There are two things which are indispensable to the Christian's life: first, a clear knowledge of duty, and second, a conscientious practice of duty corresponding to his knowledge. As we can have no well-grounded hope of eternal salvation without obedience, so we can have no sure rule of obedience without knowledge. Although there may be knowledge without practice, yet there cannot possibly be practice of God's will without knowledge. And therefore that we might be informed what we ought to do and what to avoid, it has pleased the Ruler and judge of all the earth to prescribe for us laws for the regulating of our actions. When we had miserably defaced the Law of nature originally written in our hearts, so that many of its commandments were no longer legible, it seemed good to the Lord to transcribe that Law into the Scriptures, and in the Ten Commandments we have a summary of the same.
First let us consider their promulgation. The manner in which the Decalogue was formally delivered to Israel was very awe-inspiring, yet replete with valuable instruction for us. First the people were commanded to spend two days in preparing themselves, by a ceremonial cleansing from all external pollution, before they were ready to stand in the presence of God (Ex. 19:10, 11). This teaches us that serious preparation of heart and mind must be made before we come to wait before God in His ordinances and receive a word at His mouth; and that if Israel must sanctify themselves in order to appear before God at Sinai, how much more must we sanctify ourselves that we may be meet to appear before God in Heaven. Next, the mount on which God appeared was to be fenced, with a strict prohibition that none should presume to approach the holy mount (19:12, 13). This teaches us that God is infinitely superior to us and due our utmost reverence, and intimates the strictness of His Law.
Next we have a description of the fearful manifestation in which Jehovah appeared to deliver His Law (Ex. 19:18, 19), which was designed to affect the people of Israel with an awe for His authority and to signify that if God were so terrible in the giving of the Law, when He comes to judge us for its violation how much more so will He be? When God had delivered the Ten Words, so greatly affected were the people that they entreated Moses to act as a mediator and interpreter between God and them (20:18, 19). This teaches us that when the Law is delivered to us directly by God it is (in itself) the ministration of condemnation and death, but as it is delivered to us by the Mediator, Christ, we may hear and observe it (see Gal. 3:19; 1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Accordingly Moses went up into the mount and received the Law, inscribed by God's own finger upon two tables of stone, signifying that our hearts are naturally so hard that none but the finger of God can make any impression of His Law upon them. Those tables were broken by Moses in his holy zeal (Ex. 32:19), and God wrote them a second time (34:1). This signifies that the Law of Nature was written on our hearts at creation, broken when we fell in Adam, and rewritten in our hearts at regeneration (Heb. 10:16). But some may ask, "Has not the Law been fully abrogated by the coming of Christ into the world? Would you bring us under that heavy yoke of bondage which none has ever been able to bear? Does not the New Testament expressly declare that we are not under the Law, but under Grace; that Christ was made under the Law to free His people therefrom? Is not an attempt to overawe men's conscience by the authority of the Decalogue a legalistic imposition, altogether at variance with that Christian liberty which the Savior has brought in by His obedience unto death?" We answer thus: So far from the Law being abolished by the coming of Christ into this world, He Himself emphatically stated, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets (the enforcers thereof): I am come not to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:17, 18). True, the Christian is not under the Law as a Covenant of Works nor as a ministration of condemnation, but he is under it as a rule of life and a means of sanctification.
Second, let us consider their uniqueness. This appears first in that this revelation of God at Sinai, which was to serve for all coming ages as the grand expression of His holiness and the summation of man's duty, was attended with such awe-inspiring phenomena that the very manner of their publication plainly showed that God Himself assigned to the Decalogue peculiar importance. The Ten Commandments were uttered by God in an audible voice, with the fearful adjuncts of clouds and darkness, thunders and lightnings and the sound of a trumpet, and they were the only parts of Divine Revelation so spoken--none of the ceremonial or civil precepts were thus distinguished. Those Ten Words, and they alone, were written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, and they alone were deposited in the holy ark for safekeeping. Thus, in the unique honor conferred upon the Decalogue, we may perceive its paramount importance in the divine government.
