not expect it. Oh, beloved, the cursing and profaning of the Name of the Lord is such an extensive evil, it is done in so many ways that it is impossible to name them all.
You ask: how is it done? Permit me to say something about it.
It is done by words when we curse our neighbor in God's Name, or even call down damnation upon our own head. Thus we would make the Lord the executer of our hatred and revenge to our own detriment. Alas, what has man become by sin!
It is also done by swearing, by using words which alas some of God's people even do not recognize as sinning, hence those swearing words are heard also from their lips.
It is also done by blaspheming when we charge God foolishly; when we doubt His omnipotence, when we mock His wisdom, when we deny His providence, or accuse Him of hardness and injustice. Well, people of God, put your hand into your own bosom. Are you innocent in this matter? Remember how Job in his despondency cursed the day of his birth. Remember what Peter did in the hall of Caiaphas.
It is also done in prayer, when in extended long prayers that dear Name is used over and over, sometimes a hundred times, often merely using it as a stop-gap while thinking what to say next. That is a terrible transgression of the third commandment. Surely such a concatenation of sins the Lord will not regard as a prayer. Oh, people of God, let your words be few, and seasoned with salt.
It is also done in our thoughts, when internally we curse or blaspheme, or accuse that dear Being of unfaithfulness. Are you not guilty in this? By this we do not mean the hellish torments of Satan who under the permission of God utters curses and blasphemy against the Lord in the tender soul of the child of God to torture and frighten it, yea, if it were possible, to bring it to despair. Nay, you will notice that Satan's curses in the heart are hellish torments concerning which the soul cries to God for deliverance, but they leave no guilt upon the conscience.
It is also done by deeds, when we pretend to serve the Lord, but secretly live in sin. Oh, beloved, the sin against the third commandment is so widespread. It is found in the inner chambers of kings, in the assemblies of the government of the nation, the state and the cities, it is found in the courts, in schools, and homes, yea, even in God's house.
Walk along our streets and even from the lips of children you will hear curses. There are families in which parents and children outdo each other in cursing. Often one of the first words little children can utter is a curse. Is it not a dreadful thought that our country is notorious for its curses?
The third commandment is also transgressed by perjury. And then where shall we begin? Shall we hear the false oaths uttered in legislative halls, in court rooms, at marriages, and in consistory rooms, false oaths, at which they call upon the Name of God, but which presently prove to be oaths which men dare to break faithlessly?
All promises made in the Name of God must have only the honor of God and the welfare of man as their aim, and breaking such a promise is profaning His Holy Name.
God's Name is also profaned by rash swearing by heaven or earth, by our life or our health. All unnecessary promises and promises we know we cannot keep are included in this vain and rash swearing and abusing God's Name.
And if you perhaps think you are guiltless in this, we request you to consider the 100th Question and Answer, and what our Instructor says there. Then you, too, shall cry out "Have mercy upon me, O God!"
For also our "silence," and "not endeavoring to prevent and forbid" such profaning of God's Name also renders us guilty of transgressing the third commandment.
How often we are silent because of fear of man or for the sake of profit. And thus we make ourselves guilty of that terrible sin. To remain a friend of Caesar we invoke God's anger and wrath upon our soul. Upon all this we hear the threatening of God, which reads: I shall not hold him guiltless, that taketh My Name in vain.
This naturally leads us to our second thought: the punishment here threatened.
"The Lord shall not hold him guiltless." This negative statement contains a positive threat to all transgressors of the third commandment.
The punishment of these sins is certain. That proceeds from His Holy Nature, which can not endure sin. For He is the King of kings, He it is, Who because of His pure and holy nature must punish sin; He is that God Who loves Himself above all, Who hates and punishes sin, because it conflicts with His Holy Nature.
Moreover, profaning God's Name is one of those sins which not only would rob God of His crown but would even pierce His heart. In the original of Lev. 24:11 we read that the boy blasphemed "or pierced" the Name of the Lord.
"There is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of His Name; and therefore He has commanded this sin to be punished with death," says the Catechism.
And how could it be otherwise? We, sinful contemptible sinners, become indignant, we become angry when people dare to misuse our name, or slander it, and would the Lord not have a holy and terrible anger against those who profane His Holy Name? God hates and punishes sin, and no wonder, cursing and swearing are not only the fruit of unbelief, but are the proper works of the devils. A curser shows plainly that he is an image-bearer of the devil and that he is related to the doomed in hell.
