The Law

The Heidelberg Catechism on the Strict Preaching of the Ten Commandments

heidcat2__03083.1480713175Preaching through the Ten Commandments does not seem to be nearly as common in Reformed churches today as it has been in years and generations past. Perhaps some mistakenly believe that to do so in some way implies or lends itself to a kind of legalism of sorts. To be sure, there are legalistic ways of preaching God’s law, but this should in no way prevent us from preaching and teaching the Ten Commandments in our churches in a godly and edifying way.

Q/A 115 marks the end of the Heidelberg Catechism’s exposition of the Ten Commandments (which consists of Q/A 92-115), and it addresses this very topic, saying:

Q.115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?A. First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin and righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we consistently endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we might become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us in the life to come.

This question logically builds upon the previous two (2) questions, where we are taught that the tenth commandment (“Thou shalt not covet” – Exodus 20:17) requires of us that we obey all of God’s commandments from the heart (Q/A 113), and reveals to us that in this life “even the holiest of men” cannot perfectly keep God’s commandments, but “have only a small beginning of this obedience” (Q/A 114).

Here in Q/A 115 the writer of the catechism anticipates a possible objection about the usefulness and necessity of the preaching of God’s commandments in the life of the Christian. If even the holiest of men in this life only have a “small beginning” of the obedience and holiness that is required of them, then what is the use of preaching and teaching the commandments so strictly? Not only that, but why should the catechism itself spend so much time on the subject (no less than 24 questions over a span of 11 Lord’s Days)?

Given the fact the the Heidelberg Catechism itself was intended to be used as, among other things, a preaching guide in the churches, and has been preached as such in Reformed churches all over the world for hundreds of years since it was first published, you might say that Q/A 115 at least in part serves an apologetic purpose of sorts, in that it defends or at least gives us the rationale behind including such a lengthy exposition of the ten commandments in the course of its instruction.

Interestingly, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus (the principal author of the Heidelberg Catechism itself) goes into great detail answering the arguments or objections of “the Antinomians, Libertines, and other profane heretics of a similar cast, who affirm that the law is not to be taught in the church of Christ.” This almost certainly shows that he had their arguments in view when he composed Q/A 115.

Ursinus goes so far as to state and refute no less than 11 (!) common objections that such heretics made against the strict preaching and teaching of God’s law. Some of these very same arguments are raised in one form or another by modern antinomians of various kinds in our own day as well.

For example, he points out that some object to the strict preaching of God’s commandments on the basis that we are unable in this life to perfectly keep or obey them. Ursinus essentially answers this objection in his commentary by restating the answer to question #115. He also points out that “the law may, to a certain extent, be kept by the regenerate” (p.615). In other words, the fact that we cannot perfectly obey God’s law in this life does not mean that we cannot sincerely obey it at all.

Another common objection (both in Ursinus’s day as well as our own) is based upon a misunderstanding of Paul’s words in Romans 6:14, where he says that we as believers are “not under law but under grace.” Ursinus writes,

“This, however, is to misunderstand the words of the Apostle; for the expression, Not to be under the law, does not mean, that we are not to yield obedience to the law, but that we are freed from the curse and constraint of the law; . . . .” (p.617)

The Westminster Confession of Faith likewise states:

“The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” (19.5)

The gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ does not in any way “dissolve” or do away with our obligation to obey God’s law, but rather does “much strengthen this obligation.”

So why is it necessary that the commandments of God be so strictly preached? Q/A 115 offers us at least two reasons. “First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin and righteousness in Christ.” In other words, a thorough familiarity with the law of God and the hearing of God’s commandments being “strictly preached” ought to help us to understand more and more just how sinful we still are in this life. And this is something that we will need to learn “all our lifetime.” As Paul says in Romans 3:20, “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (ESV)

This, of course, is not an end in and of itself, but rather serves the purpose of making us as believers to “become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin and righteousness in Christ.” It should safeguard us from any delusions of perfectionism or self-righteousness, and cause us to more earnestly seek God’s mercy in forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). As Paul says in Philippians 3:8–9,

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (ESV)

Not only that, but the strict preaching of the ten commandments is also for the purpose “likewise, that we consistently endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we might become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us in the life to come.”

