Today is Luther's Large Catechism Wednesdays! Each Wednesday we will be going through a section of Luther's Large Catechism.
LLC WEDNESDAYS #4
PART 1 - THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
49 You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
50 The First Commandment has instructed the heart and taught the faith. This commandment now leads us forward and directs the mouth and tongue to God. For the first things that spring from the heart and show themselves are words [Matthew 12:34]. I have taught above how to answer the question “What does it mean to have a god?” Now you must simply learn to understand the meaning of this commandment and all the commandments, and to apply it to yourself.
51 If someone now asks, “How do you understand the Second Commandment?” or “What is meant by taking God’s name in vain, or misusing God’s name?” answer briefly in this way: “It means misusing God’s name when we call upon the Lord God—no matter how—in order to deceive or do wrong of any kind.” Therefore, this commandment makes this point: God’s name must not be appealed to falsely, or taken upon the lips, while the heart knows well enough—or should know—that the truth of the matter is different. This is what happens with people who take oaths in court, where one side lies against the other. 52 For God’s name cannot be misused worse than for the support of falsehood and deceit. Let this remain the exact German and simplest meaning of this commandment.
53 From this everyone can easily see when and in how many ways God’s name is misused, although it is impossible to list all its misuses. But, to explain this in a few words, all misuse of the divine name happens first in worldly business and in matters that concern money, possessions, and honor. This applies publicly in court, in the market, or wherever else people make false oaths in God’s name or pledge their souls in any matter. This is especially common in marriage affairs, where two go and secretly get engaged to one another, and afterward, break their engagement.
54 But the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters. These have to do with the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God’s Word [Jonah 2:8].
55 Look, all this is dressing up one’s self with God’s name, or making a pretty show, or claiming to be right. This is true whether it happens in common, worldly business or in higher, refined matters of faith and doctrine. Blasphemers also belong with the liars. I mean not just the most ordinary blasphemers, well known to everyone, who disgrace God’s name without fear. (These are not for us to discipline, but for the hangman.) I also mean those who publicly disgrace the truth and God’s Word and hand it over to the devil. There is now no need to speak about this further.
56 Here, then, let us learn and take to heart the great importance of this commandment. Then, with all diligence, we may guard against and dread every misuse of the holy name as the greatest sin that can be committed outwardly. For to lie and to deceive is in itself a great sin. But such a sin gets even worse when we try to justify our lie and seek to confirm it by calling on God’s name and using His name as a cloak for shame [1 Peter 2:16], so that from a single lie a double lie results—no, many lies.
57 For this reason, too, God has added a solemn threat to this commandment, “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” [Exodus 20:7]. This means that this sin shall not be pardoned for anyone or go unpunished. For just as He will not fail to avenge if anyone turns his heart from Him, so He will also not let His name be used to dress up a lie. 58 Now unfortunately, this sin is a common plague in all the world. There are so few people who do not use God’s name for purposes of lying and all wickedness in contrast to those who trust in God alone with their heart.
59 By nature we all have within us this beautiful virtue, that whoever has committed a wrong would like to cover up and adorn his disgrace, so that no one may see it or know it. No one is so bold as to boast to all the world of the wickedness he has done. All wish to act by stealth and without anyone being aware of what they do. So, if anyone is caught sinning, God’s name is dragged into the affair and must make the wickedness look like godliness, and the shame like honor. 60 This is the common way of the world, which has covered all lands like a great flood. So we get what we seek and deserve as our reward: epidemics, wars, famines, raging fires, floods, wayward wives, children, servants, and all sorts of filth. Where else should so much misery come from? It is still a great mercy that the earth bears and supports us [Numbers 16:28–50].
61 Therefore, above all things, our young people should have this Second Commandment earnestly pressed upon them [Deuteronomy 6:7]. They should be trained to hold this and the First Commandment in high regard. And whenever they sin, we must at once be after them with the rod [Proverbs 13:24]. We must hold the commandment before them, and constantly teach it, so that we bring them up not only with punishment, but also in reverence and fear of God [Ephesians 6:4].
62 Now you understand what it means to take God’s name in vain. In sum it means (a) to use His name simply for purposes of falsehood, (b) to assert in God’s name something that is not true, or (c) to curse, swear, use spells, and, in short, to practice whatever wickedness one may.
63 Besides this you must also know how to use God’s name rightly. For when He says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain,” He wants us to understand at the same time that His name is to be used properly. For His name has been revealed and given to us so that it may be of constant use and profit. 64 So it is natural to conclude that since this commandment forbids using the holy name for falsehood or wickedness, we are, on the other hand, commanded to use His name for truth and for all good, like when someone takes an oath truthfully when it is needed and it is demanded [Numbers 30:2]. This commandment also applies to right teaching and to calling on His name in trouble or praising and thanking Him in prosperity, and so on. All of this is summed up and commanded in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” For all this is bringing God’s name into the service of truth and using it in a blessed way. In this way His name is hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer [Matthew 6:9].
65 Now you have the sum of the entire commandment explained. With this understanding, the question that has troubled many teachers has been easily solved: “Why is swearing prohibited in the Gospel, and yet Christ, St. Paul, and other saints often swore?” [Matthew 5:33–37; 26:29; Acts 21:20–26]. 66 The explanation is briefly this: We are not to swear in support of evil, that is, to support falsehood, or to swear when there is no need or use. But we should swear for the support of good and the advantage of our neighbor. For such swearing is truly a good work, by which God is praised, truth and right are established, falsehood is refuted, peace is made among men, obedience is rendered, and quarrels are settled. For in this way God Himself intervenes and separates right and wrong, good and evil. 67 If one party swears falsely, he lives under this judgment: he shall not escape punishment. Even if this judgment is delayed a long time, he shall not succeed. So everything he may gain from his falsehood will slip out of his hands, and he will never enjoy it. 68 I have seen this in the case of many who perjured themselves in their wedding vows. They have never had a happy hour or a healthful day, and so perished miserably in body, soul, and possessions.
69 Therefore, I advise and exhort as before that with warning and threatening, restraint and punishment, the children should be trained early to shun falsehood. They should especially avoid the use of God’s name to support falsehood. For where children are allowed to do as they please, no good will result. This is clear even now. The world is worse than it has ever been, and there is no government, no obedience, no loyalty, no faith, but only daring, unbridled people. No teaching or reproof helps them. All this is God’s wrath and punishment for such lewd contempt of this commandment.
70 On the other hand, children should be constantly urged and moved to honor God’s name and to have it always upon their lips for everything that may happen to them or come to their notice [Psalm 8:2; 34:1; Matthew 21:16; Hebrews 13:15]. For that is the true honor of His name, to look to it and call upon it for all consolation [Psalm 66:2; 105:1]. Then—as we have heard in the First Commandment—the heart by faith gives God the honor due Him first. Afterward, the lips give Him honor by confession.
71 This is also a blessed and useful habit and very effective against the devil. He is ever around us and lies in wait to bring us into sin and shame, disaster and trouble [2 Timothy 2:26]. But he hates to hear God’s name and cannot remain long where it is spoken and called upon from the heart. 72 Indeed, many terrible and shocking disasters would fall upon us if God did not preserve us by our calling upon His name. I have tried it myself. I learned by experience that often sudden great suffering was immediately averted and removed by calling on God. To confuse the devil, I say, we should always have this holy name in our mouth, so that the devil may not be able to injure us as he wishes.
73 It is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God [Psalm 31:5], with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all that we have, against every need that may arise. So also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals [Mark 8:6] and other prayers, morning and evening, have begun and remained in use [Exodus 29:38–43]. 74 Likewise, children should continue to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard. They can shout, “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus!” and such. Also, if anyone meets with unexpected good fortune, however trivial, he says, “God be praised and thanked!” or “God has bestowed this on me!” and so on, just as the children used to learn to fast and pray to St. Nicholas and other saints before. This would be more pleasing and acceptable to God than all monasticism and Carthusian acts of holiness.
75 Look, we could train our youth this way [Proverbs 22:6], in a childlike way and playfully in the fear and honor of God. Then the First and Second Commandments might be well kept and in constant practice. Then some good might take root, spring up, and bear fruit. People would grow up whom an entire land might relish and enjoy. 76 In addition, this would be the true way to bring up children well as long as they could be trained with kindness and delight. For children who must be forced with rods and blows will not develop into a good generation. At best they will remain godly under such treatment only as long as the rod is upon their backs [Proverbs 10:13].
77 But ‹teaching the commandments in a childlike and playful way› spreads its roots in the heart so that children fear God more than rods and clubs. This I say with such simplicity for the sake of the young, that it may penetrate their minds. For we are preaching to children, so we must also talk like them. In this way we would prevent the abuse of the divine name and teach the right use. This should happen not only in words, but also in practice and life. Then we may know God is well pleased with this and will as richly reward good use of His name as He will terribly punish the abuse.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 363
Soli Deo Gloria