Question 92: What is the law of God?
Answer: God spake all these words, Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, saying: I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1st Commandment — Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2nd 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 shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
3rd 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.
4th 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, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
5th Commandment — Honour thy father and thy mother—that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
6th Commandment — Thou shalt not kill.
7th Commandment — Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8th Commandment — Thou shalt not steal.
9th Commandment — Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10th Commandment — Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
The doctrine concerning the Law, which is the rule of good works, next claims our attention, in relation to which we shall enquire:
What is the law in general?
What are the several parts of the divine law?
To what extent has Christ abrogated the law, and to what extent is it still in force?
In what does the moral law differ from the gospel?
How is the Decalogue divided?
What is the true meaning of the Decalogue, and of every commandment separately considered?
To what extent can those who are regenerated keep the law?
What is the use of the law?
We shall now proceed to the consideration of the first four questions here proposed.
The Fifth belongs to the 93rd question of the Catechism; Sixth, to the 94th, and those which follow, down to the 114th; the Seventh, to the 114th, and the Eighth to the 115th question.
I. What is the law in general?
The term law (lex) is derived from lego, which means to read, to publish; or from lego, which means to choose. The Hebrew Thorah, which means doctrine, agrees with the former derivation of the term; because laws are published in order that every one may read and learn them. It is for this reason that ignorance of the law does not excuse anyone. Yea, those who are ignorant of the laws which have respect to them, sin in that they are ignorant. The Greek nomoj, which comes from a word that means to distribute, to divide, agrees with the latter derivation of the term law; because the law imposes particular duties upon everyone.
Law now, in general, is a rule, or precept, commanding things honest and just, requiring obedience from creatures endowed with reason, with a promise of reward in case of obedience, and with a threatening of punishment in case of disobedience. It is a rule, or precept, commanding things honest and just, otherwise it is no law. Requiring obedience from creatures endowed with reason: the law was not made for those who are not bound to obedience. With a promise of reward in case of obedience; the law graciously promises blessings to those who perform acceptable obedience; because no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God. Obj. But the gospel also promises blessings freely. Therefore the law does not differ from the gospel. Ans. The law promises freely in one respect, and the gospel in another. The law promises freely upon the condition of obedience on our part; the gospel, on the other hand, promises freely without the works of the law. The gospel does not, indeed promise blessings freely, independent of any condition whatever; but only without such a condition as that which the law lays down. And with a threatening of punishment in case of disobedience; otherwise the law would be an empty sound, and of no effect. Plato says: “The law is a right form of government, which is directed to the best end, by means that are adapted thereto, threatening punishment upon transgressors, and promising rewards to the obedient. The term law is also frequently improperly used to designate the course, and order which God has established in nature. In this sense the law, meaning the order of nature, requires that fruit be produced by a tree. And Paul still more improperly calls original sin, the law of sin, because as a law it leads us to the commission of sin.
II. What are the parts of the law and what their differences?
Laws are divine and human. Human laws are such as are instituted: by men, and which bind certain persons to certain external duties concerning which there is no express divine precept or prohibition with a promise of reward and threatening of punishment, corporal and temporal. Human laws are either civil or ecclesiastical. Civil are such positive laws as are instituted by magistrates, or by some corporation, or state, in reference to a certain order or class of actions to be observed in the state in contracts, trials, punishments, &c. Ecclesiastical, or ceremonial laws, are those which the church institutes in reference to the order which is to be observed in the ministry of the church, and which lay down certain prescriptions in reference to those things which contribute to the divine law.
Divine laws are those which God has instituted, which belong partly to angels, partly to men, and partly to certain classes of men. These do not only require external actions or obedience, but they also require internal qualities, actions and motives: nor do they merely propose temporal rewards and punishments; but also such as are spiritual and eternal. They are also the ends for which human laws are instituted. Of divine laws, there are some that are eternal and unchangeable; whilst there are others that are changeable; yet only by God himself, who has instituted them. The divine law is ordinarily divided, or considered as consisting of three parts; the moral, the ceremonial and the judicial.
The moral law is a doctrine harmonizing with the eternal and unchangeable wisdom and justice of God, distinguishing right from wrong, known by nature, engraven upon the hearts of creatures endowed with reason in their creation, and afterwards often repeated and declared by the voice of God through his servants, the prophets; teaching what God is and what he requires, binding all intelligent creatures to perfect obedience and conformity to the law, internal and external, promising the favor of God and eternal life to all those who render perfect obedience, and at the same time denouncing the wrath of God and everlasting punishment upon all those who do not render this obedience, unless remission of sins and reconciliation with God be secured for the sake of Christ the mediator. Harmonizing with the eternal and unchangeable wisdom of God: That the law is eternal is evident from this, that it remains one and the same from the beginning to the end of the world. We were also created, and have been redeemed by Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that we might keep this law, or love God and our neighbor as it requires, both in this and in the life to come. “I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.” (John 2:7.) Afterwards often repeated: God repeated the law of nature which was engraven upon the mind of man: 1. Because it was obscured and weakened by the fall. 2. Because many things were entirely obliterated and lost. 3. That what was still left in the mind of man might not be regarded as a mere opinion or notion, and so at length be lost.
Ceremonial laws were those which God gave through Moses in reference to ceremonies, or the external solemn ordinances which were to be observed in the public worship of God, with a proper attention to the circumstances which had been prescribed; binding the Jewish nation to the coming of the Messiah, and at the same time distinguishing them from all other nations; and that they might also be signs, symbols, types and shadows of spiritual things to be fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ. Ceremonies are external solemn actions which are often to be repeated in the same manner and with the same circumstance, and which have been instituted by God, or by men to be observed in the external worship of God, for the sake of order, propriety and signification. The ceremonies which have been instituted by God, constitute divine worship absolutely; whilst those which have been instituted by men, if they are good, merely contribute to divine worship.
The judicial laws were those which had respect to the civil order or government, and the maintenance of external propriety among the Jewish people according to both tables of the Decalogue; or it may be said that they had respect to the order and duties of magistrates, the courts of justice, contracts, punishments, fixing the limits of kingdoms, &c. These laws God delivered through Moses for the establishment and preservation of the Jewish commonwealth, binding all the posterity of Abraham, and distinguishing them from the rest of mankind until the coming of the Messiah; and that they might also serve as a bond for the preservation and government of the Mosaic polity, until the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, that they might be certain marks by which the nation which was bound by them, might be distinguished from all other nations, and might at the same time be the means of preserving proper discipline and order, that so they might be types of the order which should be established in the kingdom of Christ.
All good laws, which alone deserve the name of laws, are to be traced to the moral law as their source, which agrees in every respect with the Decalogue, and may also, by necessary consequence, be deduced from it, so that he who violates the, one, violates the other likewise. As it respects ceremonial and judicial laws, however, whether they be divine or human, if they are only good, they do, indeed, agree with the Decalogue, but can not be deduced from it by necessary consequence, as the moral law, but are subservient to it, as certain specifications of circumstances. From this we may easily perceive the difference which exists between these laws: for it is one thing to flow out of the Decalogue necessarily, and another thing to agree with it, and contribute to its observance. Yet this difference varies, because the government of the church and the state is not the same; nor do these have the same end, nor are they abrogated in the same way.
But the chief difference between these laws lies in their obligation, manifestation, duration and use. The moral law is known naturally, binds all men, and that perpetually; it is different, however, with the ceremonial and judicial law. The moral law requires obedience which is both internal and external; the others merely require that which is external. The precepts of the moral law are general, having respect to all men whoever they may be; the others are special, and do not thus apply to all men. The precepts of the moral law are the ends of the others; whilst they again are subservient to those which are moral. The ceremonial and civil laws were also types and figures of other things for which they were instituted; it is different, however, with the moral law. The moral law does not give place to the ceremonial; it, on the other hand, gives place to the moral. We must also observe, in passing along, the difference which exists between the moral law, the natural law, and the Decalogue. The Decalogue contains the sum of the moral laws which are scattered throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The natural, and moral law were the same in man before the fall, when his nature was pure and holy. Since the fall, however, which resulted in the corruption and depravity of our nature, a considerable part of the natural law has become obscured and lost by reason of sin, so that there is only a small portion concerning the obedience which we owe to God still left in the human mind. It is for this reason that God repeated, and declared to the church the entire doctrine and true sense of his law, as contained in the Decalogue. The Decalogue is, therefore, the renewal and re-enforcing of the natural law, which is only a part of the Decalogue. This distinction, therefore, which we have made between the several parts of the divine law must be retain ed, both on account of the difference itself, that so the force and true sense of these laws may be understood, and that we may also have a correct knowledge and understanding of the abrogation and use of the law.