Third, let us consider their springs, which is love. Far too little emphasis has been placed upon their Divine preface: "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Whatever of awful grandeur and solemn majesty attended the promulgation of the Law, nevertheless, it had its foundation in love. The Law proceeded from God as a clear expression of His character as both the gracious Redeemer and righteous Lord of His people. The obvious conclusion and all- important principle that must be drawn from this understanding is this: redemption necessitates conformity to God's character and order in those who are redeemed. Not only was God's giving of the Decalogue an act of love, but love was the basis upon which it was received by His people, for only thus could there be a conformity, an essential likeness, between a redeeming God and a redeemed people. The words at the close of the second commandment, "showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments," make it crystal clear that the only obedience which God accepts is that which proceeds from an affectionate heart. The Savior declared that the requirements of the Law were all summed up in loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Fourth, let us consider their perpetuity. That the Decalogue is binding upon every man in each succeeding generation is evident from many considerations. First, as the necessary and unchanging expression of God's rectitude, its authority over all moral agents becomes inevitable: the character of God Himself must change before the Law (the rule of His government) can be revoked. This is the Law that was given to man at his creation from which his subsequent apostasy could not relieve him. The Moral Law is founded on relations which subsist wherever there are creatures endowed with reason and volition. Second, Christ Himself rendered to the Law a perfect obedience, thereby leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps. Third, the Apostle to the Gentiles specifically raised the question "Do we then make void the Law through faith?" and answered, "God forbid: yea, we establish the Law" (Rom. 3:31). Finally, the perpetuity of the Law appears in God's writing it in the hearts of His people at their new birth (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26, 27).
Fifth, we pass on to say a word upon the number of the commandments of the Moral Law, ten being indicative of their completeness. This is emphasized in Scripture by their being expressly designated "the Ten Words" (Ex. 34:28 margin), which intimates that they formed by themselves an entire whole made up of the necessary, and no more than the necessary, complement of its parts. It was on account of this symbolic import of the number that the plagues upon Egypt were precisely that many, forming as such a complete round of Divine judgments. And it was for the same reason that the transgressions of the Hebrews in the wilderness were allowed to proceed till the same number had been reached: when they had "sinned these ten times" (Num. 14:21) they had "filled up the measure of their iniquities." Hence also the consecration of the tithes or tenths: the whole increase was represented by ten, and one of these was set apart for the Lord in token of all being derived from Him and held for Him.
Sixth, we consider their division. As God never acts without good reason we may be sure He had some particular design in writing the Law upon two tables. This design is evident on the surface, for the very substance of these precepts, which together comprehend the sum of righteousness, separates them into two distinct groups, the first respecting our obligations Godward, and the second our obligations manward, the former treating of what belongs peculiarly to the worship of God, the latter of the duties of charity in our social relations. Utterly worthless is that righteousness which abstains from acts of violence against our fellows while we withhold from the Majesty of heaven the glory which is His due. Equally vain is it to pretend to be worshippers of God if we refuse those offices of love which are due to our neighbors. Abstaining from fornication is more than neutralized if I blasphemously take the Lord's name in vain, while the most punctilious worship is rejected by Him while I steal or lie.
Nor do the duties of Divine worship fill up the first table because they are, as Calvin terms them, "the head of religion," but as he rightly adds, they are "the very soul of it, constituting all its life and vigor," for without the fear of God, men preserve no equity and love among themselves. If the principle of piety be lacking, whatever justice, "mercy, and temperance men may practice among themselves, it is vain in the sight of Heaven; whereas if God be accorded His rightful place in our hearts and lives, venerating Him as the Arbiter of right and wrong, this will constrain us to deal equitably with our fellows. Opinion has varied as to how the Ten Words were divided, as to whether the fifth ended the first table or began the second. Personally, we incline decidedly to the former: because parents stand to us in the place of God while we are young; because in Scripture parents are never regarded as "neighbors"--on an equality; and because each of the first five commandments contain the phrase "the Lord thy God," which is not found in any of the remaining five.
Seventh, let us consider their spirituality. "The Law is spiritual" (Rom. 7:14), not only because it proceeds from a spiritual Legislator, but because it demands something more than the mere obedience of external conduct, namely, the internal obedience of the heart to its uttermost extent. It is only as we perceive that the Decalogue extends to thoughts and desires of the heart that we discover how much there is in ourselves in direct opposition to it. God requires truth "in the inward parts" (Psa. 51:6) and prohibits the smallest deviation from holiness even in our imaginations. The fact that the Law takes cognizance of our most secret dispositions and intentions, that it demands the holy regulation of our mind, affections, and will, and that it requires all our obedience to proceed from love at once demonstrates its Divine origin. No other law ever professed to govern the spirit of man, but He who searches the heart claims nothing less. This high spirituality of the Law was evidenced by Christ when He insisted that an unchaste look was adultery and that malignant anger was a breach of the sixth commandment.