In other words, it should lead us more and more to grasp our need for the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, and to pray for His work in us, in order that we might be more conformed to the image of Christ and walk in newness of life according to the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11).

And so herein lies the pastoral wisdom of including within the catechism such a lengthy section dealing with the Ten Commandments, and why God’s commandments still ought to be strictly preached in our churches. These things are needful for every believer, for God uses the preaching of His commandments (as He does all of Scripture) as an instrument of our sanctification in Christ, by the working of His Holy Spirit within us.

Adultery and the Seventh Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonIn our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments we now come to the seventh commandment, which says,

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14, KJV)

This commandment (like the rest of the ten commandments) is what I like to call an “umbrella category.” What I mean by that term is that this commandment represents a particular category of sins or transgressions, and so there are many different ways that a person can break it.

The seventh commandment, simply put, forbids sexual immorality of all kinds.

In the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) the Lord Jesus put it this way:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28, ESV)

Here Jesus teaches us the proper understanding of the seventh commandment. And in doing so He makes it clear that this commandment forbids not just sinful actions, but also sinful thoughts and desires as well! A person can be outwardly chaste, and yet inwardly still be guilty of adultery. And so it is not just sexually immoral actions that are to be avoided and repented of, but also sexually immoral words and thoughts as well.

This commandment against sexual immorality is worded in terms of the particular form of sexual sin that in some ways is the most heinous and serious version of it – adultery.

What makes adultery so serious a sin before God? Adultery, properly-speaking, is not just sexual immorality (as serious as that is), but is also theft (and so a transgression of the 8th commandment as well). Thomas Watson writes,

“It [adultery] is a thievish sin. It is the highest form of theft. The adulterer steals from his neighbor that which is more than his goods and estate; he steals away his wife from him, who is flesh of his flesh.” (The Ten Commandments, p.155)

It is also a violation of the marriage covenant, and so the breaking of one’s vows, and bearing false witness before God and man (and so also a violation of the 9th commandment). Clearly there is a great deal of overlap between the commandments, and in breaking one of them, we often tend to break others as well.

I’m tempted to say that this commandment is the most-neglected and most commonly broken of all of the ten commandments in our day, even among professing believers in Christ. (In all likelihood that dubious distinction probably belongs to either the 2nd or 4th commandments.)

Whatever the case, the seventh commandment is disregarded, redefined, and transgressed among many professing Christians to such a degree that there no longer seems to be much of a difference or distinction between the church and the unbelieving world around her.

This simply should not be so.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul told the believers in Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” He said that, not because sexual morality is the end-all, be-all of the Christian life, but because in a debauched culture, abstaining from sexual immorality is one of the primary distinguishing marks that set believers apart from the world around us.

That is as true in our day as it has ever been. Abstaining from sexual immorality is still very much the will of God for His redeemed people, and it is still our “sanctification,” something that sets us apart from the world.

May the Lord grant revival and repentance to many, starting with those of us who profess to know Christ, so that we might follow the will of God in these things. And may He grant repentance, faith, and forgiveness to many who have committed sexual immorality, that they might know peace with God, and begin to follow His will in these things.

 

The Heidelberg Catechism – Lord’s Day #2 (Q.3-5)

In the previous question (Q.2) we were told that there are three (3) things that we need to know in order to live and die in the joy of our comfort in Christ. (Those three things essentially form the outline or structure of the Heidelberg Catechism.) The first of these things that we must know is the greatness of our sin and misery.

The catechism’s treatment of the subject of our sin and misery is found in Q.3-11. This is easily the shortest of the three sections in the catechism. In his book, The Good News We Almost Forgot, Kevin Deyoung writes,

“Compared with the amount of time spent on other topics, the Heidelberg Catechism does not spend a lot of time on human depravity. The grace section of the catechism [Q.12-85] covers twenty-seven Lord’s days and seventy-four Questions and Answers. The gratitude section [Q.86-129] is only a little shorter, covering twenty-one Lord’s days and forty-four Questions and Answers. The guilt section [Q.3-11] is by far the shortest with only three Lord’s days and nine Questions and Answers. The authors of the Catechism wanted Heidelberg to be an instrument of comfort, not condemnation.” (p.25)

But don’t let the brevity of this section fool you. Without a right understanding of the greatness of our sin and misery we can never really understand the greatness of God’s grace in the gospel of Christ.