Such profanity He who is the faithful one, also in His threatenings, will not allow to go unpunished.
Would you have proof?
Pharaoh cried, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice? And see how the waters of the Red Sea covered this cursing and swearing king. Then you shall see how God punishes this sin.
Recall again the son of Shelomith of Lev 24.
Take also, for example, the woman, the unfaithful wife, who. called upon to take the oath of purification, committed perjury. By a special plague and punishment of God she was publicly smitten with terrible bodily ailments. (Num. 5.)
Goliath also dared to defy the armies of Israel's Jehovah. Remember the four hundred prophets of Baal; who were killed by Elijah, because they defied God.
Yea, consider the slandering Sennacherib and how the Lord killed one hundred eighty-five thousand men of valour in one night.
Another example is the mocking Belshazar and his thousand drunken lords and God wrote His sentence upon the wall: Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," which sentence was executed that same night.
But never has the Lord revealed His holy indignation against the misuse of His Name more gloriously than on Golgotha in the death of His Holy Child.
For notice what took place in the hall of Caiaphas: There He stood—our Jesus in our stead, covered with our sins, the sins of His church. And now notice that it is the sin against the third commandment of which He is accused and for which He is sentenced to death. "He hath spoken blasphemy"—"He is guilty of death."
Oh, people of God, see how your Surety is led out of Jerusalem as a blasphemer. Yea, look to Golgotha and there you see how God punishes sin, how He visits the profaning of His Name with the most dreadful punishments in body and soul. Truly, with an eye upon that Christ, we cry out to you, who know yourself as a slanderer: Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. And you who still continue in sin, you also may look to Calvary, you will then see that God did not spare His own Son. How then shall you escape, if you continue on and on in sin.
Dreadful is the punishment threatened upon the transgression of the third commandment. For what is the future of a blasphemer? Is that future not terrible? Not only does God in time punish the curser so that he experiences that the curse is consuming his income, but all this is nothing compared to what awaits them in the future, in eternity.
For when one profanes God's eternal Name, God will requite that sin with eternal punishment. One day all those who did not learn to bow before the Lord here, shall find themselves in a cursing company and with gnashing of teeth they shall curse and profane God's Name eternally and gnaw their tongues eternally with pain and sorrow of heart.
Blessed then is the people that by grace have learned: to bow before that high Majesty, to tremble at His Name, and to fear Him with childlike fear.
Having heard what the Lord forbids in the third commandment, and the punishment He threatens, let us finally also say a few words about the attitude here commanded.
The Lord demands in this commandment that we shall fear Him with child-like fear. The Instructor says in his answer, "that we must use the Name of God not otherwise than with fear and reverence." And how shall natural man do that?" How shall we utter the Lord's Name with fear and reverence, if no fear and reverence dwells in our heart.
According to Solomon, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. For only when by grace the Holy Spirit has worked that fear of God in the heart, then we hate and flee from sin, and first of all from the sin of cursing and slandering. It is true, God's people learn by discovering grace to know themselves as bastards, and they learn to understand that not only outside of them but also within them a company of blasphemers is found. For we are born in the City of Destruction, we are born with a cursing heart. In our state of nature this became evident, although in one person more than in another. And this is the cause of our grief and sorrow.
When the Holy Spirit works that childlike fear in our hearts, we love the Lord uprightly, as children born of God. Then we receive deep reverence for His holy Name. Then we regret our past life. Then we bring the blasphemer within us to the judgment bar of God. Then we implore the Lord with deep contrition for the forgiveness of all our sins, but especially for the sins we committed against the third commandment. Then we ask Him whether He will graciously save us from that terrible sin, so that we may never again pierce His holy Name with thoughts, words or deeds. We ask Him to set a watch before our mouth, and to keep the door of our lips, so that we would never use His Name except with fear and reverence.
How very differently a godfearing person utters the Name of the Lord than an unregenerate person. Oh, how unsuitable, how presumptuously do unregenerate ministers or leaders address the Lord in prayer. It is as if they were addressing someone equal or inferior to them. And they would have you consider it child-like liberty, an evidence of their friendly communion with the Lord. But it is nothing like it. It is an insolence that cuts us through the soul, so how terribly must the Lord then be affronted.