Eighth, we consider their office. The first use of the Moral Law is to reveal the only righteousness which is acceptable to God, and at the same time to discover to us our own unrighteousness. Sin has blinded our judgment, filled us with self-love, and wrought in us a false sense of our own sufficiency. But if we seriously compare ourselves with the high and holy demands of God's Law, we are made aware of our groundless insolence, convicted of our pollution and guilt, and made conscious of our lack of strength to do what is required of us. Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book II, Chapter 7, Section 7), says, "Thus the Law is a kind of mirror. As in a mirror we discover any stains upon our face, so in the Law we behold, first, our impotence; then, in consequence of it, our iniquity; and, finally, the curse, as the consequence of both." Its second use is to restrain the wicked, who though they have no concern for God's glory and no thought of pleasing Him, yet refrain from many outward acts of sin through fear of its terrible penalty. Though this commends them not to God, it is a benefit to the community in which they live. Third, the law is the believer's rule of life, to direct him, and to keep him dependent upon Divine grace.
Ninth, we consider its sanctions. Not only has the Lord brought us under infinite obligations for having redeemed us from sin's slavery, not only has He given His people such a sight and sense of His awe-inspiring majesty as to beget in them a reverence for His sovereignty, but He has been pleased to provide additional inducements for us to yield to His authority, gladly perform His bidding, and shrink with abhorrence from what He forbids, by subjoining promises and threatenings, saying, "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments." Thus we are informed that those who perform His bidding shall not labor in vain, just as rebels shall not escape with impunity.
And tenth and finally, we consider their interpretation. "Thy commandment" said the Psalmist "is exceeding broad" (119:96). So comprehensive is the Moral Law that its authority extends to all the moral actions of our lives. The rest of the Scriptures are but a commentary on the Ten Commandments, either exciting us to obedience by arguments, alluring us by promises, restraining from transgressions by threatenings, or spurring us to the one and withholding us from the other by examples recorded in the historical portions. Rightly understood the precepts of the New Testament are but explications, amplifications, and applications of the Ten Commandments. It should be carefully observed that in the things expressly commanded or forbidden there is always implied more than is formally stated. But let us be more specific. First, in each Commandment the chief duty or sin is taken as representative of all the lesser duties or sins, and the overt act is taken as representative of all related affections. Whatever specific sin be named, all the sins of the same kind, with all the causes and provocations thereof, are forbidden, for Christ expounded the sixth commandment as condemning not only actual murder, but also rash anger in the heart. Second, when any vice is forbidden, the contrary virtue is enjoined, and when any virtue is commanded, the contrary vice is condemned. For example, in the third God forbids the taking of His name in vain, so by necessary consequence the hallowing of His name is commanded. And as the eighth forbids stealing, so it requires the contrary duty-earning our living and paying for what we receive (Eph. 4:28).
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
"And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:1, 2). This Preface to the Moral Law is to be regarded as having equal respect to all the Ten Commandments (and not to the first one only), containing as it does the most weighty arguments to enforce our obedience to them. As it is the custom of kings and governors to prefix their names and titles before the edicts set forth by them, to obtain the more attention and veneration to what they publish, so with the great God, the King of kings, being about to proclaim a Law for His subjects, that He might affect them with a deeper reverence for His authority and make them the more afraid to transgress those statutes which are enacted by so mighty a Potentate and so glorious a Majesty, blazons His august Name upon them.
What has just been pointed out above is clearly established by those awe-inspiring words of Moses to Israel: "That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD" (Deut. 28:58). "I am the Lord thy God." The word for "Lord" is "Jehovah," who is the Supreme, Eternal and Self-existent One, the force of which is (as it were) spelled out for us in "which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). The word for "God" is "Elohim," the plural of Eloah, for though He be one in nature yet is He three in His Persons. And this Jehovah, the Supreme Object of worship, is "thy GOD," because in the past He was thy Creator, in the present He is thy Ruler, and in the future He will be thy judge. In addition, He is the "God" of His elect by covenant relationship and therefore their Redeemer. Thus, our obedience to His Law is enforced by these considerations: His absolute authority, to beget fear in us--He is "the Lord thy God"; His benefits and mercies, to engage love--"which brought thee out of the (antitypical) house of bondage."
"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3) is the first Commandment. Let us briefly consider its meaning. We note its singular number: "thou" not "ye," addressed to each person separately, because each of us is concerned therein. "Thou shalt have no other gods" has the force of, thou shalt own, possess, seek, desire, love or worship none other. No "other gods"; they are called such not because they are so, either by nature or by office (Psa. 82:6), but because the corrupt hearts of men make and esteem them such--as in "whose god is their belly" (Phil. 3:19). "Before Me" or "My face," the force of which is best ascertained by His word to Abraham, "Walk before Me and be thou perfect" or "upright" (Gen. 17:1)--conduct thyself in the realization that thou are ever in My presence, that Mine eye is continually upon thee. This is very searching. We are so apt to rest contented if we can but approve ourselves before men and maintain a fair show of godliness outwardly; but Jehovah searches our innermost being and we cannot conceal from Him any secret lust or hidden idol.