In his 2-volume set of lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism, Guilt, Grace and Gratitude, George W. Bethune writes,

“To understand and appreciate the salvation by Christ, it is necessary that we should know our misery, its source, its extent, and our utter dependence upon divine grace through Christ for pardon, favor, a new life, and immortal happiness.” (p.31-32)

If we don’t first understand the bad news of our sin and misery outside of Christ, how will we ever rightly appreciate just how good the good news of Christ really is? That is why the catechism begins where it does, with a brief explanation of our sin and misery.

The questions for Lord’s day #2 (Questions 3-5) of the Heidelberg Catechism begin to unfold for us what the Bible teaches about the greatness of our sin and misery outside of Christ.

The Necessity of the Law of God

The first thing that the catechism teaches us in this section is the necessity of the law of God in revealing our sin and misery to us. It says,

Q.3. How do you come to know your misery? A. The law of God tells me.

The Word of God clearly teaches us that it is the law of God that reveals our sin and misery to us. In Romans 3:19-20 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (ESV)

“Through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (v.20). We can only truly perceive the depth of our sin and misery in light of the law of God. It is there that we find the true standard of righteousness by which sinners must be judged.

And in making us aware of our sin and misery, the law of God then also reveals our need for the Savior. Theologians often refer to this as the pedagogical use of God’s law – the use wherein the law drives us to Christ for salvation from our sins.

The Requirements of the Law of God – Love for God and Neighbor

The next thing that the Heidelberg Catechism does is sum up what the law of God requires of us:

Q.4. What does God’s law require of us? A. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22:37-40: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

It is interesting that Ursinus (the author) chose this passage from Matthew’s Gospel rather than the text of the ten commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21) in order to show us the requirements of God’s law. The catechism actually includes a somewhat lengthy exposition of the ten commandments in the very last section (the gratitude section). And so we see that not only does the law of God show us our sins and so drive us to Christ for salvation from our sins, but it also shows us how we are to live and show our gratitude to God after we come to Christ by faith for salvation!

This summary of the law of God found in the great commandment shows us the futility of mere morality, because it shows us the true nature of the kind of obedience that God requires of us, as well as the only right motive of such obedience.

Many people might fool themselves into thinking that they have obeyed God’s commandments simply because they have not outwardly committed the acts of murder or of adultery. But the Lord Jesus shows us in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) and in the great commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) that true obedience must extend to the heart, and must also and come from a heart of love to God and our neighbor.

The Depravity and Inability of Man

Not only does the law of God reveal our sin and misery to us, but it also shows us just how far we fall short of obedience to God. Not only do we not love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, but we actually have a marked tendency to do the opposite! In Q.5 we see not just our sin and guilt, but our depravity outside of Christ as well:

Q.5. Can you live up to all this perfectly? A. No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor

The problem is not with the law (Romans 7:12), but rather with us. We are utterly unable (and unwilling) to keep it. And not only do we fail to keep it, but we actually “have a natural tendency” to do the very opposite of what the law requires – we not only fail to love God and love our neighbor, but we actually tend to hate God and hate our neighbor!

In Ephesians 2:1-3 the Apostle Paul puts it this way:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (ESV)

Here we see the utter helplessness and hopelessness of our condition outside of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. And because of this, we also can begin to see a better glimpse of the greatness of the salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the questions and answers for the following Lord’s day (Q.6-8) the catechism addresses the topic that most naturally follows upon these things – how did mankind come to be in this condition of sin and misery? It doesn’t take long to see the logical progression of thought in the way the Heidelberg lays out its case for the gospel of Christ.