III. To what extent has Christ abrogated the law and to what extent is it still in force?
The ordinary and correct answer to this Question is, that the ceremonial and judicial law, as given by Moses, has been abrogated in as far as it relates to obedience; and that the moral law has also been abrogated as it respects the curse, but not as it respects obedience. That the ceremonial and judicial laws have been so abrogated by the coming of Christ, that no longer bind any to obedience, and that they have not the appearance and force of laws in respect to the present time, is proven,
1. From the fact that the prophets even declared and foretold this abrogation in the Old Testament. “Christ shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek. (Dan. 9:27. Ps. 110:4.)
2. Christ and his Apostles, in different places in the New Testament, expressly assert this abrogation. (See Acts 7:8. Heb. 7:1118; 8:813.) Instead of adducing a number of testimonies in confirmation of this point, we shall merely cite the decree passed by the Apostles when assembled in Jerusalem: “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden, than these necessary things,” &c. (Acts 15:28, 29.)
3. When certain causes are once changed, the laws which are based upon these causes are also changed. One cause now of the ceremonial and judicial law was that the form of worship and civil polity which existed among the Jews, from whom the Messiah was to be born, might distinguish them from all other nations until the Messiah would come. Another cause was that they might be types of the Messiah and of his benefits. These causes now since the coming of the Messiah, have been done away with: for the Apostle declares that the middle wall of partition between the Jews and other nations has been broken down: “He is our Peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us,” “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. (Eph. 2:14. Gal. 6:15.) It is also everywhere taught in the New Testament Scriptures that the rites and ceremonies of the old dispensation have been fulfilled in Christ. “The Holy Ghost, this signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while the first tabernacle was yet standing.” “The law and the prophets were until John.” “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink,” &c. (Heb. 9:8. Luke 10:16. Col. 2:16?)
The Jews are wont to bring forward the following objections against the abrogation of the law:
1. The Mosaic ritual and the Jewish kingdom were to last forever; the former according to the command, the latter according to the promise of God. Circumcision is an everlasting covenant. The Passover was to be observed for an ordinance forever. This is my rest forever. The sabbath is a perpetual covenant. Thy throne shall be established forever. (Gen. 17:13. Ex. 12:24. Ps. 132:14. Ex.31:16. 2 Sam. 7:16.) Therefore the form of religion and civil polity instituted by Moses, has not been abrogated by Christ. Ans. The chain of reasoning in this syllogism is incorrect, for it proceeds from that which is declared to be true in a certain respect, to that which is absolutely true. The major proposition speaks of an absolute perpetuity; whilst the minor speaks of a perpetuity that is limited, inasmuch as an unlimited continuance of the Jewish rites and kingdom is not promised in the above references, but one that was merely to continue until the coming of the Messiah who was to be heard after Moses. For the particle Holam signifies, everywhere in the Scriptures, not eternity, but the continuance of along, though definite period of time. Thus it is said in Ex. 26:6, “And he shall serve him forever,” meaning until the year of jubilee, as we may easily prove, by a comparison of this declaration with the law respecting the jubilee, as recorded in Lev. 25:40. Again: We may also grant what is affirmed in the minor proposition, that an absolute perpetuity is promised; but this is a continuance, not of the types and shadows, but only of the things signified thereby, which are spiritual, the truth of which will continue forever in the church, even though the types and signs them selves be abolished by Christ. In this respect the signification of circumcision remains in force even to this day: so there is also a perpetual sabbath in the church, and it shall be perpetual in everlasting life: so also the kingdom of David is established forever in the throne of Christ.
Obj. 2, The worship which Ezekiel describes, from the fortieth chapter to the end of his prophecy, has respect to the kingdom of the Messiah, and is to be retained in it. But that worship is merely typical and ceremonial. Therefore a typical and ceremonial worship is to be retained in the kingdom of the Messiah; from which we may infer that the Jewish religion and polity was not to be done away with, but restored by the Messiah.
Ans. The major of this syllogism, if understood absolutely, is not true; because whilst the prophet speaks of the kingdom of the Messiah, he does not prophesy concerning this alone: for he at the same time speaks of the restitution of the ceremonial worship in Judea, after their return from Babylon, and foretells that it would continue until the Messiah would come. We also deny the minor proposition; for the prophet, under the description of types, did not only promise the restoration of Jewish types, but he more particularly foretold and promised the spiritual condition and glory of the church under the reign of the Messiah, which should be commenced in this life, and perfected in the life to come; which may be proven by the following considerations:
1. The history of Ezra teaches that this restoration would not take place before the coming of Christ; neither will the other prophecies which are contained in the Old Testament, respecting the coming and reign of the Messiah in this world, allow us to believe that there will ever, even after the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, be such a glorious state and condition of the church on earth as the Jews dream of. Hence this restoration of Jerusalem, or the church, must be understood spiritually, or else we shall be compelled to admit, what is absurd, that this prophecy never has been, nor will be fulfilled.
2. The promise, in which the prophet declares that neither the house of Israel, nor their kings, would any more defile the holy name of God, must necessarily be understood in a spiritual sense, as referring to the perfection of the life to come. (Ex. 43:7.) And it is by no means uncommon for the prophets to connect the commencement of the reign of Christ with the perfect establishment of it.
3. The waters issuing out of the temple can not be understood of elementary water, but shadow forth and signify the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were to be poured out in large measures in the kingdom of Christ. (Eph. 47:1.)
4. Lastly, we have for our interpreter the Apostle John, who, in the twenty-first and second chapters of the book of Revelation, describes the spiritual and heavenly Jerusalem, by which is meant the glorified church of the New Testament, in words taken, as it were, from the description given by the prophet Ezekiel. This prophecy, therefore, affords no proof whatever in favor of the observance of Jewish rites in the kingdom of Christ.
Obj. 3. The best and most wholesome form of government is always to be retained. The form of government established among the Jews was the best and most wholesome, for the reason that it was instituted by God. Therefore it is to be retained.
Ans. There is here a fallacy in taking that to be absolutely true, which is true only in a certain respect. The form of government established among the Jews was the best, not absolutely, but only for that time, that country and nation: for there were many things in it adapted to the state and condition of that nation, country, time, and ceremonial worship, the observance of which would now neither be proper nor profitable, because the causes on account of which those laws were given to the Jews are now changed or removed; as giving a writing or bill of divorcement, marrying the widow of one’s kindred, &c. God did not, for this reason, institute this form of government that all nations and ages might be bound by it; but only that his own people might, by this discipline, be separated for a time from the surrounding nations. If any one should object and say, that if Christians are permitted to observe and conform to the laws of other nations, such as the Greeks or Romans, &c., much more ought we to observe those which were given by Moses, the servant of God; we readily grant the argument, if this observance is rendered without attaching to it the idea of necessity; or if these laws are observed, not because Moses commanded and enjoined them upon the Jewish nation, but because there are good reasons why we should now comply with them; and if these reasons should be changed, to retain the liberty of changing these enactments by public authority. We have thus far spoken merely of the abrogation of the ceremonial and judicial law. We must now proceed to speak of the moral law. The moral law has, as it respects one part, been abrogated by Christ; and as it respects another, it has not. It has been abrogated, as it respects the faithful, in two ways:
1. The curse of the law has been removed as it respects those who are justified by faith in Christ, in consequence of having his merits imputed unto them; or it may be said that the law has been abrogated as touching justification, because judgment is not pronounced in reference to us according to the law, but according to the gospel. The sentence of the law would condemn and give us over to destruction. Its dreadful language is, “In thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Ps. 143:2.) The sentence of the gospel is different: its language is, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (John 3:36.) This abrogation of the law is the first and principal part of Christian liberty, of which it is said, “There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “Ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 8:1; 6:14.)
2. The law has been abrogated in reference to Christians, as it respects constraint. The law no longer forces and wrests obedience as a tyrant, or as a master compels a worthless servant to render obedience to his behests; because Christ commences in us by his Spirit a free and cheerful obedience, so that we willingly comply with whatever the law requires from us. The Apostle says, concerning this part of Christian liberty: “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14.) What this liberty is, the Apostle explains in the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. “The law is not made for a righteous man; but for the lawless and disobedient,” &c. “Against such, there is no law.” (1 Tim. 1:9. Gal. 5:23.)