No, my dear hearers, would you hear how a friend of God addresses the Lord in prayer? Would you hear how a man communing familiarly with the Lord approaches Him? Turn then to your precious Bible, Genesis 18. There a man stands before God, whom the Lord Himself calls His friend. And now hear how meekly, how humbly and how servile he speaks to the Lord: "Behold I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." (verse 27) And again, "Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak" (verse 30) and again, "Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord." (verse 31) Does that not sound quite differently than the presumptuous address of those others we have mentioned. My hearers, the Lord wants us to use His Name with fear and reverence in our praying, reading, speaking and singing. It is a great mercy that He was willing to reveal His Name to us, and that we may take His Name upon our lips, but let reverence, then, never be lacking.
The Lord demands in the third commandment that we rightly confess His Name. And that confession can only be rightly done when a band of love has been laid between the Lord and our soul, between Christ and our heart, so that the love of God impels us to confess openly that He by grace has become the God of our salvation and the God of our heart and life.
To rightly confess the Lord's Name also means that we humbly confess in secret and in public, before friend and foe, Him from Whom we expect all salvation, even though it would involve a loss for us. Hence it means to acknowledge God's Name everywhere, to rebuke the blasphemer, admonish each other, and speak when we hear others of God's people use profane language.
We have just sung with David,
Oh, people of God, how often we are remiss in this matter, how difficult it is, how much we need grace to do so! And if it is difficult to do it among friends, what will it be among enemies, at the market, or in the factory, or in your store among your customers?
And we must do it uprightly, that is, solely to His glory, without any other motive, for instance, to be considered a pious Christian, or to merit heaven thereby. No, our sole motive must be love and reverence for the Lord and His Christ. Alas, we must cry out, "And enter not into judgment with Thy servant: for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified."
Finally, the third commandment demands that He be glorified in all our words and works.
The attitude of soul here commanded is in perfect accordance with the rules of the sanctuary and the demands of the new life.
For is it not the purpose of that new life to glorify the Lord in word and deed, in life and conversation? Yea, it is the innermost desire of the soul of all who are truly born of God, to glorify and praise in all their words and works Him Who in the Son of His love revealed Himself as a merciful and gracious Being. And although God's people must repeatedly confess, "The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do. Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?" still it is the desire of their heart, and the choice of their life to glorify God in all things, so that also in respect to the third commandment, they cry out, "How I love Thy law, it is my meditation all the day."
Is the law of God also your meditation all the day, my fellow traveler to eternity?
Perhaps you belong to those wellbred, polite people, who do not curse or use profanity, who think cursing is beneath their dignity. Perhaps you belong to those employers or those higher officers who do not use God's Name or other so-called strong language to make their subordinates respect their will, and to keep them under their control and discipline. I think that is very fine. It makes you a respectable person. But, do you also have the attitude of heart that God demands? Is there that right confessing and worshiping of the Lord so that He may be glorified in all your words and works? If the latter be not present, the first part means nothing. Certainly, to refrain from doing what God forbids in the third commandment may make you a respectable person, but if what the Lord commands is not added, it shall not avail you for eternity.
And it shall be terrible in the day of judgment to stand before God as one who profaned, or at least did not honor, His holy Name. The Lord shall not hold you guiltless. No, indeed. He shall sling you out as out of the middle of a sling into hell fire. Oh, fall even now at His feet and implore His forgiveness, beseech Him for heart-renewing grace. Remember, He shall not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.
"The wicked like the driven chaff Are swept from off the land, They shall not gather with the just, Nor in the judgment stand."
And you who have learned to know and accuse yourself as a blasphemer before God, who have often wept over that sin, even though the words did not pass over your lips. The Lord's holy Name is so precious to you, to confess and glorify Him is the delight and choice of your heart. Your soul is pierced as if with a dagger, when you hear the Lord's Name profaned. You have known the times when you would rather receive a slap in the face than hear the Name of your Maker and Benefactor be pierced. And yet you fear that you shall one day fall a prey to the wrath of the Lord. For you there is forgiveness. For such He sent His Son, for such the dear Jesus permitted Himself to be condemned as a blasphemer and to be crucified. My hearty wish for you is that the Holy Spirit will take you by the hand and lead you to the foot of the cross. He give you grace to lay your heart upon that offer and you will hear, "My son or daughter, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you."
But, dear people of the Lord, let this guilt-remitting grace be an incentive for us to curb as much as we can and wherever we can all cursing and profanity. Over against the cursing and profanity of the world, we must place a right confession, a true calling on His Name, and a reverent praising of the Lord, and that in the church, in our family, in the world, yea, in every realm. Remember, it concerns God's honor.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.