Murder and the Image of God (The Sixth Commandment)

In a previous post we looked at what the Lord Jesus taught about the true meaning and extent of the sixth commandment (i.e. “You shall not murder” – Exodus 20:13), that it prohibits, not just the outward act of unjustly taking someone’s life, but also the inward disposition of hatred. (See Matthew 5:21-26.) In other words, the very root of murder begins in the heart, and such hatred is itself a violation of the sixth commandment. In that sense, we are all guilty of the sin of murder.

But the Bible has much more to say about this subject. For instance, in Genesis chapter 9 (after the great flood of Noah’s day had finally subsided), God told Noah that “every moving thing that lives” (i.e. animals) shall be as food for mankind (v.3). But right after that God also told Noah that for the lifeblood of a man (a human being) He would require a “reckoning” (v.5).

What is that reckoning? In Genesis 9:6 we read,

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” (ESV)

This is not speaking of revenge or vengeance, which belongs only to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19), but of capital punishment. This is a subject that is sure to cause some sharp disagreements among many in our day, but the Scriptures are more than clear on this matter.

So why do I bring it up? Not so much to stir the pot as to make a point. What reason does God give us there in that verse for His institution of capital punishment? What is the reason why “whoever sheds the blood of man” is to have his own blood shed by man (i.e. by the state, which does not bear the sword in vain – Romans 13:4)? He says that it is because “God made man in his own image.”

This is also taught all the way back in Genesis 1:26-27, where it says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)

No less than three (3) times in those two short verses we are told that mankind was made in the image of God! God did not create animals in His own image or likeness – only mankind. That is to say that human beings are in an important sense different from the animals, and so are not to be reckoned as mere animals (not even as highly evolved animals). Human beings are created in God’s image, made by God for God, to be in fellowship with Him.

And so the unjust taking of human life by murder (which rears its ugly head in many more forms than we might care to admit) is such a heinous sin before God and deserving of the severest of earthly punishments and even of hell itself because it is, in a sense, ultimately an attack on the image of God in mankind. You could say that every attempt at murder is really an attempt at deicide (the murder of God). It is to wish that God were dead.

As Louis Berkhof writes,

“The crime of murder owes its enormity to the fact that it is an attack on the image of God.” (Systematic Theology, p.204)

So let us learn to take to heart the great biblical truth that every human being is made in the image of God. And may that cause us to examine our hearts when we are tempted to hate or unjustly harm another person.

If we were all more mindful of the image of God that is indelibly stamped on every man, woman and child (even in the womb!), how much differently might we begin to treat each other? How might that knowledge restrain our hate and even the very acts of murder that flow from it?

 

The Fifth Commandment and Submission to Authority

Institutes CalvinThe fifth commandment (i.e. “Honor your father and your mother” – Exodus 20:12) applies to more than just the relationships and authority structure within the family. This commandment is most commonly understood or interpreted as dealing with all earthly relationships and authority structures in general.

John Calvin, for example, summarizes the intent of this commandment as being “that we must revere those whom the Lord has set over us and show them honor and obedience, acknowledging the good that they have done us” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.145).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise states that what is required of us in the fifth commandment is “the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several [i.e. various] places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Q.64).

Some of those various “places and relations” include the family, the church, and the state, just to name a few. As the Westminster Larger Catechism says,

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

And so this commandment continues to have a great deal of practical application for us in a number of ways. For example, employees must learn to honor and obey their employers and supervisors. That is the will of God for you if you are employed by someone – to do your job well and to show proper respect to your employer and supervisors.

If you are a Christian, has it ever occurred to you that you are to serve God in how you do your job, and in how you relate to your boss and even to your coworkers? In Colossians 3:23–24 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

Another way of saying that is that God cares about how you do your job. And how you do your job is a reflection of your love for the Lord. We are to work as if we work for the Lord Jesus – because ultimately that is exactly what we are doing! That should change how we approach our work.

The flip-side is also true. If you are an employer, manager, or supervisor, part of doing your job well involves showing proper care and respect to your employees and subordinates. In Colossians 4:1 Paul writes,

“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

“You also have a master in heaven.” In other words, God is every boss’s Boss. How might a right understanding of these things transform the workplace!