Obj. The law and the prophets were until John. (Matt. 11:13.) Hence if the law was then first abrogated, as it respects condemnation, when Christ appeared in the flesh, it follows that the faithful who lived before the coming of Christ must have been under condemnation.
Ans. The law was abrogated, as touching condemnation, no less to the faithful under the Old Testament, than to those who live under the New Testament: to the former as to efficacy and power; to the latter as to fulfillment and manifestation.
But the moral law, or Decalogue, has not been abrogated in as far as obedience to it is concerned. God continually, no less now than formerly, requires both the regenerate and the unregenerate to render obedience to Ms law. This may be proven:
1. From the end for which Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. This was that he might make us, who were delivered from sin and the curse of the law, the temples of God; and not that we should persist in sin, and hatred to God.
2. We are bound to render obedience and gratitude to God in proportion to the number and greatness of the benefits which he confers upon us. But those who are united to Christ by faith, receive from the hands of God more and greater benefits than all others: for they do not merely enjoy, in common with others, the benefit of creation and preservation, but enjoy in addition to this the grace of regeneration and justification. Therefore we are more strongly bound to render obedience to the divine law than others, and that more after our regeneration and justification than before.
3. From the testimony of Scripture: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17.)
This is spoken, indeed, of the whole law, but with a special reference to the moral law, which Christ has fulfilled in four respects:
1. By his own righteousness and conformity with the law. It behooved him to be perfectly righteous in himself, and to be conformable to the law according to each nature, that he might make satisfaction for us, as it is said: “For such an High Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” &c. (Heb. 7:26.)
2. By enduring a punishment sufficient for our sins: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3.)
3. Christ fulfills the law in us by his Spirit, by whom he renews us in the image of God. “Our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Rom. 6:6; 8:11.)
4. Christ fulfilled the law by teaching it and restoring its true meaning and sense, which he did by freeing it from the corruptions and glosses of the Pharisees, as appears from his sermon on the mount, and from other portions of his teachings. If Christ, therefore, teaches and restores in us obedience to the law, he does not abolish the law in respect to obedience. Paul teaches the same thing when he asks: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.” (Rom. 3:31.)
The law now is established by faith in three ways:
1. By confessing and approving the sentence which it passes in reference to ourselves, that we do not render the obedience which is due from us to the law, and are, therefore, deserving of eternal condemnation. We also confess the same thing by seeking righteousness without ourselves in Christ.
2. By satisfaction. By faith we apply unto ourselves the satisfaction of Christ, which is equivalent to everlasting punishment, which the law requires from us in case we do not render a full and perfect obedience to its claims. It is by means of this satisfaction now that we are justified, not indeed by the law, nor yet contrary to the law, but with the law, which Christ has fully satisfied by his perfect obedience in our room and stead.
3. By new obedience. This obedience is commenced in us in this life by the Spirit of Christ, and will be perfected in the life to come. The same thing may be expressed more briefly, thus: The law is established by faith, both because the doc trine concerning the righteousness which is by faith, teaches that we are righteous, not in ourselves, and that we cannot be justified unless the perfect satisfaction which the law requires intervene, and also because the restoration of obedience to the law in us is brought about by faith. The sum of what we have now said, touching the abrogation of the law is this: That the ceremonial and judicial laws instituted by Moses have been entirely abolished and done away with by the coming of Christ, as far as it relates to obligation and obedience on our part. The moral law, however, has not been abolished as it respects obedience, but only as it respects the curse, justification and constraint.
The objections of the Antinomians, Libertines, and others of a similar cast, who contend that the moral law has no respect to Christians, and that it ought not to be taught in the church of Christ, will be noticed when we come to the exposition of the 115th Question of the Catechism where we shall speak of the use of the law.
V. In what does the law differ from the gospel?
The exposition of this Question is necessary for a variety of considerations, and especially that we may have a proper understanding of the law and the gospel, to which a knowledge of that in which they differ greatly contributes. According to the definition of the law, which says, that it promises rewards to those who render perfect obedience; and that it promises them freely, inasmuch as no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God, it would seem that it does not differ from the gospel, which also promises eternal life freely.
Yet notwithstanding this seeming agreement, there is a great difference between the law and the gospel. They differ,
1. As to the mode of revelation peculiar to each. The law is known naturally: the gospel was divinely revealed after the fall of man.
2. In matter or doctrine. The law declares the justice of God separately considered: the gospel declares it in connection with his mercy. The law teaches what we ought to be in order that we may be saved: the gospel teaches in addition to this, how we may become such as the law requires, viz: by faith in Christ.
3. In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ. With this faith is also connected, as by an indissoluble bond, the condition of new obedience.
4. In their effects. The law works wrath, and is the ministration of death: the gospel is the ministration of life and of the Spirit. (Rom. 4:15. 2 Cor. 3:7.)
Question 93: How are these commandments divided?
Answer: Into two tables; (a) the first of which teaches us how we must behave towards God; the second, what duties we owe to our neighbour. (b)
(a) Exod.34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
Deut.4:13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
Deut.10:3,4 And I made an ark of acacia wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand. And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me.
(b) Matt.22:37-39 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Matt.22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
This question concerning the division of the Decalogue is necessary and profitable;
1. Because God himself expressed a certain number of tables and commandments in the Decalogue.
2. Because Christ divided the sum of the whole law into two commandments, or into two kinds of commandments.
3. Because a correct division of the Decalogue contributes much to a proper understanding of the commandments. It teaches and admonishes us in reference to the degrees of obedience required by each table, and shows that the worship of the first table is the most important.
There is a three-fold division of the Decalogue.
I. It is divided into two tables by Moses and Christ. The first table comprehends the duties which we owe to God immediately; the second the duties which we owe to him mediately; or it may be said that the first table teaches us how we ought to behave towards God, whilst the second teaches what duties we owe towards our neighbor. This division is based upon the word of God clearly expressed, “Hew thee two tables of stone.” (Ex. 34:1, 4, 29. Deut. 4:13.) So Christ and Paul refer the whole law to the love of God and our neighbor. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind: This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37, 38, 39.) This division is profitable;
1. That we may the better understand the true sense and design of the whole law, and the perfect obedience which it required of us.
2. That we may observe the common rule, to yield the precepts of the second table to those of the first in the same kind of worship, or that we should prefer the love and glory of God to the love and salvation of all creatures, according as it is written, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29.)
II. The Decalogue is divided into ten commandments, of which the first four belong to the first table; the rest belong to the second table. God enumerated or included ten commandments in the Decalogue, not because he was delighted more with this number than any other, but because the substance and reasons of these things were comprehended in this number; for all that we owe to God and our neighbor is contained in these ten precepts or laws, so that nothing is omitted, nor is there anything superfluous. The four commandments of the first table comprise everything which we owe to God immediately; whilst the remaining six, which make up the second table, contain everything which has respect to the manner in which this life should be spent so as to result in happiness and peace.
There is, however, much diversity of sentiment and disagreement in relation to the enumeration of the commandments. Some enumerate only three, others five, and others four commandments in the first table. But that that division which attributes four commandments to the first table, in such a way that the first includes what is said in reference to having no other gods beside Jehovah; the second, what is said of not making graven images; the third, of not taking the name of God in vain; the fourth, of hallowing the Sabbath; thus referring the other six to the second table; that this division is the best and most correct, we prove by the following considerations.
1. According to this division, each commandment expresses something distinct and separate from the rest, so that it may easily be distinguished from all the others, according to its true sense and meaning. When God himself divided the Decalogue into ten commandments, he doubtless designed that these precepts should differ from each other, so that each one should contain and express something peculiar to itself. Hence, if these commandments have not a different signification, they are not different, but one and the same. The commandments now, which forbid our having strange gods, and making graven images, are different in their meaning and signification. The former forbids any other god to be worshipped, besides him who alone is the true God; the other forbids that this true God should be worshipped in any other way, than that which he has prescribed. So, on the other hand, the commandment concerning concupiscence, or lust, out of which some make the ninth and tenth commandments, is but one as to its meaning, as the very persons themselves who make this division, testify, when ever they, in their expositions, join together this, their ninth and tenth commandments. The apostle Paul also teaches the same thing when he speaks of lust as though it were but one commandment, saying, “I had not known lust (to be sin) except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Rom. 7:7.) Hence, the first and second commandments of which we have spoken, are two different commandments; whilst this last, which some divide into two, is but one commandment. Moreover, if the tenth commandment concerning lust is to be divided into two, because it distinctly forbids coveting, or lusting after our neighbor’s house and wife, then it would also follow, according to this reasoning, that it would have to be divided into more; yea, into as many commandments as there are things specified, which we are not to covet.