Let us next consider the positive duty enjoined by this first Commandment. Briefly stated it is this: thou shalt choose, worship and serve Jehovah as thy God, and Him only. Being who He is--thy Maker and Ruler, the Sum of all excellency, the supreme Object of worship--He admits of no rival and none can vie with Him. See then the absolute reasonableness of this demand and the madness of contravening it. This commandment requires from us a disposition and conduct suited to the relation in which we stand to the Lord as our God, who is the only adequate Object of our love and the only One able to satisfy the soul. It requires that we have a love for Him stronger than all other affections, that we take Him for our highest portion, that we serve and obey Him supremely. It requires that all those services and acts of worship which we render unto the true God be made with the utmost sincerity and devotion (implied in the "before Me"), excluding negligence on the one hand and hypocrisy on the other.
In pointing out the duties required by this Commandment we cannot do better than to quote the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are "the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God (1 Chron. 28:9; Deut. 26:17, etc.); and to worship and glorify Him accordingly (Psa. 95:6, 7; Matt. 4:1O, etc.), by thinking (Mal. 3:16), meditating (Psa. 63:6), remembering (Eccl. 12:1), highly esteeming (Psa. 71:19), honouring (Mal. 1:6), adoring (Isa. 45:23), choosing (Josh. 24:15), loving (Deut. 6:5), desiring (Psa. 73:25), fearing of Him (Isa. 8:13), believing Him (Ex. 14:31), trusting (Isa. 26:4), hoping (Psa. 103:7), delighting (Psa. 37:4), rejoicing in Him (Psa. 32:11), being zealous for Him (Rom. 12:11), calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks (Phil. 4:6), and yielding all obedience and submission to Him with the whole man (Jer. 7:23), being careful in all things to please Him (1 John 3:22), and sorrowful when in anything he is offended (Jer. 31:18; Psa. 119:136), and walking humbly with Him (Micah 6:8)."
Those duties may be summarized in these chief ones. First, the diligent and lifelong seeking after a fuller knowledge of God as He is revealed in His Word and works, for we cannot worship an unknown God. Second, the loving of God with all our faculties and strength, which consists of an earnest panting after Him, and deep joy in Him, and a holy zeal for Him. Third, the fearing of God, which consists of an awe of his majesty, supreme reverence for His authority, and a desire for His glory: as the love of God is the motive-spring of obedience, so the fear of God is the great deterrent of disobedience. Fourth, the worshipping of God according to His appointments, the principal aids to which are these: study of and meditation upon the Word, prayer, and putting into practice what we are taught.
"Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me." That is, thou shalt not give unto anyone or anything in Heaven or on earth that inward heart affiance, loving veneration, and dependence that is due only to the true God; thou shalt not transfer to another that which belongs alone unto Him. Nor must we attempt to divide them between God and another, for no man can serve two masters. The great sins forbidden by this Commandment are these: first willful ignorance of God and His will through despising those means by which we may acquaint ourselves with Him; second, atheism or the denial of God; third, idolatry or the setting up of false and fictitious gods; fourth, disobedience and self-will or the open defiance of God; and fifth, all inordinate and immoderate affections or the setting of our hearts and minds upon other objects.
They are idolaters and transgressors of this first commandment who manufacture a "God" as a figment of their own minds. Such are the Unitarians, who deny that there are three Persons in the Godhead. Such are Romanists, who supplicate the Savior's mother and affirm that the pope has power to forgive sins. Such are the vast majority of Arminians, who believe in a disappointed and defeated Deity. Such are sensual epicureans (Phil. 3:19), for there are inward idols as well as external. "These men have set up their idols in their hearts" (Ezek. 14:3). The Apostle Paul speaks of "covetousness which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5) and, by impartial reasoning, so are all immoderate desires. That object to which we render those desires and services which are due alone to the Lord is our "God," whether it be self, gold, fame, pleasure, or friends. What is your God? To what is your life devoted?
