A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Four, Making a Mockery of God When We Use His Name As a By-Word

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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The common, careless using of the blessed name of God, without due application, is another instance of the ill government of the tongue, which needs a check.

Many who never curse or swear, yet allow themselves in the taking of God’s name in vain, and either know not, or consider not, the evil of it, and the dishonor done (though not intended) to God by it. When you use those forms of speech, which are properly expressive of a pious ejaculation, in a light and careless manner, and to any other purpose than their genuine and original signification, which appears by your way of speaking not to be intended, but something else, you profane that which is sacred, and alienate to a common use that which appears to have been dedicated to God, and has holiness to the Lord written on it. To say, “O Lord,” when you mean no more but “I am hurt;” and “God knows,” when you mean no more but “I do not know;” and “God bless me,” when you mean no more but “I am surprised;” and “God help you,” when you mean no more but “I pity you,” or any the like, is certainly taking the name of the Lord your God in vain, and to no purpose, that is, to no good purpose.

Now will you who accustom yourselves to this language consider this…

1   That it is a great affront to the God of heaven. You hereby make his blessed name a by-word, and put that slight upon it which you would not bear to be put upon your own names. That is a great example which the bishop of Sarum tells us was observed of the honorable Mr. Boyle, that he never mentioned the name of God but with a discernible stop or pause in his discourse, in token of a reverence for that glorious and fearful name, and to leave room for a devout thought. Great and serious things ought to be spoken of with great seriousness, and they are abused if they are prostituted to a common use.

2   That it is certainly a breach of the law of the third commandment, which is very express. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and it is backed with a threatening that the Lord will not hold them guiltless that do so, in which certainly more is implied than is expressed; it is supposed that many such will hold themselves guiltless, and think they do no harm, and others will hold them guiltless, but God will severely reckon with them, for he is a jealous God.

3   That it is a great profanation of the holy ordinance of prayer. The better any thing is, the worse it is when it is corrupted. There is nothing better than the devout and serious mention of the name of our God as there is occasion, nothing better than pious addresses to God when the heart goes along with them; but if this degenerate into a mockery, if the dead carcass hereof only is retained, and there is no spirit or life in it, if there be not so much as an outward solemnity and decorum observed, but the manner of using those good words plainly shows and avows it, that there is nothing pious and devout intended by them, it is in effect a banter upon prayer, turns it into burlesque and ridicule, and is exceeding offensive to God and good men.

It will be hard to use those words seriously, when they should be used so, when you have so often used vainly when you should not; and what comfort can you expect in prayer, when you are serious and need the comfort of it, if at other times you use the words of prayer thus lightly and profanely.

And now, shall I prevail with you to never to mention the name of God but with seriousness, and in a holy and reverent manner? Say not that you are so used to these expressions that you cannot leave them; resolution, by the grace of God, will change the dialect. Can you completely commit your lives for Christ if you will not leave off sinful, and inconsiderate words for him? One would think this is a small piece of self-denial. Let the fear of God rule in your hearts, and always maintain a holy awe and reverence of him, and then out of the abundance of that the mouth will speak of him with reverence, and will not dare to speak otherwise.

The description which the Scripture gives of hypocrites, (Isa. 48:1.) is, that they make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth; but the description of true saints is, that they think on God’s name, Malachi  3:16. Act with reason, and either think of what you say, or do not say what you do not think of.