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Exodus Chapter Twenty

 

Exodus 20

Chapter Contents

The preface to the ten commandments. (1,2) The commandments of the first table. (3-11) Of the second table. (12-17) The fear of the people. (18-21) Idolatry again forbidden. (22-26)

Commentary on Exodus 20:1,2

(Read Exodus 20:1,2)

God speaks many ways to the children of men; by conscience, by providences, by his voice, to all which we ought carefully to attend; but he never spake at any time so as he spake the TEN COMMANDMENTS. This law God had given to man before; it was written in his heart; but sin so defaced it, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of it. The law is spiritual, and takes knowledge of the secret thoughts, desires, and dispositions of the heart. Its grand demand is love, without which outward obedience is mere hypocrisy. It requires perfect, unfailing, constant obedience; no law in the world admits disobedience to itself. Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, James 2:10. Whether in the heart or the conduct, in thought, word, or deed, to omit or to vary any thing, is sin, and the wages of sin is death.

Commentary on Exodus 20:3-11

(Read Exodus 20:3-11)

The first four of the ten commandments, commonly called the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbour to love. It cannot be expected that he should be true to his brother, who is false to his God. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, JEHOVAH, and him only. The worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes short of perfect love, gratitude, reverence, or worship, breaks this commandment. Whatsoever ye do, do all the glory of God. The second commandment refers to the worship we are to render to the Lord our God. It is forbidden to make any image or picture of the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to worship any creature, image, or picture. But the spiritual import of this command extends much further. All kinds of superstition are here forbidden, and the using of mere human inventions in the worship of God. The third commandment concerns the manner of worship, that it be with all possible reverence and seriousness. All false oaths are forbidden. All light appealing to God, all profane cursing, is a horrid breach of this command. It matters not whether the word of God, or sacred things, all such-like things break this commandment, and there is no profit, honour, or pleasure in them. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. The form of the fourth commandment, "Remember," shows that it was not now first given, but was known by the people before. One day in seven is to be kept holy. Six days are allotted to worldly business, but not so as to neglect the service of God, and the care of our souls. On those days we must do all our work, and leave none to be done on the sabbath day. Christ allowed works of necessity, charity, and piety; for the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath, Mark 2:27; but all works of luxury, vanity, or self-indulgence in any form, are forbidden. Trading, paying wages, settling accounts, writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling visits, journeys, or light conversation, are not keeping this day holy to the Lord. Sloth and indolence may be a carnal, but not a holy rest. The sabbath of the Lord should be a day of rest from worldly labour, and a rest in the service of God. The advantages from the due keeping of this holy day, were it only to the health and happiness of mankind, with the time it affords for taking care of the soul, show the excellency of this commandment. The day is blessed; men are blessed by it, and in it. The blessing and direction to keep holy are not limited to the seventh day, but are spoken of the sabbath day.

Commentary on Exodus 20:12-17

(Read Exodus 20:12-17)

The laws of the SECOND table, that is, the last six of the ten commandments, state our duty to ourselves and to one another, and explain the great commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, Luke 10:27. Godliness and honesty must go together. The fifth commandment concerns the duties we owe to our relations. Honour thy father and thy mother, includes esteem of them, shown in our conduct; obedience to their lawful commands; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, refrain from what they forbid you; and this, as children, cheerfully, and from a principle of love. Also submission to their counsels and corrections. Endeavouring, in every thing, to comfort parents, and to make their old age easy; maintaining them if they need support, which our Saviour makes to be particularly intended in this commandment, Matthew 15:4-6. Careful observers have noted a peculiar blessing in temporal things on obedient, and the reverse on disobedient children. The sixth commandment requires that we regard the life and the safety of others as we do our own. Magistrates and their officers, and witnesses testifying the truth, do not break this command. Self-defence is lawful; but much which is not deemed murder by the laws of man, is such before God. Furious passions, stirred up by anger or by drunkenness, are no excuse: more guilty is murder in duels, which is a horrible effect of a haughty, revengeful spirit. All fighting, whether for wages, for renown, or out of anger and malice, breaks this command, and the bloodshed therein is murder. To tempt men to vice and crimes which shorten life, may be included. Misconduct, such as may break the heart, or shorten the lives of parents, wives, or other relatives, is a breach of this command. This command forbids all envy, malice, hatred, or anger, all provoking or insulting language. The destruction of our own lives is here forbidden. This commandment requires a spirit of kindness, longsuffering, and forgiveness. The seventh commandment concerns chastity. We should be as much afraid of that which defiles the body, as of that which destroys it. Whatever tends to pollute the imagination, or to raise the passions, falls under this law, as impure pictures, books, conversation, or any other like matters. The eighth commandment is the law of love as it respects the property of others. The portion of worldly things allotted us, as far as it is obtained in an honest way, is the bread which God hath given us; for that we ought to be thankful, to be contented with it, and, in the use of lawful means, to trust Providence for the future. Imposing upon the ignorance, easiness, or necessity of others, and many other things, break God's law, though scarcely blamed in society. Plunderers of kingdoms though above human justice, will be included in this sentence. Defrauding the public, contracting debts without prospect of paying them, or evading payment of just debts, extravagance, all living upon charity when not needful, all squeezing the poor in their wages; these, and such things, break this command; which requires industry, frugality, and content, and to do to others, about worldly property, as we would they should do to us. The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour's good name. This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to hurt his reputation. Bearing false witness against him, or in common conversation slandering, backbiting, and tale-bearing; making what is done amiss, worse than it is, and in any way endeavouring to raise our reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour's. How much this command is every day broken among persons of all ranks! The tenth commandment strikes at the root; Thou shalt not covet. The others forbid all desire of doing what will be an injury to our neighbour; this forbids all wrong desire of having what will gratify ourselves.

Commentary on Exodus 20:18-21

(Read Exodus 20:18-21)

This law, which is so extensive that we cannot measure it, so spiritual that we cannot evade it, and so reasonable that we cannot find fault with it, will be the rule of the future judgment of God, as it is for the present conduct of man. If tried by this rule, we shall find our lives have been passed in transgressions. And with this holy law and an awful judgment before us, who can despise the gospel of Christ? And the knowledge of the law shows our need of repentance. In every believer's heart sin is dethroned and crucified, the law of God is written, and the image of God renewed. The Holy Spirit enables him to hate sin and flee from it, to love and keep this law in sincerity and truth; nor will he cease to repent.

Commentary on Exodus 20:22-26

(Read Exodus 20:22-26)

Moses having entered into the thick darkness, God there spake in his hearing all that follows from hence to the end of chap. 23, which is mostly an exposition of the ten commandments. The laws in these verses relate to God's worship. The Israelites are assured of God's gracious acceptance of their devotions. Under the gospel, men are encouraged to pray every where, and wherever God's people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Exodus

 

Exodus 20

Verse 1

[1] And God spake all these words, saying,

God spake all these words - The law of the ten commandments is a law of God's making; a law of his own speaking. God has many ways of speaking to the children of men by his spirit, conscience, providences; his voice in all which we ought carefully to attend to: but he never spake at any time upon any occasion so as he spake the ten commandments, which therefore we ought to hear with the more earnest heed. This law God had given to man before, it was written in his heart by nature; but sin had so defaced that writing, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of it.

Verse 2

[2] I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

I am the Lord thy God — Herein, God asserts his own authority to enact this law; and proposeth himself as the sole object of that religious worship which is enjoined in the four first commandments. They are here bound to obedience. 1. Because God is the Lord, Jehovah, self-existent, independent, eternal, and the fountain of all being and power; therefore he has an incontestable right to command us. 2. He was their God; a God in covenant with them; their God by their own consent. 3. He had brought them out of the land of Egypt - Therefore they were bound in gratitude to obey him, because he had brought them out of a grievous slavery into a glorious liberty. By redeeming them, he acquired a farther right to rule them; they owed their service to him, to whom they owed their freedom. And thus, Christ, having rescued us out of the bondage of sin, is entitled to the best service we can do him. The four first commandments, concern our duty to God (commonly called the first-table.) It was fit those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love before he had a neighbour to love, and justice and charity are then only acceptable to God when they flow from the principles of piety.