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:4-6). Though this second Commandment is closely related to the first, yet there is a clear distinction between them, which may be expressed in a variety of ways. As the first Commandment concerns the choice of the true God as our God, so the second tells of our actual profession of His worship; as the former fixes the Object so this fixes the mode of religious worship. As in the first commandment Jehovah had proclaimed Himself to be the true God, so here He reveals His nature and how He is to be honored.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image ... thou shalt not bow down thyself to them." This commandment strikes against a desire, or should we say a disease, which is deeply rooted in the human heart, namely, to bring in some aids to the worship of God, beyond those which He has appointed-material aids, things which can be perceived by the senses. Nor is the reason for this difficult to find: God is incorporeal, invisible, and can be realized only by a spiritual principle, and since that principle is dead in fallen man, he naturally seeks that which accords with his carnality. But how different is it with those who have been quickened by the Holy Spirit. No one who truly knows God as a living reality needs any images to aid his devotions; none who enjoys daily communion with Christ requires any pictures of Him to help him to pray and adore, for he conceives of Him by faith and not by fancy.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness." It is a manifest straining of this precept to make it condemn all statuary and paintings: it is not the ingenuity of making but the stupidity in the worshipping of them which is condemned, as is clear from the words "thou shalt not bow down thyself to them," and from the fact that God Himself shortly afterwards ordered Israel to "make two cherubim of gold of beaten work" for the mercy seat (Ex. 25:18) and later the serpent of brass. Since God is a spiritual, invisible, and omnipotent Being, to represent Him as being of a material and limited form is a falsehood and an insult to His majesty. Under this most extreme corruption of mode-image worship-all erroneous modes of Divine homage are here forbidden. The legitimate worship of God must not be profaned by any superstitious rites.
This second Commandment is but the negative way of saying "God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). If it be asked, what are the duties here required? The answer is this: "The receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in His Word (Deut. 32:46, 47; Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 6:13, 14); particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ (Phil. 4:6, Eph. 5:20); the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word (Deut. 17:18, 19; Acts 15:21; 2 Tim. 4:2, etc.); the administration and receiving of the sacraments (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:21-30); church government and discipline (Matt. 18:15, 17; 16:19; 1 Cor. 5); the ministry and maintenance thereof (Eph. 4:11, 12, etc.); religious fasting (I Cor. 8:5); swearing by the name of God (Deut. 6:13), and vowing unto Him (Isa. 19:2 1; Psa. 76:11); as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship (Acts 16:16, 17, etc.); and according to each one's place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry (Deut. 7:5; Isa. 30:22)"-- Westminster Confession of Faith. To this we would simply add, there is required of us a diligent preparation before we enter upon any holy exercise (Eccl. 5:1) and a right disposition of mind in the act itself. For example, we must not hear or read the Word just to satisfy curiosity, but that we may learn how better to please God.
In the forbidding of images God by parity of reason prohibits all other modes and means of worship not appointed by Him. Every form of worship, even of the true God Himself, which is contrary to or diverse from what the Lord has prescribed in His Word, and which is called by the apostle "will worship" (Col. 2:23), together with all corruptions of the true worship of God and all inclinations of heart toward superstition in the service of God are reprehended by this Commandment. No scope whatever is here permitted to the inventive faculty of man. Christ condemned the religious washing of the hands, because it was a human addition to the Divine regulations. In like manner this Commandment denounces the modern passion for ritualism (the dressing up of simplicity in Divine worship), as also the magical virtues ascribed to, or even the special influences of, the Lord's Supper, still more so the use of a crucifix. So also it condemns a neglect of God's worship, the leaving undone the service which God has commanded.
The Scriptures have set us bounds for worship, to which we must not add, and from which we must not diminish. In the application of this principle we need to distinguish sharply between the substantials and the incidentals of worship. Anything which men seek to impose upon us as a part of Divine worship, if it be not expressly required of us in the Scriptures--such as bowing the knee at the name of Jesus, crossing ourselves, etc.--is to be abominated. But if certain circumstantials and modifications of worship are practiced by those with whom we meet, even though there be no express Scripture for them, they are to be submitted unto by us, providing they are such things as tend to decency and order and distract not from the solemnity and devotion of spiritual worship. That was a wise rule inculcated by Ambrose: "If thou will neither give offense nor take offense, conform thyself to all the lawful customs of the churches where thou comest." It is a grievous breaking of this commandment if we neglect any of the ordinances of worship which God has appointed. So too if we engage in the same hypocritically, with coldness of affection, wanderings of mind, lack of holy zeal, or in unbelief, honoring God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him.
This Commandment is enforced by three reasons. The first is drawn from the Person who pronounces judgment upon those who break it. He is described by His relationship, "thy God"; by the might of His power, for the Hebrew word for "God" here is "the Strong One", able to vindicate His honor and avenge all insults thereto; and by a similitude taken from the state of wedlock, wherein unfaithfulness results in summary punishment--He is a "jealous God." It is the Lord speaking after the manner of men, intimating that He will not spare those who mock Him. "They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they Him to anger.... They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God" (Deut. 32:16-21 ff).
