IBL03: Third Commandment (Craig Press)
Swearing and Worship
*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.
Speaker 1: 00:01 “Draw near together ye that are escaped of the nations. They have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image and say unto a god that cannot save them. Tell ye, and bring them near. Yea let them take counsel together. Who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it from that time? Have not I the Lord, and there is no God else beside me, a just God and a Savior. There is none beside me. Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength. Even to him shall men come, and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.”
Speaker 1: 01:22 John Calvin, in speaking about the Third Commandment, “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,” made in passing this observation as central to his thesis. And I quote, “We shall soon see that to swear by God’s name is a species or part of religious worship. And this is manifest, too, from the words of Isaiah 45:23 for when he predicts that all nations shall devote themselves to pure religion, he thus speaks, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall swear by me.” End of quote. Calvin then goes on to say, as he discusses this passage in Isaiah which we just read, in particular the 23rd verse, which is the key verse in the passage. That God prophesies certain things.
Speaker 1: 02:46 First, that history will culminate in God’s absolute Lordship over all men and nations. Every knee shall bow unto God. Now this does not mean, as Calvin points out, citing Isaiah in a number of passages, that everyone in the world will be a believer. What it does mean is that Christian faith shall triumph. And everyone the world over will acknowledge the sovereignty of God whether they believe in Him or not because it is the people of God who rule. It is the Law of God which prevails. It is the righteousness of God which is declared in every nation. Thus, there shall be from end to end throughout all the Earth, the sovereignty of God manifested and the Law of God governing.
Speaker 1: 04:04 Secondly, Isaiah declares in this passage, or God declares, speaking through Isaiah, that unto me not only shall every knee bow but every tongue shall swear. In other words, an oath in the name of the God of scripture shall be the universal oath in every nation, in every court, for every office. And God declares that this constitutes a form of worship. Thus we see that oath taking is declared by scripture to be a form of worship. So that when George Washington took the first presidential oath of office, and he knew exactly what he was doing, he was worshiping the God of scripture and declaring that his term of office would be an attempt to magnify God and to govern in a godly manner.
Speaker 1: 05:29 Now as Calvin goes on to interpret the Third Commandment, he points out that in terms of this passage in Isaiah, it is silly to restrict the meaning of the Third Commandment to the use of the name Jehovah. That is, any profanity which uses God’s name. Calvin declares that profanity means any activity outside of God, outside of the temple. And blasphemy is any activity conducted outside of God, and in contempt of His sovereignty. Any trifling use of reality apart from God is thus, blasphemy. When men do sometimes tremendous and awe-inspiring things, that they do it in the name of man. They are guilty of violating the Third Commandment. When they attempt to play God as they deal with life, they are again guilty of blasphemy.
Speaker 1: 06:53 This last week, for example, the papers reported that scientists are planning soon to be able to tell any expectant mother whether her child is going to be a boy or a girl. They will remove the embryo from the uterus, examine it to see whether it will be male or female, and if they don’t like the sex, it will be killed. If they do, it will be re-implanted. They claim that in a few years they may be able to do this, but they have done it experimentally, sometimes to success, with rabbits.
Speaker 1: 07:36 Now this constitutes blasphemy. It is a trifling use of reality in contempt of God. It is taking the name of God in vain. The commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Thou shalt not, therefore, deal with any reality in vain, in vanity, in contempt of God and His law. We must take God’s name in truth.
Speaker 1: 08:13 We can see, therefore, how trifling a great deal of preaching is on this subject. I’ve known a number of ministers who went after all kinds of slang expressions as though they were blasphemy. For example, I can recall one minister in particular, and incidentally the last time I saw him, I almost threw him out of the house because of flagrant lying, who was death on anybody who said, “Dear me.”
Speaker 1: 08:55 Now when you trace “Dear me” back to its origins a few centuries ago, we find that various people from Latin countries who were in England very often said in their language, “My God.” [foreign language 00:09:15]. And the English parodied it and made fun of it, “Dio me” and it became “Dear me.” A kind of a joke at these immigrants who were in England. But some of these clergymen will tell you that if you say, “Dear me,” which is an utterly harmless expression, you’re guilty of violating the Third Commandment. Is this being trifling? Isn’t it taking the name of the Lord in vain to preach something like that with all the wickedness and evil round about us?