Verse 3

[3] Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

The first commandment is concerning the object of our worship, Jehovah, and him only, Thou shalt have no other gods before me - The Egyptians, and other neighbouring nations, had many gods, creatures of their own fancy. This law was pre-fixed because of that transgression; and Jehovah being the God of Israel, they must entirely cleave to him, and no other, either of their own invention, or borrowed from their neighbours. The sin against this commandment, which we are most in danger of, is giving that glory to any creature which is due to God only. Pride makes a God of ourselves, covetousness makes a God of money, sensuality makes a God of the belly. Whatever is loved, feared, delighted in, or depended on, more than God, that we make a god of. This prohibition includes a precept which is the foundation of the whole law, that we take the Lord for our God, accept him for ours, adore him with humble reverence, and set our affections entirely upon him. There is a reason intimated in the last words before me. It intimates, 1. That we cannot have any other god but he will know it. 2. That it is a sin that dares him to his face, which he cannot, will not, overlook. The second commandment is concerning the ordinances of worship, or the way in which God will be worshipped, which it is fit himself should appoint. Here is, 1. The prohibition; we are forbidden to worship even the true God by images, Exodus 20:4,5. First, The Jews (at least after the captivity) thought themselves forbidden by this to make any image or picture whatsoever. It is certain it forbids making any image of God, for to whom can we liken him? Isaiah 40:18,25. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. Secondly, They must not bow down to them - Shew any sign of honour to them, much less serve them by sacrifice, or any other act of religious worship. When they paid their devotion to the true God, they must not have any image before them for the directing, exciting, or assisting their devotion. Though the worship was designed to terminate in God, it would not please him if it came to him through an image. The best and most ancient lawgivers among the Heathen forbad the setting up of images in their temples. It was forbidden in Rome by Numa a Pagan prince, yet commanded in Rome by the Pope, a Christian bishop. The use of images in the church of Rome, at this day, is so plainly contrary to the letter of this command, that in all their catechisms, which they put into the hand of the people, they leave out this commandment, joining the reason of it to the first, and so the third commandment they call the second, the fourth the third, etc. only to make up the number ten, they divide the tenth into two. For I the Lord Jehovah, thy God, am a jealous God, especially in things of this nature. It intimates the care he has of his own institutions, his displeasure against idolaters, and that he resents every thing in his worship that looks like, or leads to, idolatry: visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation - Severely punishing. Nor is it an unrighteous thing with God if the parents died in their iniquity, and the children tread in their steps, when God comes, by his judgments, to reckon with them, to bring into the account the idolatries their fathers were guilty of. Keeping mercy for thousands of persons, thousands of generations, of them that love me and keep my commandments - This intimates, that the second commandment, though in the letter of it is only a prohibition of false worship, yet includes a precept of worshipping God in all those ordinances which he hath instituted. As the first commandment requires the inward worship of love, desire, joy, hope, so this the outward worship of prayer and praise, and solemn attendance on his word. This mercy shall extend to thousands, much further than the wrath threatened to those that hate him, for that reaches but to the third or fourth generation.

Verse 7

[7] 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.

The third commandment is concerning the manner of our worship; Where we have, 1. A strict prohibition.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain — Supposing that, having taken Jehovah for their God, they would make mention of his name, this command gives a caution not to mention it in vain, and it is still as needful as ever. We take God's name in vain, First, By hypocrisy, making profession of God's name, but not living up to that profession. Secondly, By covenant breaking. If we make promises to God, and perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain. Thirdly, By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, but to no purpose, or to no good purpose. Fourthly, By false-swearing, which some think is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment. Fifthly, By using the name of God lightly and carelessly. The profanation of the form of devotion is forbidden, as well as the profanation of the forms of swearing; as also, the profanation of any of those things whereby God makes himself known.

For the Lord will not hold him guiltless — Magistrates that punish other offences, may not think themselves concerned to take notice of this; but God, who is jealous for his honour, will not connive at it. The sinner may perhaps hold himself guiltless, and think there is no harm in it; to obviate which suggestion, the threatening is thus expressed, God will not hold him guiltless - But more is implied, that God will himself be the avenger of those that take his name in vain; and they will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Verse 8

[8] Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

The fourth commandment concerns the time of worship; God is to be served and honoured daily; but one day in seven is to be particularly dedicated to his honour, and spent in his service.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy; in it thou shalt do no manner of work — It is taken for granted that the sabbath was instituted before. We read of God's blessing and sanctifying a seventh day from the beginning, Genesis 2:3, so that this was not the enacting of a new law, but the reviving of an old law. 1st. They are told what is the day, they must observe, a seventh after six days labour, whether this was the seventh by computation from the first seventh, or from the day of their coming out of Egypt, or both, is not certain. A late pious Writer seems to prove, That the sabbath was changed, when Israel came out of Egypt; which change continued till our Lord rose again: But that then the Original Sabbath was restored. And he makes it highly probable, at least, That the sabbath we observe, is the seventh day from the creation. 2dly, How it must be observed; 1. As a day of rest; they were to do no manner of work on this day, in their worldly business. 2. As a holy day, set apart to the honour of the holy God, and to be spent in holy exercises. God, by his blessing it, had made it holy; they, by solemn blessing him, must keep it holy, and not alienate it to any other purpose than that for which the difference between it and other days was instituted. 3dly, Who must observe it? Thou and thy son and thy daughter - The wife is not mentioned, because she is supposed to be one with the husband, and present with him, and if he sanctify the sabbath, it is taken for granted she will join with him; but the rest of the family is instanced in it, children and servants must keep it according to their age and capacity. In this, as in other instances of religion, it is expected that masters of families should take care, not only to serve the Lord themselves, but that their houses also should serve him. Even the proselyted strangers must observe a difference between this day and other days, which, if it laid some restraint upon them then, yet proved a happy indication of God's gracious design, to bring the Gentiles into the church. By the sanctification of the sabbath, the Jews declared that they worshipped the God that made the world, and so distinguished themselves from all other nations, who worshipped gods which they themselves made. God has given us an example of rest after six days work; he rested the seventh day - Took a complacency in himself, and rejoiced in the work of his hand, to teach us on that day, to take a complacency in him, and to give him the glory of his works. The sabbath begun in the finishing of the work of creation; so will the everlasting sabbath in the finishing of the work of providence and redemption; and we observe the weekly sabbath in expectation of that, as well as in remembrance of the former, in both conforming ourselves to him we worship. He hath himself blessed the sabbath day and sanctified it. He hath put an honour upon it; it is holy to the Lord, and honourable; and he hath put blessings into it which he hath encouraged us to expect from him in the religious observation of that day. Let us not profane, dishonour, and level that with common time, which God's blessing hath thus dignified and distinguished.

Verse 12

[12] Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

We have here the laws of the second table, as they are commonly called; the six last commandments which concern our duty to ourselves, and one another, and are a comment upon the second great commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. As religion towards God is, an essential branch of universal righteousness, so righteousness towards men is an essential branch of true religion: godliness and honesty must go together. The fifth commandment is concerning the duties we owe to our relations; that of children to their parents is only instanced in, honour thy father and thy mother, which includes, 1. an inward esteem of them, outwardly expressed upon all occasions in our carriage towards them; fear them, Leviticus 19:3, give them reverence, Hebrews 12:9. The contrary to this is mocking at them or despising them, 2. Obedience to their lawful commands; so it is expounded, Ephesians 6:1-3. Children obey your parents; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, do not what they forbid you; and this chearfully, and from a principle of love. Though you have said you will not, yet afterwards repent and obey. 3. Submission to their rebukes, instructions and corrections, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 4. Disposing of themselves with the advice, direction and consent of parents, not alienating their property, but with their approbation. 5. Endeavouring in every thing to be the comfort of their parents, and to make their old age easy to them; maintaining them if they stand in need of support.

That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee — This promise, (which is often literally fulfilled) is expounded in a more general sense Ephesians 6:3.

That it may be well with thee, and thou mayst live long on the earth — Those that in conscience towards God keep this and other of God's commandments, may be sure it shall be well with them, and they shall live as long on the earth as infinite wisdom sees good for, them, and what they may seem to be cut short of on earth, shall be abundantly made up in eternal life, the heavenly Canaan which God will give them.

Verse 13

[13] Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not kill — Thou shalt not do any thing hurtful to the health, or life of thy own body, or any other's. This doth not forbid our own necessary defence, or the magistrates putting offenders to death; but it forbids all malice and hatred to any, for he that hateth his brother is a murderer, and all revenge arising therefrom; likewise anger and hurt said or done, or aimed to be done in a passion; of this our Saviour expounds this commandment, Matthew 5:22.

Verse 14

[14] Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Thou shalt not commit adultery — This commandment forbids all acts of uncleanness, with all those desires, which produce those acts and war against the soul.

Verse 15

[15] Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt not steal — This command forbids us to rob ourselves of what we have, by sinful spending, or of the use and comfort of it by sinful sparing; and to rob others by invading our neighbour's rights, taking his goods, or house, or field, forcibly or clandestinely, over-reaching in bargains, not restoring what is borrowed or found, with-holding just debts, rents or wages; and, which is worst of all, to rob the public in the coin or revenue, or that which is dedicated to the service of religion.

Verse 16

[16] Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Thou shalt not bear false witness — This forbids, 1. Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbour. 2. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to the prejudice of his reputation; And 3. (which is the highest offence of both these kinds put together) Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either upon oath, by which the third commandment, the sixth or eighth, as well as this, are broken, or in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss, and any way endeavouring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor's.

Verse 17

[17] Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

Thou shalt not covet — The foregoing commands implicitly forbid all desire of doing that which will be an injury to our neighbour, this forbids all inordinate desire of having that which will be a gratification to ourselves. O that such a man's house were mine! such a man's wife mine! such a man's estate mine! This is certainly the language of discontent at our own lot, and envy at our neighbour's, and these are the sins principally forbidden here. God give us all to see our face in the glass of this law, and to lay our hearts under the government of it!

Verse 18

[18] And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

They removed and stood afar off — Before God began to speak, they were thrusting forward to gaze, but now they were effectually cured of their presumption, and taught to keep their distance.

Verse 19

[19] And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

Speak thou with us — Hereby they obliged themselves to acquiesce in the mediation of Moses, they themselves nominating him as a fit person to deal between them and God, and promising to hearken to him as to God's messenger.