Secondly, a sore judgment is threatened: "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me." "Visiting" is a figurative expression, which signifies that after a space of time, in which God appears to have taken no notice or to have forgotten, He then shows by His providences that He has observed the evil ways and doings of men. "Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" (Jer. 5:9, and cf. 32:18; Matt. 23:34-36) . This was designed to deter men from idolatry by an appeal to their natural affections. "The curse of the Lord righteously rests not only on the person of an impious man, but also on the whole of his family" (John Calvin). It is a terrible thing to pass on to children a false conception of God, either by precept or by example. The penalty inflicted corresponds to the crime: it is not only that God punishes the child for the offenses committed by the parents, but that He gives them over unto the same transgressions and then deals with them accordingly, for the example of parents is not sufficient warrant for us to commit sin.
Thirdly, there is a most blessed encouragement to obedience, in the form of a gracious promise: "Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments." To the same effect He assures us, "The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him" (Prov. 20:7). Love for God is evidenced by a keeping of His commandments. Papists contend that their use of images is with the object of promoting love, by keeping a visible image before them as an aid; but God says it is because they hate Him. This promise to show mercy unto thousands of the descendants of those who truly love God does not express a universal principle, as is clear from the cases of Isaac having a godless Esau and David an Absalom. "The Legislator never intended to establish in this case such an invariable rule as would derogate from His own free choice . . . When the Lord exhibits one example of this blessing, He affords a proof of His constant and perpetual favor to His worshippers" (Calvin). Observe that here, as elsewhere in Scripture (Jude 14, for example), God speaks of "thousands" (and not "millions," as men so often do) of them that love Him and who manifest the genuineness of their love by keeping His commandments. His flock is but a "little" one (Luke 12:32). What cause for thanksgiving unto God have those who are born of pious parents, whose parents treasure up not wrath for them, but prayers!
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" (Ex. 20:7). As the second commandment concerns the manner in which God is to be worshipped (namely, according to His revealed will), so this one bids us worship Him with that frame of spirit which is agreeable to the dignity and solemnity of such an exercise and the majesty of Him with whom we have to do: that is, with the utmost sincerity, humility, and reverence. "Fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD" (Deut. 28:58). O what high thoughts we ought to entertain of such a Being! In what holy awe should we stand of Him! "The end of this Precept is that the Lord will have the majesty of His name to be held inviolably sacred by us. Whatever we think and whatever we say of Him should savor of His excellency, correspond to the sacred sublimity of His name, and tend to the exaltation of His magnificence" (Calvin). Anything pertaining to God should be spoken of with the greatest sobriety. Let us first endeavor to point out the scope and comprehensiveness of this commandment. By the Name of the Lord our God is signified God Himself as He is made known to us, including everything through which He has been pleased to reveal Himself: His Word, His titles, His attributes, His ordinances, His works. The Name of God stands for His very nature and being, as in Psa. 20:1; 135:3; John 1: 12, etc. Sometimes the name of God is taken for the entire system of Divine Truth: "we will walk in the Name of the Lord our God" (Micah 4:5)--in that way of Truth and worship which He has appointed. "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men Thou gavest Me" (John 17:6): that is, Christ instructed them in the Heavenly doctrine. But usually, and more specifically, the Name of God refers to that by which He is called and made known to us. To "take His Name" means to employ or make use of the same, as the Object of our thoughts or the Subject of our speech. Not to take His Name "in vain" is the negative way of saying it must be held in the utmost awe and used holily in thought and word and deed.
It will thus be seen that this Commandment requires us to make mention of the Name of God. Since He has given us so many and gracious discoveries of Himself, it would evince the vilest contempt of the greatest of privileges if we expressed no regard to those discoveries and made no use of the same. Those who make no religious profession, and desire not to be instructed in those things which relate to the Divine glory, are guilty of thus slighting the Most High. But we make use of God's Name in public worship, in private prayer, and when taking religious oaths or making solemn vows. When we draw nigh to God in prayer we should adore the Divine perfections with a becoming humility, as did Abraham (Gen. 18:27), Jacob (Gen. 32:10), Moses (Ex. 15:11), Solomon (1 Kings 8:33), Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:15), Daniel (9:4), and as the inhabitants of Heaven do (Rev. 4:10, 11). Negatively, this Commandment prohibits all dishonoring thoughts of God, all needless, flippant, profane, or blasphemous mention of Him, any irreverent use of His Word, any murmurings against His providence, any abuse of anything by which He has made Himself known.
Let us now point out more specifically some of the ways in which God's name may be taken in vain. The first is, when it is used without propounding to ourselves a proper end. And there are but two ends which can warrant our use of any of His names, titles, or attributes: for His glory and for the edification of ourselves and others. Whatever is besides these is frivolous and evil, affording no sufficient ground for us to make mention of such a great and holy Name, which is so full of glory and majesty. Unless our speech is designedly directed to the advancement of the Divine glory or the promotion of the benefit of those to whom we speak, we are not justified in having God's ineffable Name upon our lips. He accounts Himself highly insulted when we mention His name to idle purpose.