2. Those commandments are, without doubt, different and not the same which Moses has separated by different periods and verses; whilst those which he has expressed in one sentence, or verse, are not different, but constitute only one commandment. The Commandment, now, which forbids our having strange gods, and that which forbids our making graven images, are distinguished and separated by Moses into different verses, or sentences. They are, therefore, not the same, but different commandments. It is different, however, as it respects the commandment which forbids the coveting of our neighbor’s house, and wife; for this is not separated into distinct verses by Moses, as in the former case, but is comprehended in one sentence. Hence, it constitutes only one commandment, and not two, as some will have it.
3. Moses, without doubt, observed and retained the same order in rehearsing the commandments, both in Exodus and Deuteronomy. But the words of the tenth commandment, respecting the coveting of our neighbor’s house and wife, are not in these places rehearsed in the same, but in a different order. In Exodus the words, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, precede those which declare, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. But in Deuteronomy the order is different; for here the words, Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor’s wife, precede those which declare, Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor’s house. Therefore, these sentences are parts of one and the same commandment, or else there will be no ninth commandment, and we will be driven to the necessity of maintaining that Moses in one place confounded the ninth commandment with the tenth, and substituted a part of the tenth in the place of the ninth, which absurdity we dare not charge upon him. This transposition of the words in the instances to which reference is here had, clearly proves that God designed that that portion of the Decalogue which is comprehended in one period, should constitute but one commandment, and that the tenth.
4. This division of the commandments of the Decalogue is supported and sustained by the best and most weighty authority. The ancient Jewish writers distinguish the first and second commandments and include in the tenth the same portion of the Decalogue, which we have, as may be seen by a reference to the Antiquities of Josephus, the third book, and to the exposition of the Decalogue by Philo. It is in the same way that the Grecian Fathers and writers divide the Decalogue; as Athanasius, Origen, Gregory Narzianzen, Chysostom, Zonaras and Nicephorus. The same thing may be said of the Latin Fathers, Jerome, Ambrose, Severus and Augustin. This distinction of the Decalogue was, therefore, at a very early period regarded as the most correct, and was received in the Greek and Latin Churches.
That Josephus, Philo and some of the Grecian Writers make each table of the Decalogue consist of five commandments, does not prove anything against what we have here said; for although they do this, they nevertheless all agree that the words respecting the worship of the one true God, and those which prohibit the making of graven images, constitute two distinct commandments, whilst that portion of the Decalogue which has respect to lust, or coveting, constitutes only one commandment, and not two. There is also another division of the Decalogue in the writings of Augustin, (Epist. 119, ad Januar. cap. 11, & quest, super Exod. cap. 7,) according to which the first table consists of only three commandments, and the second of seven; but the allegory of the Trinity upon which Augustin bases this division is too weak to give any countenance to it. We may remark, however, in this connection, that if only the doctrine and true sense of the Decalogue concerning the true God, and his worship be retained, there ought to be no bitter, or angry contention about the division of the words, and sentences.
III. The Decalogue is divided according to its matter, or according to the things which are commanded or forbidden therein, into the worship of God as immediate, and mediate. The worship of God is commanded in the Decalogue generally; whilst that is forbidden which is contrary thereto. The worship of God, now, is either immediate when moral works are performed to him immediately; or it is mediate, when moral works are performed towards our neighbor on God’s account. The immediate worship of God is contained in the first table, and is either internal, or external.
The internal consists in this, partly that we worship the true God, and that we render unto him that which is required in the first commandment, and, partly, that we worship him in the manner prescribed in the second commandment, whether it be in respect to the worship which is internal, or external. The immediate external worship of God is either private, or public. That which is private, includes the private moral works of everyone the works which every man ought at all times to perform, as it respects acknowledging and confessing God, both in word and deed, which worship is taught in the third commandment. The public worship of God consists in the sanctification of the Sabbath, which is contained in the fourth commandment. The worship of God, which is mediate, and which consists in the duties we owe towards men, or our neighbor, is contained in the second table, and is likewise external and internal. That which is external consists, partly, in the duties of governors, parents, &c., to those under them, and contrariwise, which duties are comprehended in the fifth commandment; and partly in the duties which one man owes to another, which are taught and enforced in the other commandments. These are either the preservation of life and safety, whether of ourselves or of others, which is enjoined in the sixth commandment; or the preservation of chastity and marriage, which is taught in the seventh commandment; or the preservation of goods and possessions, which is comprised in the eighth commandment; or the preservation of truth, which is enforced in the ninth commandment. The mediate worship of God, which is internal, or the internal duties of that worship which is mediate, consist in the proper moderation and regulation of all the affections which we are to cherish towards our neighbor, which worship must be included in all the preceding commandments, and is prescribed in the tenth.
We may now easily return an answer to the following objection: The duties which we owe towards our neighbor are not the worship of God. The second table prescribes the duties which we owe towards our neighbor. Therefore, the obedience of the second table does not constitute the worship of God. Ans. The major proposition is true only of the immediate worship of God, in reference to which we admit the conclusion: for the obedience of the second table is not the immediate worship of God, as is the obedience of the first table; but it is that which is mediate, or which we perform towards God in our neighbor, or by our neighbor coming between God and us. For the duties of love to our neighbor ought to proceed from the love of God; and when they are performed in this way they please God, and have respect to him, no less than the obedience which is required by the first table of the Decalogue. These duties are, therefore, in respect to God, on account of whom they are performed, called and are in fact the worship of God; but in respect to our neighbor, towards whom they are directly performed, they are called duties. Hence, the worship which each table enjoins, differs as to the object towards whom it is per formed. The first table has only an immediate object, which is God: the second has an immediate object, which is our neighbor, and at the same time a mediate object, which is God.
Before we proceed to the exposition of each commandment singly, it is proper that we should lay down certain general rules necessary to the understanding of the Decalogue as a whole, and of each commandment in particular.
1. The Decalogue must be understood according to the interpretation of Scripture, or according to the explanation which the Prophets, Christ, and his Apostles have incidentally given; and not merely according to human judgment or philosophy. We must unite or bring together the explanations found in different portions of Scripture, and not adhere slavishly to the simple letter of the commandments expressed in such a brief form. Nor is moral philosophy sufficient for a full interpretation of the Decalogue, inasmuch as it contains only a small portion of the law. This too is one great difference between philosophy and the doctrine delivered and taught in the church.
2. The Decalogue demands in every commandment internal and external obedience in the understanding, will, heart and actions of the life, perfect not only as to the parts, but also as to the degrees of this obedience; or what is the same thing, it requires that we obey God perfectly, not only in the duties enjoined, but also in the degrees of these duties; for “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” “The law is spiritual.” “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment,” &c- (Gal. 3:10. Rom. 7:14. Matt. 5:22.)
3. The first commandment must be included in all the rest, or what is the same thing, the obedience which it requires, must be the constraining and final cause of obedience to all the other precepts of the Decalogue, or else that which we do, is not the worship of God, but hypocrisy; yea, all the duties which are enjoined in the other commandments must be per formed from and on account of the love of God, or because we love him above every thing else, and desire to glorify and praise him.
4. That we may form a correct judgment, or come to a proper under standing of every commandment, it is above all things necessary that we consider the design, or end of each precept of the Decalogue; for the end of the law shows its meaning, and from the object which God intends, and wills to accomplish by each commandment, we may easily and correctly judge concerning the means which lead to the attainment of this end. This rule is also of great importance in the interpretation of human laws.
5. The same virtue, or the same work may, for different ends and in different respects, be enjoined in more than one commandment; because the end for which anything is done gives character to the action, and the same virtue may contribute to different objects; as fortitude is a virtue of the sixth commandment and of the fifth at the same time, because it is also required of the magistrate who is to undertake the defense of others. The observance of this rule is important, therefore, that we may not give ourselves unnecessary trouble in distinguishing and comparing the different virtues.
6. Negative precepts are contained in those which are positive, or affirmative, and contrariwise: for when the law enjoins anything, it at the same time forbids that which is contrary thereto; and when it prohibits anything, it at the same time enjoins the opposite. In this way the law enjoins the practice of virtue, in forbidding vice, and contrariwise: for where any good is enjoined, there the evil which is particularly opposed to this good, is prohibited; for the reason that the good cannot be put into practice, without an omission of the evil at the same time. And by evil we do not mean, the doing of that which is evil, but also the omission of that which is good.