Another area of practical application of this commandment is our relationship to the governing authorities. In Romans 13:1 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV)

No earthly government or authority figure is perfect. Frankly, many are far from being so. But that does not mean that we may throw off all due civility, respect, and even submission to the same. Why? Because, like it or not, “there is no authority except from God.” Ultimately God put them there, and so each one must one day answer to Him for the way they rule or govern.

These are just a few examples of the ongoing relevance and practical application of the fifth commandment. I hope that this has given you some food for thought that you can put to use in your daily life. How much better might our lives and even our society as a whole be, if we were to put the fifth commandment into practice as we should? May God help us to do just that.

Honor Your Father and Your Mother (The Fifth Commandment)

Ten Commandments WatsonIn our study through the ten commandments we now come to the fifth commandment. Despite the relative brevity of this commandment, there are numerous implications and applications that we may draw from it.

The commandment itself simply says,

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV)

This commandment marks the transition to what is often called the second “table” of the law (basically the second half of the ten commandments, so to speak). The first table (i.e. commandments 1-4) deals with love for God, while the second table (i.e. commandments 5-10) deals with love for one’s neighbor.

It is interesting and instructive that when the Lord begins to turn our attention to love for our neighbor, the place he starts is our relationship with our parents. They are typically the first neighbor (i.e. the first people) with whom we come into contact, and so they are the first ones to whom we owe love.

They are also typically the very first authority figures in our lives. And so we first learn (or fail to learn) to honor and obey those who are in authority over us, in the arena of the home or family. Notice that it is “honor” (and not mere outward obedience) that we are to render to our earthly fathers and mothers.

If as children we fail to learn to honor and submit to authority in the home, chances are we will struggle mightily to learn to submit to the many other authorities that God places over us in our various stations in life. For this reason the Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, once wrote, “Nothing sooner shortens life than disobedience to parents.” (The Ten Commandments, p.132)

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul actually quotes this commandment, interprets it, and applies it to believers today. In Ephesians 6:1-4 he writes,

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV)

Here Paul clearly teaches (in case anyone had any doubt) that the ten commandments still apply today. And they even apply to children! One of the primary applications of the fifth commandment is that children are to (as Paul puts it above) ‘obey their parents in the Lord.’ Why? Two reasons. First, because “this is right.” We know that it is “right” for children to ‘obey their parents in the Lord’ precisely because God has commanded it.

And so following the Lord isn’t just something for grown-ups, but rather starts very early on in life – even in childhood! A big part of a child following Christ involves honoring and obeying his or her parents.

And not just that, but children are to honor and obey their parents because God has even given a promise with this commandment – “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Notice that Paul clearly teaches that this promise that the Lord annexed or attached to the commandment still applies today. God graciously gives us promises of blessing in order to encourage us in our efforts toward obedience!

The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter on the law of God speaks of the usefulness of God’s law for believers, and of the blessings that are promised to us for obedience to His commandments:

” . . . .The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one, and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.” (19.6)

God is no harsh task-master toward his redeemed children. Rather he knows what is best for us, commands us to walk in his ways accordingly, and even gives us blessings along the way in order to encourage us when that way sometimes proves to be difficult. God is good, and even his commandments are given for our good as well!

Are You a Murderer? (The Sixth Commandment)

Murder 2In our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), we now come to the sixth commandment, which simply says, “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV) or “You shall not murder” (NKJV, ESV). That sounds pretty short, simple, and straight-forward, doesn’t it? We are not to commit murder.

If we are honest, many of us give this commandment very little thought, at least as far as how it may apply to ourselves. And that is probably because we assume that we have never even come close to breaking this commandment. Are you a murderer? Are you guilty of murder in the eyes of God? The answer to that question might not be as obvious as you think.

The Westminster Larger Catechism includes an extended treatment of the ten commandments, which follows the pattern of stating both the duties required and the sins forbidden in each of the commandments. In that section we are told the rationale for this approach is because, “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded” (Q.99).