God's Name is taken in vain by us when we use it without due consideration and reverence. Whenever we make mention of Him before whom the seraphim veil their faces, we ought seriously and solemnly to ponder His infinite majesty and glory, and bow our hearts in deepest prostration before that Name. How can they, who think and speak of the great God promiscuously and at random, use His Name with reverence when all the rest of their discourse is filled with froth and vanity? That Name is not to be sported with and tossed to and fro upon every light tongue. O my reader, form the habit of solemnly considering whose Name it is you are about to utter. It is the Name of Him who is present with you, who is hearing you pronounce it. He is jealous of His honor, and He will dreadfully avenge Himself upon those who have slighted Him.
God's Name is used in vain when it is employed hypocritically, when we profess to be His people and are not. Israel of old was guilty of this sin: "Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness" (Isa. 48:1). They used the Name of God, but did not obey the revelation contained therein, and so violated this Third Commandment (compare Matt. 7:22, 23). When using the Name of God, we must do so in a way which is true to its meaning and to its implications. Therefore He says to us, "Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). In like manner, we are guilty of this awful sin when we perform holy duties lightly and mechanically, our affections not being in them. Prayer without practice is blasphemy, and to speak to God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him is but a mocking of Him and an increasing of our condemnation.
God's Name is taken in vain when we swear lightly and irreverently, using the Name of God with as little respect as we would show to that of a man, or when we swear falsely and are guilty of perjury. When we are placed on oath and we attest that to be true which we do not know to be true, or which we know to be false, we are guilty of one of the gravest sins which man can possibly commit, for he has solemnly called upon the great God to witness that which the father of lies has prompted him to speak. "He that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of Truth" (Isa. 65:16) , and therefore it behooves him to consider well whether what he testifies is true or not. Alas, oaths have become so excessively multiplied among us-- being interwoven, as it were, into the body politic--and so generally disregarded, that the enormity of this offense is scarcely considered. "Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oaths, for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord" (Zech. 8:17). And what shall be said of that vast throng of profane sweaters who pollute our language and wound our ears, by a vile mixture of execrations and blasphemies in their common conversation! "Their throat is an open sepulchre ... the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" (Rom. 3:13, 14). Utterly vain is their thoughtless plea that they mean no harm, vain their excuse that all their companions do the same, vain their plea that it is merely to relieve their feelings! What a madness it is when men anger you, to strike against God and provoke Him far more than others can provoke you! But though their fellows do not censure, nor the police arrest, nor the magistrate punish them, yet "The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his Name in vain." "As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him ... as he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water" (Psa. 109:17, 18). God is dreadfully incensed by this sin, and in the common commission of this Heaven-insulting crime our country has incurred terrible guilt.
It has become almost impossible to walk the streets or to enter mixed company without hearing the sacred Name of God treated with blasphemous contempt. The novels of the day, the stage, and even radio (and more lately television, the cinema, and the press) are terrible offenders, and without doubt this is one of the fearful sins against Himself for which God is now pouring out His judgments upon us. Of old He said unto Israel, "Because of swearing (cursing) the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil" (Jer. 23:10). And He is still the same: "The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His Name in vain." Sore punishment shall be his portion, if not in this life, then most assuredly so, eternally so, in the life to come.
THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work" (Ex. 20:8-10). This commandment denotes that God is the sovereign Lord of our time, which is to be used and improved by us just as He has here specified. It is to be carefully noted that it consists of two parts, each of which bears directly upon the other. "Six days shalt thou (not "mayest thou") labour" is as Divinely binding upon us as "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." It is a precept requiring us diligently to attend unto that vocation and state of life in which the Divine providence has placed us, to perform its offices with care and conscience. The revealed will of God is that man should work, not idle away his time; that he should work not five days a week (for which organized labor once agitated), but six.
He who never works is unfitted for worship. Work is to pave the way for worship, as worship is to fit us for work. The fact that any man can escape the observance of this first half of the Commandment is a sad reflection upon our modern social order, and shows how far we have departed from the Divine plan and ideal. The more diligent and faithful we are in performing the duties of the six days, the more shall we value the rest of the seventh. It will thus be seen that the appointing of the Sabbath was not any arbitrary restriction upon man's freedom, but a merciful provision for his good: that it is designed as a day of gladness and not of gloom. It is the Creator's gracious exempting us from our life of mundane toil one day in seven, granting us a foretaste of that future and better life for which the present is but a probation, when we may turn wholly from that which is material to that which is spiritual, and thereby be equipped for taking hold with new consecration and renewed energies upon the work of the coming days.