7. Care must be taken that we do not understand the commandments in too restricted a sense. Commandments which are particular must always be comprehended in the general; the general must be under stood, in the particular; the cause, in the effect; arid the correlative, in the relative. Thus when murder or adultery is prohibited, every injury, and every lust which men may wickedly cherish is at the same time condemned: so when the law enjoins chastity, it at the same time enforces temperance, without which there can be no chastity; and when it requires subjection, it at the same time recognises its correlative, viz: the magistracy.
8. The commandments of the second table yield to those of the first; so the commandments respecting ceremonial worship give place to those respecting moral worship. Obj. But the second commandment is like unto the first. Ans. There is here in this argument a fallacy in understanding that simply and absolutely, which is declared to be similar only in certain respects. The second is like unto the first, not in every point of view, but as we have explained in the former part of this work, 1. In the kind of worship which it requires, which is moral, and always to be preferred to that which is ceremonial. Ceremonies should always give place to the duties of charity prescribed in the second table. 2. It is like unto the first in the kind of punishment, which is eternal, and which is inflicted upon all those who violate either table. 3. It is like unto the first in respect to the connection which exists between the love of God and our neighbor, as between cause and effect, by which it comes to pass that obedience cannot be rendered to one table of the Decalogue, whilst the other is disregarded. God is not loved, except our neighbor be loved; neither is our neighbor truly loved, when God is not loved. “If a man say I love God, and hateth his neighbor, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen.” (1 John 4:20.) This was also the design of Christ’s discourse in Matt. 22:38, 39; for the Pharisees placed divine ceremonies and their own superstitions upon an equality with the obedience of the second table. It was now for the correction of this error that Christ declared, that the second table is like unto the first; that is, as the obedience of the first is moral, spiritual, and most important, so also is the obedience of the second; and as the ceremonial enactments give place to the duties of the first table, so do they in like manner unto the second.
There is, however, notwithstanding these points of similarity, a very great difference between the precepts of the first and second table. They differ, 1. In their objects. The object of the first table is God himself; the object of the second is our neighbor. By as much, therefore, as God is greater than our neighbor, by so much the greater and more important is the obedience of the first table, than the second; and by as much as our neighbor is inferior to God, by so much does the obedience of the second table fall under that of the first. 2. They differ in respect to order, or consequence. The obedience of the first table is chief, and supreme: the obedience of the second falls beneath that of the first, and is depending upon it. Nay it is only because we love God, that we love our neighbor. Obedience to the first table is the cause of obedience to the second. Love to our neighbor grounds itself in love to God; but not contrariwise. So Christ says, “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26.) It is now on account of these two chief points of difference that the precepts of the second table may correctly be said to give place to those of the first.
But some one may still further object, and say, the duties which love to our neighbor requires, do not yield to the ceremonies commanded by the first table, according as it is said, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” (Hos. 6:6, Matt. 12:7.) The duties of love to our neighbor constitute the obedience of the second table. Therefore this obedience does not yield to the obedience of the first table. We may reply to this objection by denying the conclusion, inasmuch as it contains more than follows legitimately from the premises. All that follows legitimately is: Therefore the duties of the second table do not yield to the ceremonies commanded by the first; which is true, and does not contradict the rule here laid down, which is to be understood of moral and ceremonial duties. If, therefore, the necessity and safety of our neighbor require the omission of any ceremony, this should rather be omitted, than that the safety of our neighbor should be disregarded. It is in this way that we are to understand the declaration, 1 will have mercy, and not sacrifice.
Theses concerning the Decalogue.
1. The first table enjoins the duties which we owe to God; the second, the duties which we owe to our neighbor; yet in such a way that the former are referred immediately, the latter mediately, to God.
2. The first commandment, seeing that it commands us to have no other God beside the true God the God revealed to us in the church, comprehends chiefly the internal worship of God, which has its seat in the mind, will and heart.
3. The principal parts of this worship are the true knowledge of God, faith, hope, the love of God, the fear of God, humility and patience.
4. God may be known by rational creatures in as far as he has been pleased to reveal himself to every one.
5. There is a knowledge of God which is simply and absolutely perfect, which is the knowledge that God has of himself. The eternal Father, Son and Holy Ghost, know themselves and each other, and understand wholly and perfectly their infinite essence, as well as the mode of existence peculiar to each person: for no one but a being of an infinite understanding can have a perfect knowledge of that which is infinite. There is also a knowledge of God which belongs to creatures, according to which angels and men have a knowledge of the whole and perfect nature and majesty of God, as being most simple; but they do not know it wholly, but merely in as far as God has revealed it unto them.
6. The knowledge of God which creatures possess, if it be compared with that which God has of himself, may be said to be imperfect. But if we consider the degrees of this knowledge, we may view it as perfect or imperfect, yet not absolutely, but comparatively: that is, in respect to the higher and lower degrees of this knowledge. That knowledge of God is perfect which the blessed angels and saints have in the heavenly world, by which they have a most clear perception of God, or at least as much as is necessary for the conformity of rational creatures with God. That knowledge of God is imperfect which men possess in this life.
7. The knowledge of God which is imperfect, or which we have in this life, is of two kinds: Christian or theological, and philosophical. The former is obtained from the writings of the Prophets and Apostles; the latter is known from the principles and general truths known by men naturally, and from a contemplation of the works of God.
8. The knowledge of God which is theological or Christian, consists of two kinds: the one spiritual or true, living, effectual and saving; the other is according to the letter. The former is that knowledge of God and of his will which the Holy Ghost kindles in our minds, according to and by the word, producing in the will and heart an inclination and desire more and more to know and do those things which God commands to be done. That knowledge of God which is according to the letter, is that which has been in the mind of man either from the creation, or has been kindled subsequently in the mind by the Holy Ghost, through the word, which is, however, accompanied with no desire of conformity with the requirements of the divine law.
9. The knowledge of God, which is spiritual and literal, is in one respect immediate, being produced by the influence of the Holy Ghost, without ordinary means; in another respect it is mediate, being produced by the Holy Ghost, through the doctrine which has been divinely revealed, as heard, read, or meditated upon.
10. The way by which we ordinarily obtain a knowledge of God is that which God himself has prescribed unto us, which is by study and meditation upon his word. We should, therefore, in this way strive to obtain a knowledge of God, and not require or look for any extraordinary and immediate revelation, unless God of his own accord offer it unto us, and confirm it with certain and satisfactory evidences.
11. But although God has sufficiently declared unto us, in his word, as much as he would have us know concerning himself, yet the demonstrations which nature furnishes respecting God are not superfluous, seeing that they reprove the wickedness of ungodly men, whilst they establish the faithful in piety and godliness, and are, therefore, commended by God himself in various places in the Scriptures, and are to be considered by us.
12. Yet we must hold, respecting these demonstrations which nature furnishes of God, that they are indeed true and in harmony with his word; but that they are, nevertheless, not sufficient to a true knowledge of God.
13. Furthermore, although natural demonstrations teach nothing concerning God that is false, yet men, without the knowledge of God’ s word, obtain nothing from them except false notions and conceptions of God; both because these demonstrations do not contain as much as is delivered in his word, and also because even those things which may be understood, naturally, men nevertheless on account of innate corruption and blindness, receive and interpret falsely, and so corrupt it in various ways.
14. Ignorance of those things which God will have known by us concerning himself, revealed to the church in his word and works both of” creation and redemption, is therefore here condemned in the first commandment of the Decalogue. So, likewise, there is here a condemnation, of the errors of those who imagine that there is no God, as the Epicureans, or that there are many gods, as do the heathen, the Manicheans and those who offer prayers to the angels, the spirits of the departed or other creatures. The same thing may be said of the vain confidence of superstitious men, who put their trust in creatures and in things different from God, who has revealed himself in the church, as do the Jews, Mahometans, Sabellians, Samosatenians, Arians, and such like, who do not acknowledge God to be the eternal Father, with the Son and Holy Ghost co-eternal. Having now laid down certain general rules necessary for a proper understanding of the Decalogue, we shall now proceed to give the true sense of each commandment in particular.
Question 94: What does God enjoin in the first commandment?
Answer: That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, (a) sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, (b) invocation of saints, or any other creatures; (c) and learn rightly to know the only true God; (d) trust in him alone, (e) with humility (f) and patience submit to him; (g) expect all good things from him only; (h) love, (i) fear, (j) and glorify him with my whole heart; (k) so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to his will. (l)
(a) 1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
1 Cor.6:9,10 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Cor.10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
1 Cor.10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
(b) Lev.19:31 Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
Deut.18:9-12 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
(c) Matt.4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Rev.19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Rev.22:8,9 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
(d) John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
(e) Jer.17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
Jer.17:7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
(f) 1 Pet.5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
1 Pet.5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
(g) Heb.10:36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
Col.1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
Rom.5:3,4 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
1 Cor.10:10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
Philip.2:14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
(h) Ps.104:27-30 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
Isa.45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
(i) Deut.6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Matt.22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
(j) Deut.6:2 That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.
Ps.111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.
Prov.1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Prov.9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Matt.10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
(k) Matt.4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Deut.10:20,21 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.
(l) Matt.5:29,30 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Matt.10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT consists of two parts: a preface and a precept. The words of the preface are: I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. This preface belongs to the whole Decalogue. It describes and distinguishes God, the law-giver from all creatures, human legislators and false deities, and contains three reasons why the obedience of the first and following commandments should be performed to God. The first is, because God declares himself to be Jehovah, by which he distinguishes himself, the true God, from all creatures, that he may show that he has the supreme right and authority to rule. I, said he, whom thou hearest speaking, and announcing the law unto thee, I am Jehovah, the true God, who exists of and by himself, giving life and being to all things, and having, therefore, supreme authority to govern and rule all things the Creator of all things, being eternal and almighty the author and preserver of all good things: Therefore thou shalt obey me. 2. He says that he is the God of his people, that he might thus, by the promise of his bountiful ness, constrain us the more effectually to render obedience to him. God is, indeed, the God of all creatures by creation, preservation and government; but he is the God of his church by the special manifestation and communication which he has made of himself: for he is properly the God of those whom he loves, and delights in above all others. It is for this reason that David calls that nation happy whose God is the Lord, saying, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” (Ps. 33:12.) God is now our God, when we acknowledge him to be such an one as he has revealed himself in his word, viz: as one who directs and devotes his power, justice, wisdom and mercy to our salvation, and who offers, with singular love, to be gracious to us in his Son. 3. He adds, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, that he might, by bringing them to recollect the recent and wonderful deliverance wrought in their behalf, show and admonish them that they were bound to render gratitude and obedience to him. It is as if he would say, I am he who is thy God; I have manifested myself to thee, and drawn thee to myself by such singular benefits. This has respect to us, as well as to the Jews; because by the mention of this one deliverance, so wonderful in its nature, there is figuratively comprehended all the deliverances of the church, and amongst them that which has been accomplished by Christ, of which the deliverance from Egyptian bondage was a type. Hence, when God in this preface declares that he is Jehovah, the deliverer of the church, he opposes himself to all creatures and idols, arid challenges for himself universal obedience, honor and worship.
There have been some who have considered this preface as the first commandment, and have taken the words, Thou shalt have no other gods before me, as the second commandment. But it is plain that the words, I am the Lord thy God, &c., are not the words of one commanding anything, but of one affirming something with reference to himself. As to the words, however, which follow, saying, Thou shalt have, &c., they evidently have the form of a commandment.
The first commandment then is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. The end of this commandment is the immediate internal worship of God; which is, that we acknowledge the only true God revealed in the church, and render unto him, with all our heart, soul and mind, such honor as is due him. This commandment moreover, is negative in such a way, that it contains in it an affirmative: Thou shalt have no other gods; but thou shalt regard me, that Jehovah revealed in the church, as thy God alone. To have God, is to know and acknowledge that he is God, that he is one, that he is such an one as he has revealed himself in the church, and that he is also such a God to us: then it is to trust in him alone, with the greatest humility and patience to submit ourselves to him with fear and reverence to love him and to expect all good things from him alone. It is in these things that the obedience of this commandment consists, whose parts are the virtues of which we shall presently speak. Another god is any and everything to which we may attribute the properties, attributes and works of the true God, even though the thing itself does not possess them, and even though they are inconsistent with its nature. To have other gods is not to have the true God; which is, to have no god, or many gods, or another god, beside him that has been revealed unto us, or not to acknowledge God to be unto us such as he has made himself known to be, or not to trust in him not to submit ourselves to him in true humility and patience not to expect all good things from him alone, and riot to love or revere him. The different parts of this impiety constitute those vices which are the opposite of the virtues of which we shall speak in the ex position of this commandment. Before me, or in my sight, as if he would say: Thou shalt have no other gods, not only in thy words and actions in the sight of men; but thou shalt have none beside me in the secret chamber of thy heart, for nothing is concealed from my view; I am the searcher of hearts, and the trier of the reins of the children of men, and all things are naked and open to my view.
The easiest method of explaining each commandment, is to make a division of the obedience which every precept requires, into the virtues that are peculiar to it as parts, and then take up and consider the vices which are opposed to these virtues. According to this method, the parts of the obedience required by the first commandment consist of seven in number: the knowledge of God, faith, hope, the love of God, the fear of God, humility, and patience.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD includes such a conception of the being and character of God as agrees with the revelation he has been pleased to make of himself in his works and word, and to be moved and stirred by this knowledge to crust, love, fear, and worship this one true God, concerning which it is said: “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard.” “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (Rom. 10:14. John 17:3.)
The vices opposed to this virtue are many, of which we may mention the following:
1. Ignorance of God and of his will, which is not to know concerning God, or to doubt in reference to those things which we ought to know from the works of creation, and the divine revelation which has been made unto us. This ignorance is either innate, by which we mean an ignorance of those things of which we have no knowledge, and which we cannot understand on account of the depravity of our nature; or it is a feigned and studied ignorance of those things which our conscience tells us should be inquired into, but which we, nevertheless, do not seek to be come acquainted with from any desire of knowing or obeying God. It is said of both forms of this ignorance of God: “There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God.” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” (Rom. 3:11. 1 Cor. 2:14.)
2. Errors or false notions of God, as when some imagine that there is no God, or that there are many gods, as do heathen nations and the Manichaeans; or if they do not profess this in word, they, nevertheless, in fact, make many gods, by ascribing to creature those properties which are peculiar to God alone, as the Papists do, who make angels and the spirits of men which have departed this life gods; inasmuch as to address anyone in prayer, is to attribute infinite wisdom and power to the person thus invoked. Hence Paul declares, that those who pray to creatures, “Change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” “They also change the truth of God into a lie; whilst they worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:23, 25.) The angel of the Lord forbade John to worship him, assigning this reason: “I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God,” &c. (Rev. 19:10.) Those in like manner entertain incorrect ideas of God, and wander from him, who acknowledge one god, but not the true God, who has made a revelation of himself in the gospel; as the wiser philosophers, the Mahommetans, &c. The same thing may be said of those who profess that they know the true God; but yet depart from him, and worship instead of him, an idol which they make for themselves; be cause they imagine the true God, other than he has made himself known in his word; as do the Jews, the Samosateriians, the Arians, &c. “He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father.” “Whosoever denieth the Son the same hath not the Father.” (John 5:23. 1 John 2:23.)
3. Magic, sorcery and soothsaying. Everything of this kind is in direct opposition to a proper knowledge of God; for it consists in a covenant or agreement entered into with the devil, the enemy of God, accompanied with certain words or ceremonies, by the repeating or doing of which, they shall receive things promised of the devil, and these such as should be sought and received from God alone; as that by the help and assistance of the devil, they shall know and accomplish things not necessary, with a view either to gratify their wicked lusts, or to make a display, or for the purpose of obtaining the commodities of life. Magus is a Persian word, signifying a philosopher or teacher. Men feeling their own ignorance called in the assistance of Satan. It was by this means that the term came into reproach, so that magic, which we call zaubern, began to be used in the place of it.
Enchantments belong to magic, and consists in the use of certain words and ceremonies according to an agreement entered into with the devil, according to which he affects what the enchanters ask at his hands, when the words and signs have been gone through with. There is no efficacy or power in the words and ceremonies which are used; but the devil himself accomplishes what he has promised, with the design, that these persons may fall from God to himself, and that they may worship him instead of God. The Scriptures now do not only condemn magicians and enchanters themselves, but all those who countenance them by seeking their direction and assistance; for God includes both in his law when he says: “The soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, I will set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people. “There shall not be found among you a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer; for all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord,” &c. (Lev. 20:6. Deut. 18:11, 12.)