Q.136 tells us of the sins that are forbidden in the sixth commandment:

“Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

That is quite the list, isn’t it? Clearly the Westminster divines saw that there is much more involved in breaking the 6th commandment than we might think.

The Scriptures themselves clearly teach us that the sixth commandment is about far more than just the outward act of murder. The Lord Jesus himself made this very clear in his teaching in what we call “the sermon on the mount” (i.e. Matthew chapters 5-7). In Matthew 5:21–22 he says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (ESV)

There Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13 (i.e. “You shall not murder.”), and then explains it to us in some detail. And in doing so he tells us that the sin of murder starts with the heart, with hatred. Hatred is the root cause of murder. The outward sin of murder certainly makes one “liable to judgment.” But the Lord Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother” will be “liable to judgment” as well!

In fact 1 John 3:15 says,

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (ESV)

Who among us can possibly claim to have never hated anyone? And if that is the case, there is no one among us who can truly say that he or she is innocent of the sin of murder, at least not inwardly-speaking. And so we are all guilty of much greater sins than we might realize.

And so that brings us back to the question that I posed above – Are you a murderer? The answer to that question, according to the Word of God, is yes.

That ought to impress upon us the very depths of our sin and guilt before a holy God. We have all sinned in much bigger ways than we might realize.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ died (indeed, was executed and murdered by wicked men – Acts 2:23) to save even murderers – murderers like you and me.

There is abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness to be found through faith in Jesus Christ even for sins such as these. He alone can take hearts that are full of hatred and murder and cleanse them, filling them with the love that only comes from God.

The Nine Commandments?

Chantry SabbathThe ten commandments in general are strangely neglected among many professing Christians in our day. Many cannot even so much as name all ten of them (whether in order or not). This is a sad state of affairs, and reflects poorly upon both the teaching ministries of our churches, as well the personal Bible reading habits of many believers.

Having said that, one of the ten commandments in particular suffers perhaps more neglect than all the rest – the fourth commandment. It says,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)

It would seem that many in our day have, in fact, forgotten to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In fact, in some circles you would practically think that we now have only nine (9) commandments instead of ten.

Many would actually say that the fourth commandment simply no longer applies today because it has not been repeated in the New Testament. Charles Ryrie, for example, states that “the New Testament only includes nine of the ten” (Systematic Theology, p.350).

But is that really the case? Is the New Testament actually silent on this particular commandment? No. In his book, Call the Sabbath a DelightWalter Chantry writes,

“If anyone says that the New testament does not teach the fourth commandment, perhaps he should read the Gospels before he pretends to speak for the whole Testament.” (p.52-53)

In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke about it a number of times in the Gospels, even referring to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8, ESV). And not only does he not say anything about abrogating or setting aside the Sabbath commandment, but he went so far as to teach people the right view of the Sabbath, including the truth that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, ESV).

And so God’s command for us to observe a day of holy rest (not inactivity) and worship still applies today. God’s moral law has not changed. And this should not be a surprise to anyone, for as the wording of the commandment itself even tells us, it is based upon God’s work in the very beginning, at creation itself! (In other words, the Sabbath commandment did not begin with the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, but rather all the way back in the 1st chapter of the book of Genesis!)

For the explicit reason given for remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy is as follows: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11, ESV).

The Sabbath, then, is a creation ordinance. And it is for our good. God “blessed” that day and “made it holy.” That has not changed. As Hebrews 4:9 says, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (ESV).

The Third Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonOur study through the ten commandments now brings us to the third commandment, which simply says:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? Many people assume that this commandment is primarily about cussing or swearing. The Bible certainly does tell us not to use foul language. For example, in Ephesians 5:4 the Apostle Paul says,

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (ESV)

But the third commandment deals particularly with the “name of the LORD.” And so while this commandment certainly forbids some kinds of cussing (i.e. the kind that explicitly uses God’s name in it), foul language in general is not the primary concern here.