Verse 20

[20] And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.

Fear not — That is, Think not that this thunder and fire is, designed to consume you. No; it was intended, (1.) To prove them, to try how they could like dealing with God immediately, without a mediator, and so to convince them how admirably well God had chosen for them in putting Moses into that office. Ever since Adam fled upon hearing God's voice in the garden, sinful man could not bear either to speak to God, or hear from him immediately. (2.) To keep them to their duty, and prevent their sinning against God. We must not fear with amazement; but we must always have in our minds a reverence of God's majesty, a dread of his displeasure, and an obedient regard to his sovereign authority.

Verse 21

[21] And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

While the people continued to stand afar off - Afraid of God's wrath, Moses drew near unto the thick darkness; he was made to draw near, so the word is: Moses of himself durst not have ventured into the thick darkness if God had not called him, and encouraged him, and, as some of the Rabbins suppose, sent an angel to take him by the hand, and lead him up.

Verse 22

[22] And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.

Moses being gone into the thick darkness where God was, God there spoke in his hearing only, all that follows from hence to the end of chap. 23, which is mostly an exposition of the ten commandments; and he was to transmit it to the people. The laws in these verses relate to God's worship.

Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven — Such was his wonderful condescension; ye shall not make gods of silver - This repetition of the second commandment comes in here, because they were more addicted to idolatry than to any other sin.

Verse 24

[24] An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

An altar of earth — It is meant of occasional altars, such as they reared in the wilderness before the tabernacle was erected, and afterwards upon special emergencies, for present use. They are appointed to make these very plain, either of earth or of unhewn stones. That they might not be tempted to think of a graven image, they must not so much as hew the stones into shape, that they made their altars of, but pile them up as they were in the rough.

In all places where I record my name — Or where my name is recorded, that is, where I am worshipped in sincerity, I will come unto thee, and will bless thee.

Verse 26

[26] Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

Neither shall thou go at by steps unto mine altar — Indeed afterwards God appointed an altar ten cubits high. But it is probable, they went not up to that by steps, but by a sloping ascent.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Exodus

                             

 

20 Chapter 20

 

Verse 1-2

Exodus 20:1-2

God spake all these words.

The Ten Words of God

I. Those Ten Commandments were to the Jews the very utterance of the Eternal, and they hold in their grand imagination that the souls of all Jews even yet unborn were summoned to Sinai in their numbers numberless to hear that code; so that, in the East, to this day, if a Jew would indignantly deny the imputation of a wrong, he exclaims, “My soul too has been on Sinai.” And not to Jews only but to all mankind there is this proof that the Ten Words were indeed the oracles of God, that, if they be written upon the heart, they are an “It is written” sufficient for our moral guidance--they are a great non licet strong enough to quell the fiercest passions. For the laws of the natural universe may mislead us. One tells us that they are just and beneficent; another that they are deadly and remorseless: but of these moral Laws we know that they are the will of God. No man has seen His face at any time. He seems far away in His infinite heaven; clouds and darkness are round about Him. Yes; but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His seat. And this was the very idea which the Jews wished to symbolize in the building of their Tabernacle. They hung it with purple curtains; they overlaid it with solid gold; they filled its outer court with sacrifices, its inner chambers with incense;--but when the High Priest passed from the Holy into the Holy of Holies--when on the great Day of Atonement he stood with the censer in his hands, and the ardent Urim on his breast, before what did he stand? Not before Visible Epiphany; not before sculptured image. There was total darkness in the shrine; no sunlight streamed, no lamp shed its silver radiance; through the awful silence no whisper thrilled; but, through the dim gleam of the glowing thurible and the smoke of the wreathing incense, he saw only a golden Ark over which bent the golden figures of adoring Cherubim--and within that Ark, as its only treasure, lay two rough hewn tables of venerable stone, on which were carved the Ten Commandments of the fiery Law. Those stony Tables, that Ark, that Mercy-seat, those adoring Cherubim seen dimly through the darkness, were to him a visible symbol of all creation, up to its most celestial hierarchies, contemplating, with awful reverence, and on the basis of man’s spiritual existence, the moral Law of God.

II. And is that Law abrogated now, or shorn of its significance? Nay, it remains for the Gentile no less than for the Jew--for the nineteenth century after Christ no less than for the fifteenth before Him--the immutable expression of God’s will. God, as the Italian proverb says, does not pay on Saturdays. He is very patient, and men may long deny His existence or blaspheme His name, but more than in the mighty strong wind which rent the mountains, and more than in fire, and more than in earthquake, is God in that still small voice which is sounding yet. Oh, it is not in Exodus alone, or in Deuteronomy alone, but in all nature that we hear His voice. In scene after scene of history, in discovery after discovery of science, in experience after experience of life, have we heard these words rolling in thunder across the centuries the eternal distinction of right and wrong. Confidently I appeal to you, and ask, Have you not, at some time in your lives, heard the voice of God utter to you distinctly these Commandments of the moral Law? Is there one here who has ever disobeyed that voice and prospered? If there be one here who feels, at this moment, in the depths of his soul, a peace which the world can neither give nor take away, is it not solely because by the aid of God’s Holy Spirit he has striven to obey it? Yes, its infinite importance is that it is as old not as Sinai, but as humanity, and represents the will of God to all His children in the great family of man; so that if in this life we be passing from mystery to mystery, it is our surest proof that we are passing also from God to God. What matters it that we know not either whence we came or what we are, if “He hath shown thee, oh, man! what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

III. And thus it is, lastly, that if we be faithful the Law may lead us to the Gospel. For his must indeed be a shallow soul who thinks it an easy thing to keep the Commandments. When we observe that the summary of the first Table is that life is worship, and of the second that life is service; when we notice that the first Table forbids sin against God, first in thought, then in word, then in deed; while the second, proceeding in a reverse order, forbids sins against our neighbour first in deed, then in word, and then in thought; so that, unlike every other code that the world has ever known, the Commandments begin and end with the utter prohibition of evil thoughts, which of us is not conscious that we have utterly broken God’s Law in this, that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts? And when we go from Moses to Jesus, from Sinai to Galilee, will Christ abolish the Law? will He teach us that we may keep both our sin and our Saviour, and that there is no distinction between a state of sin and a state of grace? There are no dim presences, no thundering clouds, no scorching wilderness, no rolling darkness around the trembling hill, but the sweet human voice of one seated in the dawn on the lilied grass that slopes down to the silver lake--but does that voice abrogate the Law? Nay, more stringently than to them of old time come the ten commandments now. Murder is extended to a furious thought; adultery to a lascivious look; and at first it might seem as if our last hope were extinguished, as if now our alienation from God be permanent, since admitted into a holier sanctuary we are but guilty of a deadlier sin. And when this has been indeed brought home to us, and we see the unfathomable gulf which yawns before a God of infinite holiness and a heart of desperate corruption, then indeed--and above all in the meeting of calamity with crime--then cometh the midnight. But after that midnight to the faithful soul there shall be light. With the personal conviction that the Law worketh wrath, come also the personal experience that Christ hath delivered us from its curse. In Him comes the sole antidote to guilt, the sole solution to the enigma of despair. True, He deepened the obligation of the Law, but for our sake He also fulfilled it. And thus by love, and hope, and gratitude, and help, He gives us a new impulse, a new inspiration, and this is Christianity; and this Christianity has redeemed, has ennobled, has regenerated the world. The “thou must” of Sinai becomes the “I ought,” “I will,” I can.” “I can do all things through Him that strengtheneth me.” And then for us the Law has done its work. It has revealed to us the will of God, it has revealed to us the apostacy of man, it has driven us to know and to embrace the deliverance of Christ. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments bold a conspicuous position in that prolonged revelation of Himself--His character, His will, and His revelations to mankind--which God made to the Jews. They can, therefore, never become obsolete.

I. The Ten Commandments rest on the principle that God claims authority over the moral life of man.

II. There can be no doubt that God intended that these commandments should be kept. They are not merely to bring us to a sense of our guilt, as some seem to imagine.

III. These commandments deal chiefly with actions, not with mere thought or emotion.

IV. Before God gave these commandments to the Jewish people, He wrought a magnificent series of miracles to effect their emancipation from miserable slavery and to punish their oppressors. He first made them free, and then gave them the law. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Comprehensive summary of the Ten Commandments

1. Its uniqueness: Compare this law with other so-called legislations--e.g., Lycurgus, Draco, Solon, the Twelve Tables. There is found no counterpart; there is a gulf betwixt them and it.

2. Its origin: What is it that makes this separation but its divinity? Said a lawyer of eminence, who was led to renounce his infidelity by the study of the Decalogue: “I have been looking into the nature of that law: I have been trying to see whether I can add anything to it, or take anything from it, so as to make it better. Sir, I cannot; it is perfect.” And then, having shown this to be so, he concluded: “I have been thinking where did Moses get that law? I have read history. The Egyptians and the adjacent nations were idolaters: so were the Greeks and Romans: and the wisest and best Greeks and Romans never gave a code of morals like this. Where did he get it? He could not have soared so far above his age as to have devised it himself. It came down from heaven. I am convinced of the truth of the religion of the Bible.”