It should thus be quite evident that this law for the regulation of man's time was not a temporary one, designed for any particular dispensation, but is continuous and perpetual in the purpose of God: the Sabbath was "made for man" (Mark 2:27) and not simply for the Jew; it was made for man's good. What has been pointed out above upon the twofoldness of this Divine statute receives clear and irrefragable confirmation in the reason given for its enforcement: "for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day" (v. 11). Observe well the twofoldedness of this: the august Creator deigned to set an example before His creatures in each respect: HE worked for "six days," He "rested the seventh day!" It should also be pointed out that the appointing of work for man is not the consequence of sin: before the Fall, God put him "into the garden of Eden to dress and to keep it" (Gen. 2:15).
The lasting nature or perpetuity of this twofold Commandment is further evidenced by the fact that in the above reason given for its enforcement there was nothing which was peculiarly pertinent to the nation of Israel, but instead, that which speaks with clarion voice to the whole human race. Moreover, this statute was given a place not in the ceremonial law of Israel, which was to be done away when Christ fulfilled its types, but in the Moral Law, which was written by the finger of God Himself upon tables of stone, to signify to us its permanent nature. Finally, it should be pointed out that the very terms of this Commandment make it unmistakably plain that it was not designed only for the Jews, for it was equally binding upon any Gentiles who dwelt among them. Even though they were not in covenant with God, nor under the ceremonial law, yet they were required to keep the Sabbath holy--"thou shalt not do any work ... nor thy stranger that is within thy gates" (v. IO)! "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God". Note well it is not said (here, or anywhere in Scripture) "the seventh day of the week," but simply "the seventh day," that is, the day following the six of work. With the Jews it was the seventh day of the week, namely, Saturday, but for us it is--as the "another day" of Heb. 4:8 plainly intimates--the first day of the week, because the Sabbath not only commemorates the work of creation, but it now also celebrates the yet greater work of redemption. Thus, the Lord so worded the fourth Commandment as to suit both the Jewish and the Christian dispensations, and thereby intimated its perpetuity. The Christian Sabbath is from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday: it is clear from John 20:1 that it began before sunrise, and therefore we may conclude it starts at Saturday midnight; while from John 20:19 we learn (from the fact it is not there called "the evening of the second day") that it continues throughout the evening, and that our worship is also to continue therein.
But though the Christian Sabbath does not commence till midnight on Saturday, yet our preparation for it must begin sooner, or how else can we obey its express requirement, "in it thou shalt not do any work"? On the Sabbath there is to be a complete resting the whole day, not only from natural recreations and doing our own pleasure (Isa. 58: 13), but from all worldly employment. The wife needs a day of rest just as much as her husband, yea, being the "weaker vessel," more so. Such things as porridge and soup can be prepared on the Saturday and heated on the Sabbath, so that we may be entirely free to delight ourselves in the Lord and give ourselves completely to His worship and service. Let us also see to it that we do not work or sit up so late on the Saturday night that we encroach on the Lord's day by staying late in bed or making ourselves drowsy for its holy duties.
This Commandment makes it clear that God is to be worshipped in the home, which, of course, inculcates the practice of family worship. It is addressed more specifically than any of the other nine Commandments to heads of households and to employers, because God requires them to see to it that all under their charge shall observe the Sabbath. To them, more immediately, God says, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." It is to be strictly set apart to the honor of the thrice holy God, spent in the exercises of holy contemplation, meditation, and adoration. Because it is the day which He has made (Psa. 118:24), we must do nothing to unmake it. This Commandment forbids the omission of any duties required, a careless performing of the same, or a weariness in them. The more faithfully we keep this Commandment, the better prepared shall we be to obey the other nine. Three classes of works, and three only, may be engaged in on the "Holy Sabbath." Works of necessity, which are those that could not be done on the preceding day and that cannot be deferred till the next--such as tending to cattle. Works of mercy, which are those that compassion requires us to perform toward other creatures--such as ministering to the sick. Works of piety, which are the worship of God in public and in private, using with thankfulness and delight all the means of grace which He has provided. We need to watch and strive against the very first suggestions of Satan to corrupt our hearts, divert our minds, or disturb us in holy duties, praying earnestly for help to meditate upon God's Word and to retain what He gives us. The Lord makes the sacred observance of His Day of special blessing; and contrariwise, He visits the profanation of the Sabbath with special cursing (see Neh. 13:17, 18), as our guilty land is now proving to its bitter cost.
"A Sabbath well spent, brings a week of content
And strength for the toils of the morrow;
But a Sabbath profaned, whate'er may be gained
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow."
And strength for the toils of the morrow;
But a Sabbath profaned, whate'er may be gained
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow."