I was greatly amazed not long ago in talking to a man who thought he was a Christian, to find that once in a while, when he got angry, he would swear. I said: "My friend, I don't see how you can tear down with one hand what you are trying to build up with the other. I don't see how you can profess to be a child of God and let those words come out of your lips."
He replied: "Mr. Moody, if you knew me you would understand. I have a very quick temper. I inherited it from my father and mother, and it is uncontrollable; but my swearing comes only from the lips."
When God said, "I will not hold him guiltless that takes My name in vain," He meant what He said, and I don't believe any one can be a true child of God who takes the name of God in vain. What is the grace of God for, if it is not to give me control of my temper so that I shall not lose control and bring down the curse of God upon myself? When a man is born of God, God takes the "swear" out of him. Make the fountain good, and the stream will be good. Let the heart be right; then the language will be right; the whole life will be right. But no man can serve God and keep His law until he is born of God. There we see the necessity of the new birth.
To take God's name "in vain" means either (1) lightly, without thinking, flippantly; or (2) profanely, deceitfully.
USING GOD'S NAME IRREVERENTLY.
I think it is shocking to use God's name with so little reverence as is common nowadays, even among professing Christians. We are told that the Jews held it so sacred that the covenant name of God was never mentioned amongst them except once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, when he went into the holy of holies. What a contrast that is to the familiar use Christians make of it in public and private worship! We are apt to rush into God's presence, and rush out again, without any real sense of the reverence and awe that is due Him. We forget that we are on holy ground.
Do you know how often the word "reverend" occurs in the Bible? Only once. And what is it used in connection with? God's name. Psalm cxi.9: "Holy and reverend is His name." So important did the Jewish rabbis consider this commandment that they said the whole world trembled when it was first proclaimed on Sinai.
USING GOD'S NAME PROFANELY.
But though there is far too much of this frivolous, familiar use of God's name, the commandment is broken a great deal more by profanity. Taking the name of God in vain is blasphemy. Is there a swearing man who reads this? What would you do if you were put into the balances of the sanctuary, if you had to step in opposite to this third commandment? Think a moment. Have you been taking God's name in vain to-day?
I do not believe men would ever have been guilty of swearing unless God had forbidden it. They do not swear by their friends, their fathers or mothers, their wives or children. They want to show how they despise God's law.
A great many men think there is nothing in swearing. Bear in mind that God sees something wrong in it, and He says He will not hold men guiltless, even though society does.
I met a man sometime ago who told me he had never sinned in his life. He was the first perfect man I had ever met. I thought I would question him, and began to measure him by the law. I asked him: "Do you ever get angry?" "Well," he said, "sometimes I do; but I have a right to do so. It is righteous indignation." "Do you swear when you get angry?" He admitted he did sometimes. "Then," I asked, "are you ready to meet God?" "Yes," he replied, "because I never mean anything when I swear."
Suppose I steal a man's watch and he comes after me.
"Yes," I say, "I stole your watch and pawned it, but I did not mean anything by it. I pawned it and spent the money, but I did not mean anything by it."
You would smile at and deride such a statement.
Ah, friends! You cannot trifle with God in that way. Even if you swear without meaning it, it is forbidden by God. Christ said: "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment; for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." You will be held accountable whether your words are idle or blasphemous.
A SENSELESS HABIT.
The habit of swearing is condemned by all sensible persons. It has been called "the most gratuitous of all sins," because no one gains by it; it is "not only sinful, but useless." An old writer said that when the accusing angel, who records men's words, flies up to heaven with an oath, he blushes as he hands it in.
When a man blasphemes, he shows an utter contempt for God. I was in the army during the war, and heard men cursing and swearing. Some godly woman would pass along the ranks looking for her wounded son, and not an oath would be heard. They would not swear before their mothers, or their wives, or their sisters; they had more respect for them than they had for God!
Isn't it a terrible condemnation that swearing held its own until it came to be recognized as a vulgar thing, a sin against society? Men dropped it then, who never thought of its being a sin against God.
There will be no swearing men in the kingdom of God. They will have to drop that sin, and repent of it, before they see the kingdom of God.
HOW TO KEEP FROM SWEARING.
Men often ask: "How can I keep from swearing?" I will tell you. If God puts His love into your heart, you will have no desire to curse Him. If you have much regard for God, you will no more think of cursing Him than you would think of speaking lightly or disparagingly of a mother whom you love. But the natural man is at enmity with God, and has utter contempt for His law. When that law is written on his heart, there will be no trouble in obeying it.
When I was out west about thirty years ago, I was preaching one day in the open air, when a man drove up in a fine turn-out, and after listening a little while to what I was saying, he put the whip to his fine-looking Steed, and away he went. I never expected to see him again, but the next night he came back, and he kept on coming regularly night after night.
I noticed that his forehead itched -- you have noticed people who keep putting their hands to their foreheads? -- he didn't want any one to see him shedding tears -- of course not! It is not a manly thing to shed tears in a religions meeting, of course!
After the meeting I said to a gentleman: "Who is that man who drives up here every night? Is he interested?" "Interested! I should think not! You should have heard the way he talked about you today." "Well," I said, "that is a sign he is interested."
If no man ever has anything to say against you, your Christianity isn't worth much. Men said of the Master, "He has a devil," and Jesus said that if they had called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household.
I asked where this man lived, but my friend told me not to go to see him, for he would only curse me. I said: "It takes God to curse a man; man can only bring curses on his own head." I found out where he lived, and went to see him. He was the wealthiest man within a hundred miles of that place, and had a wife and seven beautiful children. Just as I got to his gate I saw him coming out of the front door. I stepped up to him and said: "This is Mr. -- , I believe?" He said: "Yes, sir; that is my name." Then he straightened up and asked -- "What do you want?" "Well," I said, "I would like to ask you a question, if you won't be angry." "Well, what is it?" "I am told that God has blessed you above all men in this part of the country; that He has given you wealth, a beautiful Christian wife, and seven lovely children. I do not know if it is true, but I hear that all He gets in return is cursing and blasphemy." He said, "Come in; come in." I went in. "Now," he said, "what you said out there is true. If any man has a fine wife I am the man, and I have a lovely family of children, and God has been good to me. But do you know, we had company here the other night, and I cursed my wife at the table, and did not know it till after the company had gone. I never felt so mean and contemptible in my life as when my wife told me of it. She said she wanted the floor to open and let her down out of her seat. If I have tried once, I have tried a hundred times to stop swearing. You preachers don't know anything about it." "Yes," I said, "I know all about it; I have been a drummer." "But," he said, "you don't know anything about a business-man's troubles. When he is harassed and tormented the whole time, he can't help swearing." "Oh, yes," I said, "he can. I know something about it. I used to swear myself." "What! You used to swear?" he asked; "how did you stop?" "I never stopped." "Why, you don't swear now, do you?" "No; I have not sworn for years." "How did you stop?" "I never stopped. It stopped itself." He said, "I don't understand this." "No," I said, "I know you don't. But I came up to talk to you, so that you will never want to swear again as long as you live."
I began to tell him about Christ in the heart; how that would take the temptation to swear out of a man,
"Well," he said, "how am I to get Christ?" "Get right down here and tell Him what you want." "But," he said, "I was never on my knees in my life. I have been cursing all the day, and I don't know how to pray or what to pray for." "Well," I said, "it is mortifying to have to call on God for mercy when you have never used His name except in oaths; but He will not turn you away. Ask God to forgive you if you want to be forgiven."
Then the man got down and prayed -- only a few sentences, but thank God, it is the short prayers, after all, which bring the quickest answers. After he prayed he got up and said: "What shall I do now?" I said, "Go down to the church and tell the people there that you want to be an out-and-out Christian." "I cannot do that," he said; "I never go to church except to some funeral." "Then it is high time for you to go for something else," I said.
After a while he promised to go, but did not know what the people would say. At the next church prayer-meeting, the man was there, and I sat right in front of him. He stood up and put his hands on the settee, and he trembled so much that I could feel the settee shake. He said:
"My friends, you know all about me. If God can save a wretch like me, I want to have you pray for my salvation."
That was thirty odd years ago. Sometime ago I was back in that town, and did not see him; but when I was in California, a man asked me to take dinner with him. I told him that I could not do so, for I had another engagement. Then he asked if I remembered him, and told me his name. "Oh," I said, "tell me, have you ever sworn since that night you knelt in your drawing-room, and asked God to forgive you?" "No," he replied, "I have never had a desire to swear since then. It was all taken away."
He was not only converted, but became an earnest, active Christian, and all these years has been serving God. That is what will take place when a man is born of the divine nature.
Is there a swearing man ready to put this commandment into the scales, and step in to be weighed? Suppose you swear only once in six months or a year -- suppose you swear only once in ten years -- do you think God will hold you guiltless for that act? It shows that your heart is not clean in God's sight. What are you going to do, blasphemer? Would you not be found wanting? You would be like a feather in the balance.