3. Its scope: Were we to keep this law, we should need no other codes and edicts:--no courts and prisons. It would fill the sky with sunshine and the earth with righteousness.

4. Its simplicity: It is so easily interpreted.

5. But the attempt to keep the law in its spirit will lead to the revelation of self, and disclose both a disinclination and an inability; and, when this is the case, the law becomes a schoolmaster to lead to Christ. (L. O. Thompson.)

Negative Commandments

The emphatic and repeated “Thou shalt not” from God teaches--

I. Man’s capacity for evil.

II. Man’s tendency to evil.

III. God’s knowledge of this capacity and tendency of man.

IV. God, knowing this, nevertheless prohibits sin. This indicates--

1. The guilt of sin.

2. The care of God. (U. R. Thomas.)

The Commandments

I. The origin of these commandments.

1. The Bible thus commits itself unequivocally to the highest origin for these laws.

2. Divine as they are in their origin, they were transmitted first by the ministry of angels to Moses, and by Moses to us. (Psalms 78:17; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2; Deuteronomy 5:5; Deuteronomy 10:1-4.)

II. The nature of these commandments. Lessons:

1. The awe-inspiring circumstances of the giving of the law suggest the solemnity of our relations to God.

2. Positive institutions of religion are a necessity.

3. They must be of God, or they are worse than worthless.

4. Those which bear the evidence of their Divine origin are alone worthy of obedience.

5. The only worthy obedience is that which is hearty and complete. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

The character of the Decalogue

I. The Decalogue is in form prohibitive. A solemn witness to the Fall. A bell to awaken conscience.

II. Although the Decalogue is in form prohibitive, yet in spirit it is affirmative. A negative pole implies a positive. The Ten Words are divinely covenantal, rather than divinely statutory. Law is never as imperial as love.

III. The Ten Words or Commandments are in their character germinal and suggestive, rather than unfolded and exhaustive. They are the rudimental principles of morality, the germs of ethics, the seminary, or seedplot, of religion.

IV. But although the Ten Commandments are rudimental in their form, they are also elemental in their meaning, and therefore universal and immortal in their application. Just because they are germs, they are capable of all growth, or unfolding along the lines suggested in the embryo. In brief, the Ten Commandments are the axioms of morals, the summary of ethics, the itinerary of mankind, the framework of society, the vertebral column of humanity. (G. D. Boardman.)

Characteristics of the Decalogue

The Law of the Ten Words constitutes the very heart or kernel of the entire Mosaic system. It was the Law which lent to Mosaism its peculiar character as a temporary interlude in the history of revelation.

I. In the first place, every circumstance attending its promulgation was adjusted so as to lend to it a solemn and awful emphasis.

II. The sanction of the Decalogue was fear. In the infancy of the individual, when as yet the immature, conscience lacks the power to enforce its convictions of duty upon the untutored passions, the first step in moral training consists in impressing upon the child’s mind a wholesome dread for the constituted authorities of the home. Love is a preferable impulse to law-keeping, no doubt; but love cannot be wholly depended on till the habit of obedience has been formed and principle has come to the aid of affection.

III. It belongs to the same juvenile or primary character of this code, as designed for an infant people, that its requirements are concrete, and expressed in a negative or prohibitory form. When you have to deal with children, you do not enunciate principles but precepts. You do not bid a child revere all that is venerable in the social order; but you say: “Honour thy father and mother.” You do not tell a rude populace that hatred drives God out of the soul, but you say simply: “Do not kill!” Everything must be, at such a stage of moral education, concrete, portable, and unmistakable. For the same reason, it will usually take the shape of a prohibition rather than of a command: a “Do not” rather than a” Do.”

IV. While these remarks must be borne in mind if we would understand the archaic mould in which this code is cast, there is at the same time an admirable breadth and massiveness about its contents. In Ten Words it succeeds in sweeping the whole field of duty.

V. I have assumed above--what is indeed apparent to every careful reader--that the Decalogue was designed primarily to be the code of a commonwealth. In the ancient world, and perhaps in the infancy of all societies, the idea of the community takes precedence over the idea of the individual. The family, the clan, the tribe, the nation: these are the ruling conceptions to which the interests of the private individual are subordinated. Then, each man exists as one of a larger body--heir of its past and parent of its future.

VI. It is when one views the Decalogue under this aspect, that one can best see how it came to include two parts, a sacred and a civil. In a theocracy there can be no such sharp distinction as we make between Church and State. Indeed, such a distinction would have been unintelligible to any ancient people. So far from comprehending the modern ideal of “a free Church in a free State,” every people of antiquity took for granted that the Church and the State were one. Every public function was discharged, every expedition undertaken, every victory gained, under the immediate counsel and patronage of the Deity. All this was just as strongly felt by the devotees of Bel or Nebo, of Osiris, Chemosh or Baal, of Athene or Jove, as by the Hebrew worshippers of Jehovah. So that, again, when it pleased God to throw into the form of a theocracy His peculiar relationship to Israel as a vehicle for teaching to the world a world-wide revelation of grace, He was simply accommodating His gracious ways to the thoughts of men and the fashions of the age that then was. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

The Law given from Mount Sinai suited to the circumstances of man, and of universal adoption

I. Some preliminary remarks.

1. Man is a being possessed of a religious capacity.

2. Man is a moral agent.

3. It is possible for the reason the understanding, and the moral sense of man to be brought to such a state, that he can have a right to have an opinion both upon morals and religion.

II. The law itself (verses 3-17). There are two parts of this law--that relating to--

1. Religion. Here are four things--

2. Morals. Here is--

III. A few observations tending to show that this Law, as we have it here, is suited to the circumstances of man, and of universal adaptation. It is suited to humanity--

1. In that it meets the essential capacities and elements of human nature.

2. In its accidents; that is, not only in its principles, but also in the mode in which these principles are to be carried out.

3. In spite of some of the accidental and peculiar topics which are here and there introduced into it.

4. If we consider what the world would be were this law universally obeyed; and what if it were universally disobeyed.

IV. The preceding point being made out, then I think the presumptions are in favour of this Law having been given by God.

1. The history of man and the tendencies of human nature show that, if the original state of man had been barbarism, he never would have risen out of it by his own efforts, and never would have discovered such principles as are here put forth.

2. In the most refined ages of ancient times, no moral system equal or even approaching in rationality, purity, and simplicity to this was ever taught either by philosopher, statesman, or priest.

3. Even in our own times our philosophers, they who have rejected revelation and have given us moral systems, have taught principles subversive of these--Bolingbroke, Blount, Hume.

4. This law unquestionably was given about the time it was said to be. We find that it must have been given by Moses. From whom did he obtain it?

5. We now have the fact--“God spake all these words.”

V. Practical remarks.

1. Reflect on the internal evidence of the superhuman character of the Bible.

2. Notice that infidelity is always associated with impurity and blasphemy.

3. Meditate deeply how you stand in relation to the Law.

4. Accept, in addition to the law of judgment, the gospel of mercy. (T. Binney.)

The composition of the Law of God

There is a bell in the cathedral of Cologne, made by the melting together of French cannon. It would have been a very difficult task, indeed, to analyze the bell and determine whence the cannon came. Something like this, however, is the task before those who adopt the extreme theories of the rationalistic critics of the Pentateuch. You must be supposed to show in the minute literary traits of this series of documents the dates of their origin, the dates of their combination, and the dates of subsequent editorial supervisions. Even if it were to be granted that documents drawn from many polytheistic nations and ages were the original constituents of the Pentateuch, we have not touched the doctrine of the inspiration of the combined mass at all. The mass is strangely purified from all false doctrine. A Divine fire has burned all adulterate elements wholly out of it, and fused the constituents in a combination wholly new. These cannon are one set of objects; melted together into a bell, hung in a cathedral tower, they are another object altogether. Mere white dust is one thing; compacted into marble, in a vase, it has a ring, and is quite another. These cannon, melted and hung aloft in the form of a bell, are no longer cannon. They are an inspired work. It is our business, indeed, to know all we can as to the composition of this bronze; but our highest business is to ring the bell in the cathedral tower. The moral law, and the ethical monotheism of the Pentateuch, have proved their resonance as often as they have been put in practice, age after age. The Pentateuch hung in the cathedral tower of the world has uttered God’s voice, and it is our business to ask how we can ring the bell in the heights of history, rather than how it originated by the melting together, of many fragments. (Joseph Cook.)

The inexhaustibility of the Law of God

I have many times essayed thoroughly to investigate the Ten Commandments, but at the very outset, “I am the Lord thy God,” I stuck fast; that very one word, I, put me to a non-plus. He that has but one word of God before him, and out of that word cannot make a sermon, can never be a preacher. (Luther’s Table Talk.)

Usefulness of God’s Commandments

Reconciliation to God is like entering the gate of a beautiful avenue, which conducts to a splendid mansion. But that avenue is long, and in some places it skirts the edge of dangerous cliffs, and, therefore, to save the traveller from falling over where he would be dashed to pieces, it is fenced all the way by a quick-set edge. That edge is the Commandments. They are planted there that we may do ourselves no harm. But, like a fence of the fragrant briar, they regale the pilgrim who keeps the path, and they only hurt him when he tries to breakthrough. Temperance, justice, truthfulness; purity of speech and behaviour; obedience to parents; mutual affection; sanctification of the Sabbath; the reverent worship of God; all these are righteous requirements, and in keeping them there is a great reward. Happy he who only knows the precept in the perfume which it sheds, and who, never having kicked against the pricks, has never proved the sharpness of its thorns. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)

The Lawgiver

1. Let us recognize that this Law has its source in God. It comes to us from His will whose authority is beyond question, and our obligation to obey is complete. Since “God spake all these words,” we find in them the law of our being. The conscience hears His voice, acknowledges His rightful authority, and bows before Him.

2. There is great need of the “I ought” power being developed in our nature so that it controls our lives; a need at least as great in this age and in this country as it was in that early age and in the wilderness of Sinai. To be swayed not by impulse, nor by intense desire, nor by aroused wilfulness, but by a sense of obligation to God, insures a manhood which is a success in itself. What better start in life can the young have than a firm determination to obey God? Can there be a better guide in life, in the perplexities of society, of business or of politics, than this same principle of obedience to God?

3. While this law coming from God binds the conscience, it at the same time secures true liberty of conscience. Nothing can bind the conscience beyond or contrary to this law. It is the comprehensive and only law of the conscience.

4. This law coming from God repels many of the assaults of infidelity upon the Bible. Infidelity finds it impossible to account for the existence of this law in the Bible. Besides, infidelity is forced to honour the moral law in making it its standard of criticism. Much of its fault-finding of lives and measures is an unintended tribute to the law of God.

5. The fact that this law comes from God, carries with it another lesson and one of the utmost importance to us. His authority runs through all the divisions of the law.

For whom is the Law intended

In the preface to the Law, God describes Himself not only as the self-existing Creator, but as having entered into close personal relation with the Israelites through promises made to their fathers, some of which had just been faithfully fulfilled in conferring great blessings upon them. So He appeals not only to their respect for His authority, but to the relation to Him which they had inherited and accepted, and to the gratitude they should have for such benefits received. This preface does not limit the following law to the Israelites, but makes a special appeal to them. The law is general, for all mankind, the original law of their being, since it appeals to and arouses the universal conscience; but a special revelation of God and rich favours bestowed form a strong appeal for the most hearty obedience. God describes Himself to the full extent in which He had at that time revealed Himself. Whatever increase of revelation we have received strengthens the appeal. This shows the kind of obedience we should give: not reluctant, but eager; not forced, but spontaneous; not irksome, but with delight; not heartless, but with the enthusiasm of love. Created things obey the laws of their being joyously. Stars shine, flowers bloom, birds sing. Surely intelligent beings, recognizing the law of their being, should joyously obey it, especially when God reveals Himself fully and confers richest blessings upon them. (F. S. Schenck.)

Of the Commandments

I. Questions.

1. What is the difference between the moral law and the gospel?

2. Of what use, then, is the moral law to us? A glass to show us our sins, and drive us to Christ.

3. Is the moral law still in force to believers? In some sense it is abolished to believers.

4. How was Christ made a curse for us? As our pledge and surety. Though the moral law be not their saviour, yet it is their guide; though it be not a covenant of life, yet it is a rule of living; every Christian is bound to conform to the moral law, and write, as exactly as he can, after this copy: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid.” Though a Christian is not under the condemning power of the law, yet he is under the commanding power.

II. Rules for the right understanding of the Decalogue.

1. The commands and prohibitions of the moral law reach the heart.

2. In the commandments there is a synecdoche, more is intended than is spoken. Where any duty is commanded, there the contrary sin is forbidden, etc.

3. Where any sin is forbidden in the commandment, there the occasion of it is also forbidden.

4. There one relation is named in the commandment, there another relation is included.

5. Where greater sins are forbidden, there lesser sins are also forbidden.

6. The law of God is copulative. The first and second tables are knit together,--piety to God, and equity to our neighbour; these two tables which God hath joined together must not be put asunder.

7. God’s law forbids not only the acting of sin in our own persons, but being accessory to, or having any hand in the sins of others.

8. The last rule about the commandments is this, that though we cannot, by our own strength, fulfil all these commandments, yet doing what we are able, the Lord hath provided encouragement for us. There is a threefold encouragement.

I am the Lord thy God.

The preface of the Law

In this style or authority are three parts, according to three titles.

1. The first title, of His name--“Jehovah.”

2. Secondly, the title of His jurisdiction--“thy God.”

3. Thirdly, the title of that notable act He did last--“which brought thee out of the land of Egypt,” etc. (Bishop Andrewes.)

The preface

I. The speaker and giver of these commandments.

1. It is the Lord, particularly Jesus Christ, who gave this Law in the name of the Trinity. This is plain from the Scripture (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 12:24-26).

2. The speech itself, wherein we have a description of the true God, bearing three reasons for the keeping His commands.

The preface

I. I begin with the first, the preface to the preface: “God spake all these words, saying,” etc. This is like the sounding of a trumpet before a solemn proclamation, “God spake”; other parts of the Bible are said to be uttered by the mouth of the holy prophets, but here God spake in His own Person.

1. The Lawgiver: “God spake.” There are two things requisite in a lawgiver.

2. The Law itself: “all these words”; that is, all the words of the moral Law, which is usually styled the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. It is called the moral Law, because it is the rule of life and manners. St. Chrysostom compares the Scripture to a garden, the moral Law is a chief flower in it; the Scripture is a banquet, the moral Law the chief dish in it.

Use 1. Here we may take notice of God’s goodness who hath not left us without a Law: therefore the Lord doth often set it down as a demonstration of His love in giving His Commandments. See Psalms 147:20; Nehemiah 9:13; Romans 7:14. The Law of God is a hedge to keep us within the bounds of sobriety and piety.

Use 2. If God spake all these words, viz., of the moral Law, then this presseth upon us several duties:

II. The preface itself.

1. “I am the Lord thy God.” Here we have a description of God--

(a) By having His grace planted in us. Kings’ children are known by their costly jewels: it is not having common gifts which shows we belong to God, many have the gifts of God without God, but it is grace gives us a true genuine title to God. In particular, faith is the grace of union; by this we may spell out our interest in God.

(b) We may know God is our God, by having the earnest of His Spirit in our hearts. God often gives the purse to the wicked, but the Spirit only to such as He intends to make His heirs. Have we had the consecration of the Spirit?

(c) We may know God is our God, if He hath given us the hearts of children. Have we obediential hearts? do we subscribe to God’s commands, when His commands cross our will? A true saint is like the flower of the sun: it opens and shuts with the sun, he opens to God and shuts to sin. If we have the hearts of children, then God is our Father.

(d) We may know God is ours, and we have an interest in Him, by our standing up for His interest.

(e) We may know God is ours, and we have an interest in Him, by His having an interest in us: “My beloved is Mine, and I am His.”

Use 1. Above all things, let us get this great charter Confirmed, that God is our God. Deity is not comfortable without propriety. Use

Use 2. To all such as can make out this covenant union, it exhorts to several things.

(a) God is a sufficient good. Not only full as a vessel, but as a spring. The heart is a triangle, which only the Trinity can fill.

(b) God is a sanctifying good. He sanctifies all our comforts, and turns them into blessings. He sanctifies all our crosses; they shall polish and refine our grace. The more the diamond is cut it sparkles the more. God’s stretching the strings of His viol, is to make the music the better.

(c) God is a choice good. All things under the sun are but the blessings of the footstool; but to have God Himself to be ours is the blessing of the throne.

(d) God is the chief good. In the chief good there must be, first, delectability. “At God’s righthand are pleasures.” Secondly, in the chief good there must be transcendency, it must have a surpassing excellency. Thus God is infinitely better than all other things; it is below the Deity to compare other things with It. Who would go to weigh a feather with a mountain of gold? Thirdly, in the chief good there must be not only fulness, but variety; where variety is wanting we are apt to nauseate; to feed only on honey would breed loathing; but in God is all variety of fulness.

2. The second part of the preface: “which have brought,” etc. God mentions this deliverance, because of

3. The third part of the preface: “out of the house of bondage.”

(a) For probation, or trial. Affliction is the touchstone of sincerity.

(b) For purgation; to purge our corruption. “God’s fire is in Zion.” This is not to consume, but to refine; what if we have more affliction, if by this means we have less sin.

(c) For augmentation; to increase the graces of the Spirit. Grace thrives most in the iron furnace; sharp frosts nourish the corn, so do sharp afflictions grace: grace in the saints is often as fire hid in the embers, affliction is the bellows to blow it up into a flame.

(d) For preparation: to fit and prepare us for glory.

The revelation of the Divine Name

I. God in covenant with man is the condition of the existence and development of man’s spiritual life. The despair of the sinner, but for God’s mercy, would crush him. And what know we of God’s mercy? For ages our forefathers have been living consciously in a covenant, and all our ideas of God have been formed by it. But ask that agonized father, plunging the bare knife into the throat of his daughter, or flinging his tender infant into that seething cauldron of fire, what man, ignorant of the covenant, knows of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Man lives on the covenant; he builds his life on the promises; it is the condition of his living at all in the sense in which a man may live.

II. God was seeking the covenant, not man. It is God who acts, man who accepts; God who gives, man who receives; and thus the hope of man has its strong resting-place, not on the strivings of his own weak will, not on the searchings of his own too easily bewildered and blinded intellect, but on the eternal purpose and love of God. God cannot dispense with man’s heart, will, and intellect; He led that people there that He might engage them in His service. Refuse Him that service, and the covenant is worthless to you, nay, is a witness against you to condemnation; yield them to Him, and rest in the assurance that your salvation depends not on your own weak work but on the strong arm of God.

III. You will find two grand features in that which was transacted there on the Mount of God: God revealing Himself--God declaring His Law. This was God’s covenant; the people had but to say in heart and with voice “Amen.”

1. Nature, circumstance, the currents of life, master us, till we know the Divine Name. We know ourselves in knowing Him, and find in ourselves the broken features of His likeness. The first step towards the establishment of the covenant was the revelation of the Divine name.

2. It was a merciful name which the Lord made known: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. I am the God of thy fathers.” How tender, how blessed the assurance!

3. The Lord’s name is holy. “The Lord thy God is a holy Lord.” A sensual-hearted man will fashion gods like unto himself. A wise and earnest-hearted man will “give thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness.” (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

The Jewish knowledge of God

To the Jews, Jehovah was not a mere idea or a system of attributes. They did not think of Him as the Necessary Cause of the universe, or as a Being inaccessible to human knowledge, but whom it was their duty to invest with whatever perfections could exalt and glorify Him:--infinite wisdom, infinite power, awful righteousness, inflexible truth, and tenderest love. It never occurred to them to suppose that they had to think out a God for themselves any more than it occurred to them that they had to think out a king of Egypt. They knew Jehovah as the God who had held back the waves like a wall while they fled across the sea to escape the vengeance of their enemies; they knew Him as the God who had sent thunder, and lightning, and hail, plagues on cattle, and plagues on men, to punish the Egyptians and to compel them to let the children of Israel go; they knew Him as the God whose angel had slain the firstborn of their oppressors, and filled the land from end to end with death, and agony, and terror. He was the same God, so Moses and Aaron told them, who by visions and voices, in promises and precepts, had revealed Himself long before to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We learn what men are from what they say and what they do. A biography of Luther gives us a more vivid and trustworthy knowledge of the man than the most philosophical essay on his character and creed. The story of his imprisonment and of his journey to Worms, his Letters, his Sermons, and his Table Talk, are worth more than the most elaborate speculations about him. The Jews learnt what God is, not from theological dissertations on the Divine attributes, but from the facts of a Divine history. They knew Him for themselves in His own acts and in His own words. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Man’s religious craving satisfied

Man’s nature is religious. He instinctively worships some being, whom he regards as God. It is the nature of religious worship to assimilate the character of the worshipper to that of the being worshipped. The objects of worship, everywhere throughout the ancient world, were corrupt and corrupting. In order to man’s moral improvement, he must have a holy object of worship. It is obviously impossible for an imperfect and sinful man to originate the idea of a perfect and sinless God. The gods whom men invented and set up were as imperfect and wicked as themselves; and from the nature of the case, they could not be otherwise. Moses, on the contrary, revealed a holy and a perfect God. How pure, how amiable, how sublime, how transcendently glorious the character with which this God is invested by the Hebrew lawgiver! How striking the contrast which his sublime delineation of Jehovah as the Maker, Proprietor, and Sovereign of the universe, invested with every conceivable excellence, presents to the grovelling mythology of the most enlightened portions of the ancient world, in which the objects of religious worship were pictured with the passions and vices of the fierce and licentious chieftains of the primitive ages! The publication of such a theology in such an age, when polytheism bad covered the earth with the temples and altars of its monster gods, cannot be satisfactorily accounted for without allowing, and is satisfactorily accounted for by allowing, the truth of the Mosaic history, and the establishment of the Mosaic constitution by Divine authority. (E. C. Wines, D. D.)

“I am the Lord thy God”-a word to rest on in death

When Ebenezer Erskine lay on his deathbed, one of his elders said to him, “Sir, you have given us many good advices; may I ask what you are now doing with your own soul? I am just doing with it,” he replied, “what I did forty years ago: I am resting on that word--‘I am the Lord thy God.’”

Out of the land of Egypt.--

God’s deliverance of His people

Bearing in mind the universality of the Decalogue, this “land of Egypt” and “house of bondage” must have a far deeper and wider signification than the valley of the Nile. Egypt is a synonym for an ungodly world, which captivates the heart of man, and from which the grace of God releases the renewed soul. The Law of God is, therefore, in its holiness, justice, and goodness, held up to those who have been delivered from the bondage of sin. It is not so held up to the ungodly--they cannot love it, they cannot see its beauty. By the Lord’s telling us that He has already brought us out of Egypt and bondage, He does not say when He gives us the Law: “Do this and live,” but “Since ye live, do this”; “Since My grace has redeemed you, and you rejoice in the liberty of the children of God, use My Law, the reflection of My perfections, as your beloved guide.” There is one other expression in this preface which should be noted. It is the use of the second person singular, “which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” There are two thoughts connected with this use.

1. The first is that God deals with all Israel as one man. He expects them to be one, of one mind and one heart, before Him. There must be no antagonisms among God’s people. He has taken us out of the contentious world, not that we should be only another contentious world, but that we should show our distracted earth the harmony of heaven. He wishes to reconcile all things unto Himself. Sin divides men, grace unites them.

2. The other thought regarding the use of the second person singular here is this: God treats man individually. Man enters heaven or hell, not in companies or battalions, but in naked individuality. It was thyself personally that wert delivered from that dark Egypt of condemnation, was it not? And so you can say: “Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (H. Crosby, D. D.)


Verse 3

Exodus 20:3

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

The First Commandment

I. This Commandment does not tell the Jews that the gods worshipped by other nations have no existence; it tells him that he must offer them no homage, and that from him they must receive no recognition of their authority and power. The Jew must serve Jehovah, and Jehovah alone. This was the truest method of securing the ultimate triumph of monotheism. A religious dogma, true or false, perishes if it is not rooted in the religious affections and sustained by religious observances. But although the First Commandment does not declare that there is one God, the whole system of Judaism rests on that sublime truth, and what the Jews had witnessed in Egypt and since their escape from slavery must have done more to destroy their reverence for the gods of their old masters than could have been effected by any dogmatic declaration that the gods of the nations were idols.

II. The First Commandment may appear to have no direct practical value for ourselves. It would be a perversion of its obvious intention to denounce covetousness, social ambition, or excessive love of children. These are not the sins which this Commandment was meant to forbid. It must be admitted that there is no reason why God should say to any of us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” If He were to speak to many of us, it would be necessary to condemn us for having no god at all. The appalling truth is, that many of us have sunk into atheism. We all shrink from contact with God. And yet He loves us. But even His love would be unavailing if He did not inspire those who are filled with shame and sorrow by the discovery of their estrangement from Him, with a new and supernatural life. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

The First Commandment

I. All want of a positive allegiance to Jehovah is a positive allegiance to another Elohim or supreme God. A self-reliant man, in the strict sense of the word, never yet existed. Man’s nature is such that he looks without him for support, as the ivy feels for the tree or the wall. If he has not the true and living God as his stay, then he is an idolater.

II. All allegiance to God that does not recognize Him as He has revealed Himself is allegiance to a false god. So a view of God as careless of personal holiness in His creatures, or as too exalted to notice all their minute acts and thoughts, or as tyrannical and arbitrary in His dealings with them, or as appeasable by self-denials and penances, is a view of a false god, and not a view of Jehovah, the only living and true God. And the man who, despising or neglecting the Holy Scriptures, and trusting to his reason or his dreams, or to nature, or to nothing, holds such a god before his mind, is an idolater; he has put another Elohim before Jehovah Elohim. Because the thought of the Divine Being which he thus introduces into his heart becomes the substitute for the true motion that should guide his life, he puts the helm into as false hands as if he had delivered it to Mammon. Several subordinate thoughts naturally follow.

1. The help of the true God, Jehovah Jesus, should be sought by us to overthrow our false gods. By that very act we should offer rightful allegiance, and, in so doing, consecrate our life to the rightful service of Him who is our rightful King.

2. How watchful we should be in this earth, where the false gods are not only plenty, but exactly after the fashion of our own depraved hearts! It was said of Athens that at each corner there was a new god, and some have even said that in population Athens had more gods than men. It is so with our unseen gods of the unregenerate heart. They abound with different names and different characters, according to the tastes and characters of different men.

3. The Word of God ought to be in our hands all the while. This is the only offensive weapon against our false gods. (H. Crosby, D. D.)

The First Commandment

This Commandment, as all the rest, hath a positive part requiring something, and a negative part prohibiting something.

I. We shall, in the first place, speak to what is required here, and we take it up in these three things.

1. And first, it requireth the right knowledge of God; for there can be no true worship given to Him, there can be no right thought or conception of Him, or faith in Him, till He be known.

2. It requireth from us a suitable acknowledging of God in all these His properties. As--

3. It requireth such duties as result from His excellency, and our acknowledging Him to be such a one. As--

4. Next, it is necessary that we add some advertisements to these generals.

II. In the next place, we should consider the negative part of this Commandment, for the extent thereof will be best discerned by considering what is forbidden therein, and how it may be broken. This idolatry is either:--

1. Doctrinal, or idolatry in the judgment, when one professedly believeth such a thing besides God to have some divinity in it; as heathens do of their Mars and Jupiter; or--

2. Practical, when men believe no such thing, and will not own any such opinion, yet are guilty of the same thing, as covetous men, etc.

3. It may be distinguished into idolatry that hath something for its object, as the Egyptians worshipped beasts, and the Persians the sun or fire, and that which has nothing but men’s imaginations for its object, as these who worship feigned gods; in which respect the apostle saith, “an idol is nothing” (1 Corinthians 8:4).

4. We would distinguish betwixt the objects of idolatry; and they are either such as are in themselves simply sinful, as devils, profane men; or they are such as are good in themselves, but abused and wronged, when they are made objects of idolatry, as angels, saints, sun, moon, etc.

5. Distinguish betwixt idolatry that is more gross and professed, and that which is more latent, subtle, and denied. This distinction is like that before mentioned, in opinion and practice, and much coincideth with it.

6. Distinguish betwixt heart-idolatry (Ezekiel 14:1-23.; Exodus 14:11-12; Exodus 16:2-3), and external idolatry. The former consisteth in an inward heart-respect to some idol, as this tumultuous people were enslaved to their ease and bellies in the last two fore-cited places; the other in some external idolatrous gesture or action. (James Durham.)

The First Commandment

First, there is the positive declaration of a personal God; and secondly, His claim to be worshipped as the one True and living God. The most obvious errors requiring our attention are four in number--Atheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Deism.

1. Except as a cloke for immorality and sinful indulgence, I am inclined to doubt the existence of Atheism, and the study of history confirms me in the doubt.

2. But what of the Polytheist, the worshipper, that is, of many gods; in this respect, at least, the very opposite to the last? It is not difficult to trace his origin. When time was young, men lived together in families, tribes, or small communities; beyond the circle of these they very rarely travelled. Before they were able to realize the idea of the oneness of the human race, each family would not unnaturally aim at being complete in itself; and as tending, especially to this, they would place themselves under the protection of some one particular god, and then gods multiplied, as a necessary consequence, upon the increase of people and subdivision of tribes. This was one cause. We might discover, without difficulty, others of a different nature. To take one instance, in times of ignorance, when the mind was unable to grasp the Infinite, men seized upon what was best in themselves, or what was noblest in nature, and deified this; and so at one time we find Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, receiving the homage of men; and at another we see temples arising to Faith, or Modesty, or Constancy, or Hope. But all this, whatever its origin, was openly denounced by the simple declaration standing at the head of the first table: “I am,” etc.

3. Of the Pantheist I shall only speak briefly. The meaning of the term is: “one who believes that everything is God, and God is everything.” He deifies all that is best in nature, especially the intellect or mind, and His Supreme Being is a combination of the united intelligences of the world. But if all that is intelligent, all that is best in created things, is God, then that which is best in myself is God, and demands my worship and adoration. And what is this but to give to the creature what belongs and is due to the Creator alone?

4. The Deist believes in a God, as his name implies, but does not believe that that God has ever revealed Himself to man; and this is to deny the Bible, to deny Christianity, to deny Christ. He holds that when the Supreme Being finished the creation of the world, He assigned to nature “Laws that should never be broken,” and then withdrew Himself from the government of the universe. Again, besides the fact that the Deist will not allow to God any superintendence or control over the works of His hands, thereby cutting off from man his most consoling faith in an all-wise and merciful Providence, He casts him adrift on the wide ocean of life, with no compass to steer by, and no chart to preserve his vessel from shoals and rocks, and all the countless perils of the deep. If God has not revealed Himself to man, then what can he know of a future life, what of the immortality of his soul? And with this unknown, it matters not what be his life and conduct on earth, for death is the close of all things, and there is nothing but darkness beyond the grave! (H. M. Luckock, D. D.)

On going after other gods

Going after other gods is a snare of the spiritual life into which we are liable to drift before suspecting any danger, for it does not necessarily mean the pursuit of things evil in their nature, but of things, innocent enough perhaps in themselves, which, by impressing us with an exaggerated idea of their importance or blessing, absorb that devotion which we owe to God, and demand from us a service which is due to Him alone.

I. There is the God of public opinion. There is such a thing as healthy public opinion; but there are times when its tone becomes lowered, and a very imperfect standard of conduct is all that is needed to satisfy its requirements. It involves a moral effort to which many are unequal to retain, in its integrity, the sense of sinfulness attached to any course of conduct which God forbids when public opinion gives its sanction.

II. There is the god of pleasure. This is a deity which, when once installed in the heart of a man, is insatiable in its demands. Instead of remaining the handmaid of duty, it becomes its sworn foe; instead of being the solace and refreshment of toil, it harasses and interferes with our work. The man who is a slave to pleasure looks upon all work as a grievance more or less; to be shirked altogether, if possible, or to be got through as quickly as may be. His main interest in life is not centred in duty, but in amusement. But this exacting deity not only grudges every moment of our time which is not given up to its service, it grudges, too, every penny of our money which is not spent for its gratification.

III. There is the god of success. The dangers of the spiritual life attached to the worship of this god are very real. The man who worships success, who in his innermost heart values it more than anything else, and looks upon it as the one object to set before himself, by a natural law of his being, is prepared, if the need arises, to make any sacrifice for it, including even the incurring of God’s displeasure. There is no more dangerous rival deity which we can admit into our hearts than success. It blinds us to all that is by the way. It makes us inconsiderate and unscrupulous in the struggle of life; and as the competition of life increases, and the chances of getting on become fewer, we are tempted to subordinate all higher considerations to the one idea of personal advancement. Another and by no means the least mischievous effect of putting too great store by success in any shape, is that it leads us to look to it for our sole encouragement and reward in the efforts both of spiritual and secular life. As “it is not in man to command success,” it follows that those who make success their god can have nothing to fall back upon in the hour of failure. (M. Tweddell, M. A.)

The First Commandment

How shall we conceive of God? Who is He? What is His name? The First Commandment answers these questions. The language is local, but the meaning is universal.

I. The meaning of the First Commandment for the ancient Jew.

II. The meaning of the First Commandment for ourselves.

1. The Divine declaration.

2. The Divine prohibition. We ourselves need this prohibition no less than did ancient Israel. For, although Christendom, theoretically speaking, is monotheistic, yet Christendom, practically speaking, is largely polytheistic. Recall, for example, the practical tritheism of many Trinitarians, conceiving the three Persons in the Trinity as three distinct Gods; or the practical dualism of many Christians, conceiving the Father as the God of wrath, and the Son as the God of love: or, again, conceiving the Creator as the God of nature, and the Redeemer as the God of Scripture. Behold in the Pantheon of our Christendom how many niches there are for various gods--the god of the deist, the god of the materialist, the god of the fatalist, the god of the sentimentalist, the god of the churchman, the god of the pantheist. Concluding lessons:

1. Our indebtedness to the Jew for monotheism.

2. Jehovah is to be worshipped.

3. Jehovah alone is to be worshipped. (G. D. Boardman.)

The First Commandment

I. What is it to make God to be a God to us?

1. To acknowledge Him for a God. Deity is a jewel that belongs only to His crown.

2. To choose Him. An act of mature deliberation and self-dedication.

3. To enter into a solemn covenant with Him.

4. To give Him adoration.

5. To fear Him. This fearing of God is

6. To love Him. In the godly, fear and love kiss each other.

7. To obey Him.

II. That we must have no other God.

1. There is really no other God.

2. We must have no other God. This forbids--

III. What is it to have other gods besides the true God

1. To trust in anything more than God.

2. To love anything more than God.

If we love the jewel more than Him that gave it, God will take away the jewel, that our love may return Him again.

Use 1. It reproves such as have other gods, and so renounce the true God.

Use 2. It sounds a retreat in our ears. Let it call us off from the idolizing any creature; and renouncing other gods, let us cleave to the true God and His service. If we go away from God, we know not where to mend ourselves.

The First Commandment

I. Four things are here required.

1. That we must have a God--against atheism.

2. That we must have the Lord Jehovah for our God--which forbids idolatry.

3. That we must have the only true God the Lord Jehovah alone for our God.

4. It requires that all these services and acts of worship, which we tender unto the true and only God, be performed with sincerity and true devotion. This is implied in that expression “before Me,” or in My sight. And this forbids both profaneness on the one hand and hypocrisy on the other.

II. It forbids us four things.

1. Atheism, or the belief and acknowledgment of no God.

2. Ignorance of the true God.

3. Profaneness, or the wretched neglect of the worship and service of God.

4. Idolatry, or the setting up and worshipping of false gods. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)

The First Commandment

The object of religious devotion has to be defined, and it has to be set into some ascertained relationship with ourselves.

I. What we have first to look at, therefore, is the self-disclosure of God, upon which He grounds His claim to Israel’s devotion. God is a Person; a personal Spirit like our own; a self-existent, eternal Spirit, apart from and above His world; a Person capable of entering into converse with men, and acting towards them as Deliverer and Saviour from evil. What follows? This follows--“This God shalt thou have for thy God; and thou shalt have no other!” A tie on both its sides solitary and unique must bind the human person with the Divine; saved with Saviour; Jehovah’s people with Jehovah’s self.

