The Large Catechism
I.2. The Second Commandment
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
As the First Commandment has instructed the heart and taught [the basis of]
faith, so this commandment leads us forth and directs the mouth and tongue to
God. For the first objects that spring from the heart and manifest themselves are
words. Now, as I have taught above how to answer the question, what it is to
have a god, so you must learn to comprehend simply the meaning of this and all
the commandments, and to apply it to yourself. If, then, it be asked: How do you
understand the Second Commandment, or what is meant by taking in vain, or
misusing God's name? answer briefly thus: It is misusing God's name when we
call upon the Lord God no matter in what way, for purposes of falsehood or
wrong of any kind. Therefore this commandment enjoins this much, that God's
name must not be appealed to falsely, or taken upon the lips while the heart
knows well enough, or should know, differently; as among those who take oaths
in court, where one side lies against the other. For God's name cannot be
misused worse than for the support of falsehood and deceit. Let4this remain the
exact German and simplest meaning of this commandment.
From this every one can readily infer when and in how many ways God's name is
misused, although it is impossible to enumerate all its misuses. Yet, to tell it in a
few words, all misuse of the divine name occurs, first, in worldly business and in
matters which concern money, possessions, honor, whether it be publicly in
court, in the market, or wherever else men make false oaths in God's name, or
pledge their souls in any matter. And this is especially prevalent in marriage
affairs where two go and secretly betroth themselves to one another, and
afterward abjure [their plighted troth].
But. the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters, which pertain to the
conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their Lying vanities as God's
Word. Behold, all this is decking one's self out with God's name, or making a
pretty show, or claiming to be right, whether it occur in gross, worldly business or
in sublime, subtle matters of faith and doctrine. And among liars belong also
blasphemers, not alone the very gross, well known to every one, who disgrace
God's name without fear (these are not for us, but for the hangman to discipline);
but also those who publicly traduce the truth and God's Word and consign it to
the devil. Of this there is no need now to speak further.
Here, then, let us learn and take to heart the great importance of this
commandment, that with all diligence we may guard against and dread every
misuse of the holy name, as the greatest sin that can be outwardly committed.
For to lie and deceive is in itself a great sin, but is greatly aggravated when we
attempt to justify it, and seek to confirm it by invoking the name of God and using