THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 53. Which is the Third Commandment?

ANSWER: 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.


QUESTION 54. What is required in the Third Commandment?

ANSWER: The Third Commandment requireth the holy and reverend use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.


Q. 1. What does this commandment require in general?

A. That the instituted means of God's worship be used in a right MANNER, becoming the majesty of him with whom we have to do, Psalm 5:7.

Q. 2. What is the duty directly opposite to the sin of taking God's name in vain?

A. It is the sanctifying of his name, Isa. 8:13 -- "Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear and your dread."

Q. 3. What do you understand by the NAME of God?

A. Every thing by which he is pleased to make himself known.

Q. 4. By what does God make himself known?

A. By his names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.

Q. 5. Does God need any name to distinguish him from all others?

A. No; because he is a most singular Being, quite well distinguished from all others, by the infinity and absolute perfection of his nature, Isa 44:6.

Q. 6. Why then are names ascribed to him in scripture?

A. That some knowledge of his nature and perfections may be conveyed to us, Acts 9:15.

Q. 7. What are the names by which he conveys the knowledge of himself to us?

A. He conveys the knowledge of his absolute, eternal, and immutable essence by the names of JEHOVAH, Ex. 6:3; JAH, Psalm 68:4; and, I AM, Ex. 3:14; the knowledge of his excellency and sovereignty, by the names GOD and LORD, Deut. 6:4; and the knowledge of the essential relation of the three divine persons among themselves, by the names of FATHER, SON, and H OLY G HOST, Matt. 28:19.

Q. 8. Is there any difference between God's names and his titles?

A. His names set forth what he is in himself; his titles, what he is to others.

Q. 9. How are God's titles commonly distinguished?

A. Into those that belong to him as the God of nature, and those which are ascribed to him as the God of grace.

Q. 10. What are the titles that belong to him as the God of nature?

A. They are such as these, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Isa. 40:28; the Preserver of men, Job 7:20; King of nations, Jer. 10:7; and Lord of hosts, Isa. 1:9.

Q. 11. What are the titles that are ascribed to him as the God of grace?

A. They are the following among others: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Ex. 3:6; the Holy One of Israel, Isa 48:17; King of saints, Rev. 15:3; the Father of mercies, 2 Cor. 1:3; the hearer of prayer, Psalm 65:2; and the God of salvation, Psalm 68:20.

Q. 12. Which is the most common and ordinary title ascribed to God under the New Testament?

A. It is the infinitely amiable and encouraging title of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3.

Q. 13. What comfortable views may we take of God, as he is the God and Father of our Lord. Jesus Christ?

A. In this light we may view him as a reconciled God, 2 Cor. 5:19; a pardoning and accepting God through Christ, Eph. 1:6, 7; and as our God and Father in him, John 20:17, -- " I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God."

Q. 14. What is to be understood by God's attributes?

A. The perfections and excellencies which are ascribes to him as the essential properties of his nature.[65]

Q. 15. What are God's ordinances?

A. The reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration of the Sacraments; prayer and praise; religious fasting and thanksgiving.[66]

Q. 16. What are the ordinances in which the name of God is more immediately interposed?

A. The name of God is more immediately interposed in oaths, vows, and lots.

Q. 17. What is an OATH?

A. It is an act of religious worship, in which God is solemnly invoked, or called upon, as a witness for the Confirmation of some matter in doubt.

Q. 18. Why is it said to be an act of religious worship?

A. Because there is, or ought to be in every formal oath, a solemn invocation of the name of God, Deut. 6:13 -- "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God -- and shalt swear by his name."

Q. 19. What is imported in calling upon God as a witness in an oath?

A. It imports, that we acknowledge him to be the infallible searcher of our hearts; the powerful avenger of all perjury and falsehood; and at the same time to be infinitely superior to us; "for men verily Swear by the greater," Heb. 6:16.

Q. 20. In what cases should an oath be required?

A. Only in cases that are doubtful, when the truth of things cannot be known with certainty any other way.

Q. 21. What is the end of an oath in a lawful judicature?

A. It is for confirmation of the truth formerly doubtful; and for terminating strife and contradiction among men. "An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife," Heb. 6:16.