In his book, The Ten Commandments, Thomas Watson points out no less than twelve (12) different ways that we take the Lord’s name in vain, including such things as speaking irreverently of God’s name; professing God’s name while not living in a way that is consistent with that profession of faith; using God’s name in idle conversation; worshiping Him “with our lips, but not with our hearts” (p.85); hypocrisy; not praying in faith; profaning or abusing God’s Word; swearing by God’s name; and many other things.

Why is the name of the Lord so important? Have you ever thought about that? In the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray that the name of our Father in heaven might be “hallowed” (Matthew 6:9). In other words, the very first request in the Lord’s prayer is that God’s name might be revered and treated as holy. (And yet how many of us actually pray that way and give such a high priority to the glory of God’s name in our prayers?)

A person’s name represents the person, doesn’t it. We commonly speak of knowing someone by name or being on a “first name basis” with someone. Conversely we sometimes speak of ‘dragging someone’s name through the mud,’ which, of course, means speaking ill of someone.

Well, in a similar way, God makes himself known by His name, and so to take his name in vain is to in some way show disrespect or dishonor toward his name (or toward anything by which he makes himself known). That is why the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that this commandments forbids “all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known” (Q.55).

This commandment, then, is ultimately about showing due reverence for God.

And how serious a matter is this? Notice the reason given in the commandment itself – “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” The Shorter Catechism goes on to explain the significance of those words:

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is a sin, and is wickedness in God’s sight. It is no small thing to show disrespect to God or to his holy name. It is a sin that is worthy of hell.

Thankfully there is “a name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV), even the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 10:43 tells us that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (ESV). No wonder the name of the Lord is so precious to believers in Christ!

The First Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonIn previous posts I dealt with some preliminary concerns about the ten commandments as a whole – things which are helpful for us to understand before going into detail about the individual commandments themselves. (More could certainly be said in that regard.)

But now I would like to spend some time going through each of the ten commandments, one at a time, and in order. That brings us to the first commandment, which simply says,

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3, ESV)

Notice that the very first commandment (indeed, the first four commandments!) deals with our relationship with God. It should be instructive for us that this is where the ten commandments begin. In his book, The Ten Commandments, Thomas Watson writes,

“This may well lead the van, and be set in the front of all the commandments, because it is the foundation of all true religion. The sum of this commandment is, that we should sanctify God in our hearts, and give him a precedence above all created beings.” (p.49)

If you were to rank the commandments in the order of their importance, how far up (or down) the list would you rank this one? Perhaps the commandment against murder (6th commandment – Exodus 20:13) comes to mind first, or maybe the commandment against adultery (7th commandment – Exodus 20:14)?

Murder or adultery might strike you as “bigger” sins, so to speak. But what about breaking the first commandment? Does it strike you as a particularly heinous sin and offense? It should. The Lord clearly places this commandment first in order to show us its importance. You could say that breaking the first commandment is just as bad as, if not worse than, murder. That is a pretty startling thought, isn’t it?

That this commandment comes first also shows us that true morality or ethics starts with one’s relationship with God. Doing what is right starts with doing what is right with regard to God himself.

What does it mean to have other gods before God? It means to trust, love, worship, and serve anything else in the place of God – to give something else other than God your first allegiance.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of what is forbidden in the first commandment:

“Q.47. What is forbidden in the first commandment? A. The first commandment forbids the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying, the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.”

How many millions of souls break this first commandment simply by denying God and so failing to worship Him as God! And how many millions more do so by worshiping and serving other (false) gods! Indeed, in the book of Romans the Apostle Paul tells us that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven” against such sins (Romans 1:18).

This can be done in a literal way through false religion, or worshiping false gods. In Isaiah 44:6 God says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (ESV). If God is the only true god, than to worship anyone or anything else is to have another god (even if a false one) before him. And Isaiah 42:8 likewise says, I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (ESV).

Having other gods before him can also be done in seemingly non-religious ways as well. In Matthew 6:24 the Lord Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (ESV).

Money can be a false god if it takes top priority in your life. In fact, serving money may be the most common form of false religion or idolatry in the history of humanity.

The first commandment teaches us that it is our duty to know the one true God and Creator, and to acknowledge him as such by trusting, loving, worshiping, and serving him above all else.