Speaker 1: 09:53 Similarly, some clergymen will say that the expression, “Not worth a dam” is profanity. But is it? For one thing, the ‘dam’ there is not d-a-m-n, as in damnation, but it is d-a-m. It has reference to the smallest coin in India. It’s like the French expression, “Not worth a sous.” The sous is the most insignificant of French coins, so insignificant it has disappeared. No longer a coin. And the dam is the smallest coin of India. And various Western troops, especially the British troops stationed in India, when they wanted to say they couldn’t care less or a thing was totally worthless, they said, “Not worth a dam.” It’s a good expression. We might soon be saying, “Not worth a penny” and mean the same thing. And before long, “Not worth a dollar.” Isn’t it trifling to reduce the Third Commandment to such nonsense? Of a good deal of preaching today we had better say it’s not worth a dam.
Speaker 1: 11:15 Now as we analyze the meaning of the Third Commandment, we must remember that the temptation of man at the beginning was, “Ye shall be gods, knowing,” that is, determining for yourselves good and evil. Man when he separated himself from God with the fall, began to define reality in terms of Man, and in the name of Man rather than in the name of God. When men began again to call upon the name of the Lord, we are told that men again began to look to God as their Lord, their Creator, their Savior. They saw him as their only Redeemer, their only Law-giver, their only hope, and they brought all of life under the dominion of God. This is what it meant to call upon the name of the Lord. So, to teach the Third Commandment, to call upon the name of the Lord, to take the name of the Lord in truth is to bring all things under the dominion of God and His Word.
Speaker 1: 12:48 But to take the name of the Lord in vain is to deny in reality the only true God, to make an empty profession of Him, to treat every law sphere as though it had nothing to do with God. As though politics, economics, science, education, were independent spheres independent of God. Modern politics is guilty of blasphemy. Modern education is guilty of blasphemy. It is not under God. Not in His name. And some Christian schools are guilty of blasphemy, because they are conducted in the name of the Lord but the sovereignty of God in every sphere of study is not manifest.
Speaker 1: 13:47 Some generations ago a German scholar Gustav Friedrich Oehler remarked, “Perjury does not concern the transgressor alone, but its whole race.” Why? Because it moves man and his society from the world of blessing to the world of the curse. It takes man out from under God’s name and puts him under man’s name, and it moves the foundations of society. True swearing is therefore true worship. It ascribes to God the glory due to His name. Thus we see the relationship of the oath to society is a tremendous one. When the oath is weakened, when its sanctity is destroyed, then society is in revolution.
Speaker 1: 14:48 And so it is that our world today is in transition from Christian society to a totally revolutionary society. For this reason, the ancient horror of any blasphemy of the oath, of a false oath is understandable. Before we became a revolutionary society, that horror of blasphemy characterized all of our society. In modern times, that sense of horror has disappeared. Do you remember when the high priest, although he was being a hypocrite, accused Jesus of blasphemy? What a demonstration he put on, a sense of total shock. Now he was being hypocritical, but he was mirroring what society felt about blasphemy. Because blasphemy was a revolutionary attack on the foundations of society.
Speaker 1: 16:05 In recent times, that sense of blasphemy has only survived in one or two places. Before World War II it existed in Japan. Any blasphemous use of the name of the emperor or of Shintoism created a tremendous shock in all of Japanese society. Now that has disappeared. We have destroyed it. Without supplying it any other foundation. And so it is the situation in Japan is a precarious one today. As long as they have prosperity, they will go along as at present. But revolution is under the surface. And we are responsible for it.
Speaker 1: 17:05 Because the horror of blasphemy as a false oath is gone so it’s the definition of treason. Two or three books have been written on treason in recent years, trying to define “What is treason?” And they no longer can. Since there is no longer a true oath in any society there is no true sense of responsibility. To whom are you responsible? There are two great claimants to responsibility today. On the one hand, the Totalitarian State which says everyone is absolutely accountable to us. They make themselves God. On the other hand, the anarchistic individual who says, “My conscience is absolute and you cannot violate my conscience.” The totalitarian individual. And so today society is caught between these two totalitarian forces. The State, and the individual, the anarchistic individual. And it is falling apart.
Speaker 1: 18:20 Now Rebecca West, who by no means is a Conservative, in her book on treason, The Meaning of Treason, The New Meaning of Treason, declares at the beginning as she analyzes the past definition, and I quote, “According to tradition and logic, the State gives protection to all men within its confines, and in return, exacts their obedience to its laws and the process is reciprocal. When men within the confines of the State are obedient to its laws, they have a right to claim its protection. It is a maxim of the law, quoted by Koch in the sixteenth century, that protection draws allegiance, and allegiance draws protection. It was laid down in 1608 by reference to the case of Shirley, a Frenchman who had come to England and joined in a conspiracy against the king and queen. But such a man owed to the king obedience, that is, so long as he was within the king’s protection.” unquote.
Speaker 1: 19:38 Now this is the historic meaning. And it had a significance. It meant that men and society were responsible under God. And therefore, being first of all responsible to God to fulfill his requirements each had under God a responsibility one to the other. Any one dwelling within the confines of a country and having its protection owed an allegiance to that country. Thus, even if you were an alien, as long as you were within the borders of that country you could be guilty of treason, because you had the protection of that country while doing business there or while living there or while traveling through that country. Therefore, you owed that country an allegiance to obey its law. Similarly, since there was a mutual responsibility under God, the country wherein you were, owed you a responsibility of protection. And you had the right to go to court and sue for that protection.
Speaker 1: 21:03 What would this mean today? It would mean that as people who are giving faithful allegiance to your country, you have a right to demand protection of your property, of your person, of your family. But if you are not giving allegiance, the country is traitorous to you. But if the country is not giving you protection, it is traitorous to you. In other words, treason works both ways. And why was it therefore in terms of this definition that under Cromwell the Puritans felt they could go to war against the king and execute him for treason? Because he was conspiring against the people, not to protect them, but to destroy them. So the king was executed for treason. There was thus you see, a mutual obligation. Allegiance. Protection. People and State equally under God and having a duty to discharge towards one another. But now there is no sense of obligation, no sense of loyalty, no definition of treason. On the one hand you have the Totalitarian State that claims everything and promises nothing. On the other hand, the totalitarian individual who exalts his conscience above all things.
Speaker 1: 23:06 As a result, these several books on treason which have been written of late, conclude by saying it is virtually impossible to define treason today. And the courts reflect this muddy conception. There is no hope. There is no sovereign God above and over men and nations in terms of modern thinking. And therefore there is no sense of treason. When all the world is black, no concept of black is possible, is it? Everything is black, so how can you define black? There is no differentiation. Only when you have differentiation is definition possible. If everything were water you could define nothing because you would only have a universal sameness. When you reduce the world to Relativism, when you say there is no truth and all things are relative, as our courts today have done, for our Supreme Court justice has said the only truth is that there is no truth. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. When you have such a situation, no definition is possible. No concept of treason, and no concept of crime.
Speaker 1: 24:58 And so today, the question being debated in law schools and in the courts themselves is what constitutes crime? There is no definition of crime now, and the Supreme Court is protecting the criminal increasingly because the Supreme Court does not believe there is such a thing as crime, and the criminal. Take away the oath and you take away an absolute God to whom men are absolutely responsible. Then all things become relative. And the possibility of defining anything disappears.
Speaker 1: 25:45 Now to define is to de-limit or to fence. A definition is a fence. When you define a book, you are by that definition saying this is not everything else in the world, it is precisely this thing. A definition constitutes therefore a fence. Now when you have Relativism you have destroyed the definition of fencing. And so all life is totally open. And how can you protect the good citizen from the criminal? How can you protect the innocent from the evil? The good from the bad?
Speaker 1: 26:37 Protection disappears because the fencing of definition is gone. And this is the end result of the Relativism that has set in. Hence it is that we are in a time when there is a necessity for judgment. The judgment of God upon this generation to restore perspective and definition and fencing protection to the world. We can rejoice as we face the presence that we do have God’s promise. “I have sworn by myself. The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness and shall not return. And unto me shall every knee bow. Every tongue shall swear. The world shall be filled with the righteousness of God as the waters cover the sea.” Let us pray.
Speaker 1: 27:57 Our Lord, and our God, we thank Thee that Thy judgment is sure. That this evil generation that destroys all meaning shall be brought to the bar of judgment and condemned. We thank Thee our Father that we who are Thy people can face the future with a certainty that unto Thee shall every knee bow and every tongue shall swear unto Thee. That Thy law order shall prevail in every nation, in every sphere. In this confidence our Father we prepare ourselves, knowing that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His [inaudible 00:28:56]. Our God, we praise Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.
Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder