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2 The Law Against Blasphemy
Thou shalt not take the name of JEHOVAH thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him innocent, that taketh His name in vain.
The Lord caused Israel to preface their law with three commandments which made the whole into a Divine law. The first of these stated that the Lord Jehovah alone is God, and required that He alone be worshipped. In the second, which bids us not to take His name in vain, we see an added requirement which must mark us if we would be more than merely natural, civil, and moral men, but also citizens in the spiritual kingdom of love and charity.
The doctrine of the New Church teaches us that "the signs of charity are all the things which pertain to worship" (Char. viii). The sign which indicates that one has charity is not - as is generally believed - "good works," but piety. Good works, helpfulness, altruism, generosity, are signs, not so much of charity as of civil loyalties, and may proceed from the love of worldly praise, honor, and power, or from the natural good of friendliness and inborn good nature. But the sign of true charity - the necessary mark of the spiritual man who acts not from self but from charity - is piety.
The broad meaning of the Second Commandment is, that man must be pious, must not be irreverent, must not take lightly his relation to the Lord, must not blaspheme or misuse the Lord's name which is "holy and reverend." In its literal form, this precept took such a hold upon Jewish minds that eventually a Jew did not even dare to pronounce the name Jehovah even while reading it in the Word. The same extreme reverence was shown to the Ark and the vessels of the Sanctuary. These were not touched except by ritual modes and by sanctified hands. The idea of holiness was that what was holy was set apart - held in fear; for contact with it meant a blessing only if such contact was obtained by prescribed rituals; otherwise a curse or calamity would follow.
In common with other nations of the decadent Ancient Church, the Jews were convinced of the power and holiness of certain names. The prophets, too, performed miracles in the sacred name of Jehovah. The Lord, when on earth, allowed His disciples to control demons and do works of healing in His name - thus proving its holiness. But neither the Israelites nor the disciples came to understand that this use of the name was not any benevolent magic, but a Divine application of a profound spiritual law - a law of the spiritual world, the world of human minds and spirits. For it was not the name only, but all the conditions and needs and states of mankind both on earth and in the heavens, which called forth the miracle. And although such miracles do not occur in the same manifest ways at this day, yet the power of the Lord's name is not lessened. He grants men whatsoever they pray "in His name," and "when two or three are gathered together in His name," He is in the midst of them.
But let us reflect on the meaning of this 'name.' A name is that which makes a man known to us. It means his fame and reputed qualities, his influence among men, his power, his abilities to perform uses. When a spirit enters into eternal life, his earthly name and fame arc forgotten, and a new name is given him, by which his real qualities are described in the spiritual language of ideas. And such a new naming is also of order, when a man enters into the Church on earth by the gate of Baptism - to signify the new quality which he then assumes.
The name of the Lord our God therefore, in a spiritual sense, represents His infinite, Divinely Human qualities. It means His Divine which proceeds from Him as Divine truth, as the light and heat of the spiritual Sun. It means everything of Divine revelation by which His qualities are made known; and thus it includes everything of His Word, in its letter as well as its spirit. It extends into the worship of the Church into which the Word enters, and to the whole Church and to the sphere of Divine Good which - from the Lord - pervades its worship and life.
All that is commanded by the Lord, and therefore done in His name and on His behalf, is a means of His holy presence. For by His 'name' is meant His Divine Order, His plan of salvation, His way of bringing His rule into the minds and hearts and personal lives of men and into the government and institutional uses of the Church. All good and all truth are of His name, and in them are vested His power and His holiness.
This inclusive meaning is given in the Arcana Coelestia, where the precept, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain," is explained to mean, that we must not profane or blaspheme the truth and good of faith; we must not turn truth into falsity by avowing the truth yet living in evil; nor turn good into falsity, by deliberately living under holy pretences while yet not believing the truth (AC 8882). For if so, the Lord cannot hold us guiltless.
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The evil which is here described is the evil of profanation, the mingling of good and evil, the conjunction within one mind of heaven and hell. No evil - so the Doctrine reveals -can be more terrible than such a profaning of what is holy by what is evil. The ancients, even the primitive peoples whose fragmentary wisdom men scorn at this day, lived in a manner closer to the spiritual world than we moderns who live in a world where nothing is held sacred. And therefore - despite their ignorance of physical laws - they knew the truth about profanation and its direful punishments. They lived in fear of sinning against something that was holy, of offending the gods. And this led them into gross idolatries and superstitions, because they lost their original discernment of what holiness was.
But we, in the New Church, are given to know what is holy. We know that the Word is the holy ultimate of Divine order upon earth; that upon it the Lord has put His name, and that He dwells within His Word and is present in its sacred teachings to bend our affections heavenward and to strengthen our faith in Him.
When the Pharisees had suggested that Jesus drove out evil spirits by the power of Beelzebub; and when they thus denied His Divine power - His Divine Spirit and Soul - the Lord replied by saying, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in the age to come" (Matthew 12:31, 32).
To "speak a word against the Son of Man" means for a man to deny some truth of doctrine while he still looks to the Word as the source of truth, believing that in it and from it are Divine truths. Necessarily, the manifold truths which the Church draws from its Revelations cannot be equally seen by all men or in all states. There must be freedom to judge whether such doctrines are Divine truths or merely formed from appearances on the surface of Revelation. And so long as truths are not yet implanted by faith into the conscience, or inscribed upon man's life, they come to man with their Divine character veiled, and are what is meant by the Son of Man. Hence the Lord said, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). "The Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20). Such truth, whether it appear as a Savior or as a Judge, is not yet interiorly received, nor is its inmost connection with religious life recognized. Man is pardoned if he doubts or reasons against it, pardoned if he struggles against it, and resists the demands it makes upon his life. And indeed he may seek to blind himself against its Divine authority and to hide himself from the judgment which the truth might bring about within Him.
We cannot say that such states of obscurity, doubt, and rebellion, are guiltless; for they spring from the refractory will of man. But they can still be forgiven: they can yield and pass away, provided only that man will seek affirmatively for light in the Word.
Not so the sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a denial of the holiness, the Divinity, the inspiration of the Word a denial which closes heaven to man. Or, it is a denial of the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a denial that the Spirit of God is in the Word or is in the Lord's Human. And it is unforgivable to Christians: not because the Lord resents this sin more than any other, but because there is no hope for any one who - in this world or the next - sees yet wittingly denies and rejects these means which the Lord extends for his salvation.
The celestial angels, above all others, have the perception of the utmost necessity of the acknowledgment of the Lord in His Divine Human as the only possible means of salvation. They see that a man's unwillingness to acknowledge God as the source of all human qualities, profanes the name of God and induces a brutal coldness into all the thoughts of his mind, which can then be stirred only by the fires of evil. The celestial sense of the Second Commandment therefore is, not to deny the Divinity of the Lord's Human. For with this denial angelic spheres depart from the interiors of man's mind.
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Much may be read in the Writings concerning profanation. In its most direful and interior form - which the whole force of Divine Providence seeks to prevent - it is the deliberate mingling of evil affections and falsities of evil with the holy things of good and truth. Those who become such profaners are excluded not only from heaven but from hell, until their minds and spiritual bodies are reduced by a terrible process of vastation into an almost senseless and lifeless state - a living death. And this eventuates, not as a punishment, but because confirmed good and confirmed evil have produced a double yearning in the mind – a belief in truth and in phantasy at once. Such an unbearable state cannot be stamped out or dissolved except by a pulling asunder of the roots of a man's life, and, with this, a carrying away of as much of man's spiritual life as has been profaned (AC 8882).
It is to prevent such interior profanation that "the Lord admits man interiorly into the truths of wisdom and into goods of love only so far as he can be kept in them to the end of his life" (DP 232-233). It is because of this that guards are placed about interior truths such as are in the spiritual sense of the Word - and that the letter of the Word consists of parables and appearances. The first responsibility of the man of the Church is therefore to keep the Word holy. For all profanation - in its descending degrees - begins with something of contempt in the externals of our thought. The need of watchfulness lest something holy be degraded or desecrated, is indicated in the Lord's saying "that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt.12:36).
It cannot be doubted that this is a warning against the vulgar habit of bursting out in impatient and condemnatory language which hurts the sensibilities of others - as well as against the employment of useless oaths in which the name of God is "taken in vain." But such "idle words" become of the greatest moment the more they are joined with a contempt of the Word and its purpose - which is human salvation! and so far as they spread, as today, into a depraved custom of using names and sayings from the Word as witticisms, some indecorous, some openly profane.
In the New Church there is no need for artificial solemnity, nor for morbid sadness, in the exercise and expression of our religious convictions. There should be no fear of taking the Lord's name upon our lips, no undue anxiety or embarrassment or timidity about introducing the things of the Church and of the Word into our social conversations. Religion belongs to all things of life. Nor should any excessive fear of profanation either prevent us from entering interiorly and rationally into the mysteries of faith, or discourage us from taking part in the worship of the Church "frequently every year receiving the sacrament of the Supper, and performing the other parts of worship according to the ordinances of the Church" (HD 124). If there is sincerity, together with a desire to continue to resist evils, there is not only protection against profanation but also the promise of spiritual progress, and an interior joy in the worship of the Lord.
The Gospel of the Second Advent of the Lord is one of great joy. As long as the children of the bridechamber have the Bridegroom amongst them, they cannot fast. Humiliation before the Lord, reverence of His name, does not imply a condemnation of the wholesome human delights of mind and body, or an abstinence from lighthearted relaxation. Indeed, among the diversions of charity the Doctrine mentions "decorous wit" and harmless humor.
Yet in our whiles of recreation we largely live in our sensual degree: and - since the sensual is at best only in a process of being disciplined and purified - there are apt to be present in such states the play of many corporeal affections which would profane the name of the Lord and the things of the Church if such things are improperly introduced without adequate reflection. To use anything holy in flippant or "frivolous conversation," is therefore proscribed and forbidden to the New Churchman (TCR 298). And this is done to prevent the sphere of the world's interior contempt for the holy things of the Word from infesting the Church. For habits of speech which may not be deeply profane to many in the world who lack the knowledge of what is holy, would with us become deeply hurtful.
The Writings speak of a law operating within the organic mind of man, called the law of associated ideas. When a name or expression from the Word is made an occasion for laughter or derision, such ideas with their pervert delights attach themselves to that name, and are recalled whenever this is read or called to mind: producing an interior presence of both heaven and hell. And in the other life man will then have lost the use of this holy ultimate as a means of inviting angelic aid (SD 1304).
The habit of jesting about holy things becomes a wedge which pries open the mind, already swept and furnished by religion, for the entrance of a worse profanation. The name of the Lord is holy. The idea of the Lord, whenever it is suggested in the thought, must be paramount -never subjected to thoughts of trivial sort. When it is brought to bear (as it should) on everyday affairs, it must always dominate. Frivolity in religious matters is a tool of hell for undermining the sanctities of life.
There is no more wasting argument against any cause than laughter. This argument of scorn and derision is usually at war with charity, and is often profane - as when it was visited upon the Lord in the palace of the high priest. It is our part - be we young or old, unworthy disciples of the Lord's new truth - to realize that
we cannot always laugh when the world laughs, cannot join in the clever cynicisms that are everywhere directed against the holiest things of life - against the sanctities of spiritual doctrine or against the sanctities of conjugial love; nor treat lightly the sanctity of friendship or imposed trust, even if it may be only a child who so trusts us.
There are many things in the life of every man which must be respected as sacred: sacred because they come from the Lord, and are basic to salvation - the means and conditions by which eternal life is acquired. Chief among these is the freedom of others - which is given from the Lord and is an intrinsic part of His order, a part of His wonderful name. For that which is not ours, belongs in reality to the Lord; and that which is ours only seems to be our own. This widening perception of all things of life as sacred to a Divine purpose is that which can bring the true wisdom of innocence to men, and which will lead the Church to the fulfilment of its eternal prayer: "Hallowed be Thy name."