4. Superstition. This is to attribute effects to certain things, or to particular signs and words, which do not depend upon any physical or political causes, nor upon the word of God, and which would not take place were it not for the devil and other causes, besides those which are supposed. And although it may not include any covenant with the devil yet it is nevertheless idolatry. There is included in this vice soothsaying, special attention to, and interpretation of dreams, divinations, with the signs and predictions of diviners and wizards, all of which the Scriptures condemn in the most express terms.
5. All confidence reposed in creatures, which is evidently opposed to a correct knowledge of God, since he who places his trust in creatures makes for himself many gods. Hence God expressly condemns in his word all those who repose their confidence either in men, or in power and riches, or in any created object. Avarice, or covetousness, is included in this vice, and condemned.
6. Idolatry, which is defined in the 95th question of the Catechism. There are two forms or species of idolatry. One is, when another beside the true God is professedly worshiped, or, when that is worshiped for God which is no God. The first is the more apparent and gross form of idolatry, and belongs properly to this first commandment. The other form of idolatry is when we do not professedly worship another God, but err in the kind of worship we render unto him, or when the true God is worshiped in a manner different from that which he has prescribed in the second commandment, and in various other portions of his word. This species of idolatry is more subtle and refined, and is condemned in the second commandment. Those who worship God in statues and images, are idolaters, not withstanding they deny that they worship any other being beside the true God; for they imagine God to be such an one as will be worshiped in images, and so change the will of God, which being done, God himself no longer remains the same.
7. Contempt of God, which is to have a correct knowledge of God without being moved and excited thereby to love and worship him; or it is to have a knowledge of the true God revealed in the church, and yet not be led by it to love, worship, fear and confide in him. The knowledge of the true God is not of itself sufficient; it must also be accompanied with suitable affections or else the devils and the Gentiles would likewise have a true knowledge of God, which the Apostle denies, when he says, “They are without excuse; because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful,” &c. (Rom. 1:20, 21.)
II. FAITH, is a firm persuasion, by which we assent to everything which God has revealed to us in his word, and by which we rest fully assured that the promise of the free mercy of God extends to us for Christ’s sake; and is also an assured confidence by which we receive this benefit of God, and rest upon it which confidence the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in the minds and hearts of the elect, producing in them delight in God, prayer and obedience according to all the commandments of God. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established.” (2 Chron. 20:20.)
There is opposed to faith on the side of want,
1. Unbelief, which includes a rejection of what is heard and known respecting God.
2. Doubt, which is neither firmly to assent to the doctrine concerning God, nor yet wholly to reject it; but consists in wavering, and vacillating so as now to incline a little this way, and then a little that way.
3. Diffidence, or distrust. This does not apply to itself the knowledge which it has of God and his promises, but through fear of being forsaken of God flies from duty, and seeks protection out of God. It is said in reference to all these things: “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” (John 5:10.)
4. Hypocritical and temporary faith. This includes an assent to the doctrine of the church, and a temporary joy resulting from a knowledge of this doctrine; but it does not apply to itself with full confidence the divine promise, and is also without regeneration, on account of which it is soon overcome by the force of temptation and other causes, and so casts away again the profession of piety which is made. “He that received the seed into strong places, the same he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation, or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” “Which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” “Then Simon himself believed also,” &c. (Matt, 13:20. Luke 8:13. Acts 8:13.) Those things, on the other hand, which are opposed to faith on the side of excess, include, 1. Tempting God, which consists in departing from the word and order of God, and so to presume upon, or to make a trial of his truth and power, and to provoke him to anger, proudly and presumptuously by unbelief, or distrust, or contempt of God, and by a vain confidence and conceit of our own wisdom, righteousness, power and glory. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord, thy God.” “Neither let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.” “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than He?” (Matt. 4:7. 1 Cor. 10:9, 22.)
2. Carnal security, which is to live without any thought of God and his will, or of our own infirmity and danger, without acknowledging and deploring our sinfulness and without the fear of God, and yet to expect and hope at the same time for deliverance from punishment and the wrath of God. This state of carnal security is often spoken of and condemned in the holy Scriptures, as when it is said, “As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt. 24:37-40.)
III. HOPE: This is a sure and certain expectation of eternal life, to be given freely for the sake of Christ, with the expectation of a mitigation of present evils with a deliverance from them, according to the counsel and will of God. Concerning this it is said: “Be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Hope maketh not ashamed.” (1 Pet. 1:13. Rom. 5:5.)
Hope springs from faith, because he who has the assurance that he now enjoys the good will of God, may be certain of it also in time to come, inasmuch as God is unchangeable. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. 11:29.) These two graces, however, are not the same. Faith embraces the present benefits of God, and his will towards us; whilst hope includes and has respect to the fruits of the present and unchangeable good will of God, which are still future. Hence it is said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” “We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for? “(Heb. 11:1. Rom. 8:24.) That which is opposed to hope, as it respects the want thereof is, 1. Despair, which is to regard one’s sins as being greater than the merits of the Son of God, and therefore not to accept of the mercy of God offered in his Son, our mediator, and so not to look for the benefits promised to the faithful; but to be tormented by a sense of the dreadful wrath of God, and by the fear of being cast into everlasting punishment, and so to dread the mention of the name of God and to hate him, as cruel and tyrannical. It was under a sense of despair that Cain exclaimed, My sin is greater than can be pardoned. (Gen. 4:13.) Paul also exhorts in view of this, “Not to sorrow as those who have no hope.” Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. (1 Thes. 4:13. Rom. 5:20.)
2. Doubt in reference to future benefits, such as eternal life, defense and deliverance from temptations, and final perseverance, which are all promised in the word of God.
As it regards the opposite side of hope, or that which is opposed thereto by reason of excess, we may mention of carnal security, of which we have just given a definition. And as carnal security is everywhere condemned in the word of God, so spiritual security is everywhere commended and required in all the godly. This spiritual security assures us of the grace of God against all the reproofs and accusations of conscience, and is nothing else than faith and hope joined with true repentance, which does not fear being deserted and rejected of God, because it is fully persuaded that his will and favor are unchangeable. Hence it is said in reference to. this, “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31, 32.)
IV. THE LOVE OF GOD consists in acknowledging him to be good and merciful in the highest degree, and that not only in himself, but also towards us, and therefore to love him supremely to desire more earnestly to be united and conformed to him, and to have his will accomplished in us, than to enjoy all things beside, and to be willing to suffer the loss of all things, which we have, sooner than be deprived of his favor. Or, it is from a knowledge of the infinite goodness of God, so to love him, that we would rather suffer the loss of all things, than to be deprived of communion with him, or offend him in anything. True love comprehends two things. First, a desire of the safety and preservation of that which we love; and secondly, a desire to be united with the object of our love, or to have it united to us. In reference to this it is said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters; yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Deut. 6:5. Luke 14:26.)
There is opposed to the love of God, on the side of want, 1. A rejection of the love of God, or a contempt and hatred to God, which is to flee from God, who accuses and punishes the wicked for their sins, and to indulge enmity towards him, arising from the aversion which our nature has to God and his justice, and the propensity which it has to sin. It is said of this sin: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Rom. 7: T.) 2. An inordinate love of self, and of other creatures, which is to prefer our own lusts, pleasures, life, honor and other things to God, and his will and glory, and to disregard and offend him rather than to suffer the loss of those things which we love. “Whosoever loveth father, or mother, more than me, is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37.) 3. A feigned, hypocritical love of God. In regard to this virtue there can be no excess, for the reason that we never love God as strongly as we ought.
V. THE FEAR OF GOD is to acknowledge his infinite wrath against sin, his power to punish it, and to regard an offence against God, accompanied with aversion to him, the greatest evil, and for this reason to hate and detest sin; and to be willing to suffer all other things sooner than offend God in the smallest matter. Or it is an unwillingness to offend God, resulting from submission to God and a knowledge of his wisdom, power, justice, and the right which he has over all creatures. “Thou shalt fear thy God; I am the Lord.” “Who would not fear thee, King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain; forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nation and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.” (Lev. 19:14. Jer. 10:7.)
Obj. The highest good cannot be feared, because fear includes the shunning of evil. God is the highest good. Therefore, he cannot be feared. Ans. The highest good cannot be feared in as far as it is such; but in this respect, as it is also something else. So God is feared, not as he is the highest good, for in this respect he is loved; but as he is just, and able to punish; or he is feared in respect to the evil and punishment of destruction which he is able to inflict.
The love and fear of God differ from each other in the following respects:
1. Love follows the good, even God, and desires to be united to him. Fear turns away from the evil, even the displeasure and wrath of God, and dreads a separation from him. Or we may express it thus: Love is unwilling to be deprived of the highest good; whilst fear dreads to offend the highest good.
2. Love arises from a knowledge of the goodness of God; fear from a knowledge of the power and justice of God, and from the right which he has over all creatures.
The fear of God which man had before the fall was different from that which is now in the regenerate in this life. The fear of God as it was in man in his state of original holiness, or as it now is, and will be in the blessed angels and man in eternal life, is a strong aversion to sin and to the punishment of sin, which, however, is without grief or pain; because they neither have sin in them nor experience the punishment of it; and have the assurance that they never will sin, or be punished of God. “He will swallow up death in victory; the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” (Is. 25:8.) The fear of God which is in the regenerate in this life is an acknowledgment of sin and the wrath of God, and a sincere sorrow arising from a view of the sins we have committed, from the offence we have offered God by our sins, and from the miseries we and others endure in consequence of sin, accompanied with a fear of future sins and punishment, and an ardent desire to escape these evils, by reason of the knowledge of the mercy of God made known to us in Christ. It is said in reference to this fear: “Dost not thou fear God?” “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Luke 23:40. Matt. 10:28.) This fear is usually called filial fear, because it is such as children cherish towards their parents, who are sorry on account of a father’s anger and displeasure, and fear lest they should again offend him and be punished; and are, nevertheless, continually assured of the love, and good will of the father towards them. Hence they love him, and are more deeply grieved on account of the love which they cherish towards him, whom they have offended. Thus it is said of Peter that “he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:75.)
Servile fear, such as the slave has for his master, which consists in fleeing punishment without faith and without a desire and purpose of changing the life, being accompanied with despair, flight and separation from God such a servile fear differs greatly from that which is filial. 1. Filial fear arises from confidence and love to God; that which is servile arises from a knowledge and conviction of sin, and from a sense of the judgment and displeasure of God. 2. Filial fear does not turn away from God, but hates sin above everything else, and fears to offend God: servile fear is a flight and hatred, not of sin, but of punishment and of the divine judgment, and so of God himself. 3. Filial fear is connected with the certainty of salvation and of eternal life: servile fear is a fear and expectation of eternal condemnation and rejection of God, and is great in proportion to the doubt and despair which it entertains of the grace and mercy of God. This is the fear of devils and wicked men, and is the commencement of eternal death, which the ungodly experience already in this life. “I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid.” “The devils believe and tremble.” (Gen. 3:10. James 2:19.)
We must here observe that the love and fear of God are frequently taken in the Scriptures for the whole worship of God, or for universal obedience to all the commandments of God. “By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God, and keep his commandments.” “Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (1 John 5:2. 1 Tim. 1:5. Prov. 1:7.) The reason of this arises from the fact, that the love and fear of God constitute the cause of our entire obedience, inasmuch as they spring from faith and hope; for those who truly love and fear God will not willingly offend him in anything, but will endeavor to do whatever will be pleasing to him. There is opposed to the fear of God on the side of want, profanity, carnal security and contempt of God. And on the side of excess servile fear and despair, of which we have already spoken.
VI. HUMILITY is to acknowledge that all the good which is in us, and done by us does not proceed from any worthiness or excellency which we possess, but from the free goodness of God, and so by an acknowledgment of the divine majesty, and our own weakness and unworthiness, to submit ourselves to God, to ascribe the glory of all the good which is in us to him alone, and so to fear God, to acknowledge and deplore our imperfections and faults, and not to desire any higher position for ourselves than that which God has assigned to us, nor to be dissatisfied with our gifts, but by the help of God to remain contented and satisfied with our calling and position in life, and not to despise others who are placed in more desirable situations than ourselves, nor to hinder them in the discharge of their duty, but to acknowledge that others are, and may also become profitable instruments of God; and therefore to attribute and yield to them willingly the place and honor due them, and not to attribute to ourselves, or attempt that which it is not in our power to accomplish, nor claim for ourselves a higher degree of excellence than others possess, but to be contented with the gifts and position which God has assigned us, and so to devote all our gifts and endeavors to the glory of God and the salvation of our fellow men, even of those who are of the lower and more unworthy class, and not to murmur against God, if our hopes are disappointed, or we are despised, but in all things to attribute to God the praise of wisdom and righteousness. “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it.” “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (1 Cor. 4:7. 1 Pet. 5:5. Matt. 18:4. Phil. 2:3.)
The opposite of humility, as it respects the want of this virtue is pride or arrogance. Pride consists in attributing the gifts which we possess, not to God, but to our own worthiness, and natural powers, and so includes an admiration of self and of our gifts. He who is possessed of pride does not fear God, neither does he acknowledge or deplore his imperfections he is continually aspiring after a more elevated position and calling in life, and attributes to himself not in the strength of God, but in that of his own powers, what he does not possess attempts things beyond his strength, and foreign to his calling despises those who are above him in life, yields to none, but desires to go before and excel others, and directs his gifts and counsels to his own praise and glory is displeased with God and man, and frets and speaks against God when his desires and projects are not realized, and even accuses God of error and injustice when the divine arrangements do not fall in with the opinions and wishes of men. Or to express it more briefly, we may say, that pride consists in an admiration of self and of one’s own gifts and attainments, attributing these gifts to itself, attempting things that do not properly fall within its sphere, and fretting against God, when disappointed in the gratification of its own wishes and desires. Of this vice it is said: “God resisteth the proud.” “Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” (1 Pet. 5:5 Prov. 16:5.)
A feigned modesty or humility is the opposite of this virtue as it respects the other extreme. This affected modesty consists in courting the praise of humility by denying those things which anyone in his own mind attributes to himself, whether he really possess them or not, and by refusing those things which he desires and endeavors to obtain secretly. “Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matt. 6:16.) Aristotle terms it affected niceness, as though he would call it a feigned fastidiousness. Some translate the words used by Aristotle, vain glorious dissemblers.
The words of Aristotle (Ethic, lib. 4. cap. 7.) may be rendered thus: “Those who dissemble in things that are small and manifest, are called skilful dissemblers, and are generally despised; and sometimes it consists in pride, as the wearing of a Lacedemonian attire.” This counterfeit humility is, therefore, a pride that is two-fold.
VII. PATIENCE consists in obeying God and submitting to him under the various evils and adversities which he sends upon us, and desires us to endure, arising from a knowledge of the wisdom, providence, justness and goodness of God does not murmur against God on account of the sufferings to which these evils expose us, and does nothing contrary to his commands; but in the midst of our sufferings retains confidence and hope in God that he will afford us his grace and help seeks deliverance from God, and by this knowledge and confidence mitigates the griefs and sufferings to which we are exposed. Or, we may define it more briefly thus: Patience is to obey God in submissively enduring the various evils which he sends upon us, from a knowledge of the divine majesty, and from an assurance of God’s assistance and deliverance, according as it is said: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” “Wait on the Lord and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee.” (Ps. 37:7, 84.)
Humility and patience belong to the first commandment, not only because they are parts of that internal obedience which God requires us to render immediately to him, but also because they follow, or grow out of the true knowledge, confidence, love and fear of God, as necessary effects. The opposite of patience, on the side of want is impatience, which is an unwillingness, arising from an ignorance and distrust of the divine wisdom, providence, justice and goodness, to obey God by enduring the evils and adversities which he requires us to suffer, and to speak against God on account of the suffering to which we are subject, or to violate his commands, and not to seek or expect help and deliverance from God, and so not to assuage or moderate our grief by the knowledge and assurance which we have of the divine will, but to indulge in it, and being broken thereby to be driven to despair. Saul and Judas are examples of this impatience; Job, also, gave evidence of it in the complaints which he uttered in his distress, which may also be true of the godly in their sufferings.
We may here remark, that often in this and other commandments the same vices are opposed to many and different virtues. So in this commandment carnal security stands opposed to faith, hope and the fear of God; tempting God is opposed to hope, the love of God, humility and patience; whilst idolatry is utterly at variance with a true knowledge of God and faith. The same thing may be seen, and should be observed in the virtues and vices of other commandments.
Question 95: What is idolatry?
Answer: Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested himself in his word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust. (a)
(a) Eph.5:5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
1 Chron.16:26 For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.
Philip.3:19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
Gal.4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
Eph.2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
1 John 2:23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
2 John 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
John 5:23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.