Q. 22. What are the necessary qualifications of a lawful oath?

A. That we swear -- "in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness," Jer. 6:2.

Q. 23. What is it to swear in truth?

A. It is to take special care, that what is sworn be strictly agreeable to truth; and that there be an exact agreement between the sentiments of our minds, and the words of our mouth, without the least equivocation, or mental reservation.

Q. 24. What is it to equivocate, or dissemble in an oath?

A. It is to have an inward reserved meaning and sense of words, contrary to the common and ordinary acceptation of them, and that with a design to deceive.

Q. 25. In what consists the evil and sinfulness of this practice?

A. It destroys the nature and end of an oath, which is to bring forth nothing but the truth: it opens a wide door to all falsehood and lying, contrary to Eph. 4:25 -- "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour;" and it unhinges the firmest bonds of society, that none can put confidence in another.

Q. 26. What is it to swear in judgment?

A. It is to swear with knowledge and deliberation; seriously pondering in our mind, what it is we are about to swear, and the solemn appeal we make to God in the oath, together with the dangerous risk we run, if we swear either falsely or ignorantly.

Q. 27. What is it to swear in righteousness?

A. It is to give our oath only in things lawful, or such as are consistent with piety towards God, and equity towards man; and likewise to give it on a lawful occasion.

Q. 28. When is a civil oath taken upon a lawful occasion?

A. When it is required by a lawful magistrate, for the ending of strife and debate, and the impartial administration of justice.

Q. 29. How do you prove that it is warrantable for Christians under the New Testament, to declare the truth upon oath, when called to it?

A. From this, that an oath, being no part of the ceremonial law, there can be no reason given why it was lawful to swear under the Old Testament, which will not apply in the like circumstances NOW; especially as there are approved examples of the use of an oath under the New Testament, 2 Cor. 1:23; Rev. 10:6; Heb. 6:16.

Q. 30. Does not our Lord say, Matt. 5:34, -- "Swear not at all;" and the apostle James, chap. 5:12, "Above all things, swear not"?

A. These texts manifestly condemn profane swearing in ordinary conversation, and not lawful swearing in judgment, when called to do it; as appears from the injunction subjoined in both places, "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay."

Q. 31. What is the ordinary outward form or sign, in scripture, of appealing to God in an oath?

A. It is the lifting up of the hand; as appears from Gen. 14:22; Dan. 12:7; Rev. 10:5, 6.

Q. 32. What are we to think of that mode of swearing, by touching and kissing the gospel?

A. It is evidently superstitious, if not idolatrous, and borrowed by the Papists from the heathens, who worshipped their idols in this manner, Job 31:27; Hos. 13:2.

Q. 33. How are oaths commonly distinguished as to their kinds?

A. Into assertory and promissory oaths.

Q. 34. What is an assertory oath?

A. It is an invoking God as a witness to the truth of what we declare about things past or present.

Q. 35. Why called assertory?

A. Because the party swearing, without any promise for the future, only asserts the things to have been, or to be at present, as he then swears.

Q. 36. What is the chief use of assertory oaths?

A. It is to determine suits and processes in human courts about matters of fact.

Q. 37. What is a promissory oath

A. It is the invoking God as a witness to the performance of a thing for the time to come, either absolutely or conditionally.

Q. 38. Why called promissory?

A. Because the party swearing promises or engages to do something hereafter.

Q. 39. What should be the subject matter of assertory oaths?

A Such things as are both true and weighty, and which we know to be so.

Q. 40. What should be the subject matter of promissory oaths?

A. Such things as to our knowledge, are lawful, possible, and in our power to perform.

Q. 41. How may promissory oaths be subdivided?

A. Into civil and religious.

Q. 42. To what has a civil promissory oath a respect?

A. To contracts and engagements among men, whether of a more private or public nature.

Q. 43. May not the supreme magistrate require an allegiance of his subjects, or an oath of fidelity to obey his just and lawful commands?

A. It appears evidently from scripture that he may, Eccl. 8:2 -- "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God," 1 Chron. 29:24.

Q. 44. To what has a religious promissory oath a respect.

A. It respects the duties and services we owe more immediately to God, and the interests of religion.[67]

Q. 45. In what lies the obligation of an oath?

A. In the strong tie or bond that the party swearing comes under, to the performance of some duty engaged to.

Q. 46. How many fold is the obligation of a promissory oath?

A. TWOFOLD: one to the person to whom the oath is made, as a party; the other to God, by whom the oath is made, as a witness and avenger.

Q. 47. What is the difference between the obligation of a promise, and the obligation of an oath?

A. A man is bound to perform his promise as well as his oath: but an oath being an immediate invocation of the name of God as a witness and judge, it is, on this account, of a stronger obligation, and the breach of it a more heinous sin, than the breach of a simple promise.

Q. 48. Does not all obligation to duty respect a future time in which it is to be performed?

A. It necessarily does so, in the nature of the thing; although, in some cases, the time of performance may be very short after the obligation is contracted.

Q. 49. Under what obligation does a person come in an assertory oath, which respects the time past or present?

A. He comes under an obligation to declare the truth, and nothing but the truth, in what he is about to say; or, that his words shall exactly agree with his mind.

Q. 50. Under what obligation does a person come in a promissory oath, which respects the time to come?

A. He comes under an obligation to endeavour, as far as in him lies, to fulfil that which he has sworn; or, to perform all that he has promised by oath, Num. 30:2 -- "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth."

Q. 51. Is an oath about a thing lawful and possible obligatory, even though it be extorted by force or fear?

A. Undoubtedly it is: because of the reverence due to God, by whom the oath is made a witness and judge, Lev. 19:12 -- "Ye shall not swear by my name falsely; neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord."Matt. 5:33 -- "Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths."

Q. 52:Is a person bound to pay such a sum to a robber as he has promised by his oath, for the ransom of his life?

A. He is certainly bound to pay it; because, of TWO PENAL evils, he voluntarily made choice of the least; to part with his money, rather than his life; accordingly, the righteous man, "sweareth to his OWN HURT, and changeth not," Psalm 15:4.

Q. 53. Is an oath, which is lawful as to the matter of it, though sinful as to the manner, and even obtained by, deceit, or rashly made binding and obligatory upon the person who has sworn it?

A. Yes; as is evident from the instance of the Gibeonites, who deceived Israel into a league with them by oath, and yet their oath was binding, Josh. 9:14-20.

Q. 54. Are oaths and contracts to be kept with Heathens and heretics?

A. No doubt they should, as well as with others. Zedekiah, king of Judah, was severely punished for his breach of oath to the king of Babylon, 2 Chron. 36:13; Ezek. 17:16. Besides, if infidelity and heresy do not nullify the marriage oath, neither ought they to make void any other lawful contract.

Q. 55. What is a vow?

A. It is a voluntary and deliberate engagement to God only as party, and that respecting matters of a sacred or religious character, Psalm 132:2-6.

Q. 56. What is the difference between an oath and a vow?

A. In an oath, man is generally the party, and God is brought in as the witness: but in a vow, God himself is always the sole party, besides his being a witness, Psalm 50:14. Isa. 19:21.

Q. 57. What is the subject matter of vows?

A. Only things religious; or such as relate immediately to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Q. 58. How ought vows to be entered into?

A. In the exercise of faith; or, in the strength of the grace that is in Christ Jesus, John 15:5; without which there can be no performance, Phil. 4:13.

Q. 59. How many kinds of vows are there?

A. Two; personal and social.

Q. 60. What is a personal vow?

A. It is the act of an individual, or single person, taking hold of God's covenant of grace, or acquiescing in it as made with Christ, who is the all of it and thus engaging to be the Lord's, and to essay the practice of all duty in his strength. Is. 44:5 -- "One shall say, I am the Lord's," Psalm 119:106 -- "I have sworn, and will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments."[68]

Q. 61. What is a social vow?

A. It is the joint concurrence of several individuals in the same exercise as in a personal one, openly avouching the Lord to be their God, Deut. 26:17; where Moses, speaking of all Israel, says, "Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, to walk in his ways," &c.

Q. 62. When doth such a social vow commonly get the name of a N ATIONAL C OVENANT?

A. When the representatives of a nation, or the better part of them, concur in a covenant of duties, as ingrafted upon the covenant of grace, Jer. 50:4, 5 -- "The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, -- saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten." See also Neh. 9:33, and 10:1, 30.

Q. 63. How do you prove that national covenanting is a warrantable duty under the New Testament?

A. From its being promised in the Old Testament that this shall be a duty performed under the New, Isa. 19:21 -- "The Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and -- they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it." Besides, if it was a moral duty upon special occasions, under the Old Testament (as appears from 2 Chron 15:12, and 34:31, 32; Neh. 9:38), it must remain to be the same, upon the like occasions, still; because Christ came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them, Matt 5:17.

Q. 64. Is our obligation to moral duties increased, by our vowing or engaging to perform them?

A. Although it is impossible that our obligation to moral duty can he increased by any deed of ours, beyond what it is already by the law of God, which is of the highest authority; yet by reason of our own voluntary and superadded engagement, this obligation from the law may make a deeper impression than before, Psalm 44:17, 18, and our sins receive a higher aggravation, if we either omit the duty engaged to, or commit the evil opposite to it, Dent. 23:21, 22.

Q. 65. What is a LOT, or lotting?

A. It is the laying aside the use of all means or second causes, and appealing directly to God, that he may, by his immediate providence, give a present decision respecting any matter in question "for the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord," Prov. 16:33.

Q. 66. Why are lots said to be an appeal to God?

A. Because, by casting of lots between two or more persons, or things, we, as it were, require him immediately to declare his mind by the event, which way the decision shall go, Acts 1:24, 26 -- "Show whether of these two thou hast chosen. And the lot felt on Matthias."

Q. 67. In what cases may a decision be put upon the event of a lot?

A. Only in cases of great weight and absolute necessity, Josh. 7:13, 14.

Q. 68. Why should a lot he used only in cases of great weight and moment?

A. Because a lot being a material or implicit invoking of God to give a decision, it would be a wicked profanation of his name, to call him to determine in trifles, or things of little or no value.

Q. 69. Why should it be used only in cases of absolute necessity?

A. Because, where human prudence can determine, it would be a tempting of God, to require his decision.

Q. 70. What then is the end of lots?

A. It is the same as of oaths, to determine finally in momentous controversies, that which can be decided in no other way, Prov. 18:18 -- "The lot causeth contention to cease, and parteth between the mighty."

Q. 71. In what manner ought lots to be used?

A. In a most reverential manner, as in the presence of God, who pronounces the sentence; and in whose decision all parties ought cheerfully to acquiesce, Acts 1:24, 26 -- "And they PRAYED -- and gave forth their lots."

Q. 72. What is the word in which the name of God is declared

A. The scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Q. 73. What is meant by God's works in this answer?

A. His works of creation and providence; which last includes redemption.

Q. 74. What does this commandment REQUIRE, with reference to God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.

A. The holy and reverend use of them.

Q. 75. What is it to make a holy and reverend use of these?

A. It is, in all our meditations, speeches, and writings, to have the most profound respect and regard for every thing, by which God manifests his name and glory, Deut. 28:58.

Q. 76. When do we essay to make a reverend use of God's names, titles, and attributes?

A. When we view them as in Christ, and in this light draw virtue from them, for the increase of our faith and holiness, Ex. 23:21 -- "Obey his voice -- for my name is in him."

Q. 77. When do we endeavour a holy and reverend use of the ordinances?

A. When we view God as present in them, Matt. 28:20; and attend or perform them with a single eye to his glory, Psalm 86:9.

Q. 78. When do we use the word in a holy and reverend manner?

A. When we search and believe the scriptures, as testifying of Christ, John 5:39; and are directed by them as a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path, Psalm 119:105.

Q. 79. When do we essay to make a holy and reverend use of the works of God.

A. When we are enabled to make suitable improvement of the bright displays he has made of his glorious excellencies, in creation, providence, and redemption, so as to walk humbly and thankfully before him, Rev. 15:3, 4 -- "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord! and glorify thy name for thou only art holy."


[65] See the divine attributes explained in the 4th Question What is God?

[66] See all these explained in Question 50. What is required in the Second Commandment?

[67] Of religious promissory oaths, see afterwards on this same Question under the head of vows.

[68] This is what is commonly called Personal Covenanting. Whoever wants to be instructed in the true nature and right manner of setting about this necessary duty, let him carefully peruse Mr. Boston's Memorial concerning personal and family fasting, subjoined to his View of the covenant of grace, chapter II. sect. 3:direction 8.


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