II. We are now, you perceive, in a position to examine our fundamental law, or First Commandment, defining the object of worship. It has resolved itself into this--a mutual relationship exists betwixt God and His human people, absolutely unique and exclusive. Besides Jehovah, Israel has no other Saviour; Israel, therefore, ought to know no other God. Jehovah is not simply first; He is first without a second. He is not the highest of a class of beings, but in His class He stands alone. Other Helper have we nowhere; beneath the covert of His everlasting wings must we run to hide. If we are not to people the heavens with shadowy powers, half Divine, or parcel earth among forces of nature, as the provinces of an empire are parcelled among satraps, or elevate human aid into the remotest competition with the Almighty’s; if to us there is but one seat of power, source of help, well-head of blessing, Author and Finisher of deliverance from every species and form of evil: then, what undivided dependence upon God results! what absoluteness of trust! what singleness of loyalty! what unstinted gratitude! what perfect love! More is shut out than polytheistic rites. Superstition is shut out, which trusts in mechanical aids and not in the free, living, and righteous Will. Magic is shut out, which seeks to extort deliverance by spells from unholy spirits. Luck is shut out, and the vague hope in what will turn up. Spiritual tyranny is shut out, which makes one man the lord of another’s faith and conscience. Policy is shut out, or godless state-craft, with its trust in human foresight, but none in the justice of Providence. Irreligion is shut out, which doubts if prayer avail or God can help, and puts its confidence only in the strongest battalions. Everything, in short, which divides the deep trust and hope of the heart between God and that which is not God, becomes a breach of loyalty to the unique, the solitary Deliverer. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

The First Commandment

1. It is quite evident that this Commandment prescribes a general “fitness of things,” the proper relation of man to God; aims to promote the highest happiness, directing man to seek his good in the highest source--God Himself; and describes the nature of man, setting forth a great principle of his being, that he is capable of giving allegiance to God, has faculties and powers capable of knowing and loving God. Our power of knowing and loving Him in the distinguishing power of man, separating him from the brutes with whom he is in many other respects allied, Not to exercise this power is to cast away the crown of our manhood. Of course, we cannot know God fully. Our weak, limited minds cannot comprehend the Infinite One. If we could comprehend God, we would be greater than He. The unknowable in God leads us to worship the God we know. This command calls us to a constant advance in the knowledge of God, so securing the activity and development of our power of knowing, and making it our duty to carefully attend to the revelation He has made of Himself. This certainly commends the study of nature; not only the poetic listening to its subtle teaching, but the scientific research for its great truths. This certainly commends the study of the Scriptures. Every neglected Bible should thrill the conscience with the charge, “You have not yet taken the first step towards obeying this commandment.” God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible is progressive. It had reached a certain stage at the time the Law was given at Sinai, sufficiently clear and full to make man’s duty plain. But it did not stop there. It unfolded through succeeding ages until it culminated in the Lord Jesus Christ. So this first commandment makes it our duty to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. To reject Him is not merely to reject an offer of mercy; it is to refuse to receive the complete revelation of God made in His Son.

2. The prohibitory form of the Commandment shows that there are tendencies in our nature to break this law of our being. We are prone to give supreme allegiance to and find our highest good in some person or thing other than God.

3. But even if we had full and accurate knowledge of the one true God, and were free from all debasing superstitions, we would still have tendencies drawing us away from entire consecration to Him. Whatever we value more than God, is our god. Wherever a man makes the gratification of himself his chief aim, he takes the crown belonging to God and crowns himself.

The First Commandment

I. The question we are now to try and answer is, what is it to have a God? I mean by this a true God, such as the Lord Jesus Christ is to us.

1. To have a God is to have one who can do three things for us.

2. But, then, there are three things that He who is our God has a right to expect from us.

II. The reason why we should have no other gods than the Lord. I wish to speak of three reasons.

1. The first reason is, because it is very foolish to do so.

2. The second reason why we ought to have no other gods than the Lord is, because it is very injurious.

3. The third and last reason is, that it is very wicked. There are two things about this which show how wicked it is.

God supplemented

“No other gods before Me.” That is, “No other gods in My presence; in sight of Me.” God will not share His sovereignty with any being. And this is the commonest way of breaking this Commandment in our day. There is no danger of breaking it through over-loving a fellow-creature, through loving a child, or a wife, or a parent, or a friend, too dearly. It is a frightful error to suppose that. But it is possible for us to think that God’s power must be supplemented by man’s power, by man’s influence, by man’s wealth, by man’s work. A pastor may lean on God:--and a rich member of his congregation; but not without breaking the First Commandment. A politician may think that, besides God’s favour, he must have popular favour, to give him success. A business man may have it in his mind that public sentiment--even against strict right--must be yielded to in his business, although he believes in God as above all. A parent may feel that fashion and wealth have a power that cannot be dispensed with in giving his child a desirable place in life. A professed Christian may feel that Jesus Christ will save him, if only he does enough for his own salvation. All these are ways of breaking the First Commandment; not very uncommon ways, either! (H. C. Trumbull.)


Verses 4-6

Exodus 20:4-6

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

The law of worship

I. A revelation of the will of God.

1. What is forbidden is not the culture of the plastic arts, but their abuse in furnishing symbols for purposes of devotion. Statuary is lawful, and painting is lawful; but sculptor and artist are alike restricted from attempting to represent the Deity; and all men are prohibited from taking such representations as objects of worship.

2. There was a special reason for this prohibition as it affected the Hebrews. They had come away from Egypt--a country where the employment of beasts and images in religious symbolism had descended to the very nadir of human degradation. They were on their way to Canaan, a land given to them because its inhabitants had outraged all forbearance by the filthy and bloody rites of Baal and Astarte. Above all, the chief reason of their own election as the chosen nation was that they might become faithful witnesses of Jehovah.

3. The bearing of this law upon Christian duty is manifest. Material images are forbidden, but mental images may be framed, provided always that they be fashioned out of the Divine manifestations. Every historic act, in which God is seen by the individual or the community, is a revelation of God; and the sum of such revelations gives a mental image of the Divine Being which we can and may adore. Furthermore, the focus of all God’s self-revelation is the Lord Jesus Christ.

II. A revelation of the character of God.

1. God is jealous for the truth of His own nature. How could any graven image ever be an accurate or an adequate similitude of the infinite invisible Spirit?

2. God is jealous for the character of His people. By the act of homage men acknowledge themselves inferior to that which they adore; so that every degradation of the Object of worship involves a simultaneous abasement of the worshipper.

3. God is jealous for the influence of His people upon the world. Israel was appointed to be a guardian of truth, an apostle of the one God, a harbour-light for benighted nations upon the sea of time. It was peculiarly wounding to the King of Heaven that they should insult Him by representing Him as a calf of gold, and should degrade themselves by their debasing homage.

III. A revelation of the providence of God.

1. Hereditary penalties follow the breach of this law of spiritual worship. Sensuous worship leads to sensuous living; and the fruits of sensuous living may linger on in miseries untold which our children shall suffer when we who did the wrong lie forgotten in the grave.

2. On the other hand, hereditary blessings follow the keeping of this law. True spiritual life begets true spiritual life, and hands on a heritage of reward to succeeding generations.

3. And it is the fittest which survives the longest! Evil is for a time; good is for eternity. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

The Second Commandment

I. The Divine prohibition.

1. Observe precisely what this second commandment forbids.

2. The prohibition, then, of the second commandment is a universal need.

II. The Divine reason for the prohibition.

1. Jehovah our God is a jealous God.

2. Law of heredity (see Galatians 6:7).

1. Heredity the key to social regeneration. Men, not less than animals, can be improved by stirpiculture, or selective breeding.

2. A summons to personal heroism. God judges us, not by our capacities, but by our efforts.

3. Worship the Divine Man Himself. He is the Image of the Invisible God, and we need no other. (G. D. Boardman.)

Idolatry

I. The nature of idolatry. A giving to something below God of that worship which is due to God alone. It may be outward, or inward; an act of the body, or an act of the mind.

II. The evil of idolatry.

1. It has a strange power to perpetuate and increase itself.

2. It ever engenders falsehood and deceit.

3. It is almost always accompanied with cruelty.

“The dark places of the earth,” says Scripture, “are full of the habitations of cruelty,” and all experience confirms the saying. Think of Mexico, as she was when first discovered, and of her fearful hecatombs of slaughtered men. Think of our country, and of other countries around it, in Druidical times. Follow Captain Cook in his voyages from island to island in the great Pacific. Wherever we find idols we find bloodshed, bloodshed for those idols. As for idolatrous Rome, I will not speak of her wholesale slaughters in years gone by.

4. There is one point more which I wished to notice, it is the licentiousness that accompanies idolatry, arising, beyond doubt, in part out of it. English minds cannot conceive the extent of this, nor the nature of it.

III. There is another thing, far more fearful than the idolatry of Rome, and far more difficult to keep ourselves from--the idolatry of the mind and heart. We may have idols within us, and, as for worshipping them, it may be the main business of our lives. (C. Bradley. M. A.)

Image-worship

To set up an image to represent God is a debasing of the Deity, it is below God. If one should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take this in high disdain? What greater disparagement to God, than to represent the infinite God by that which is finite,--the living God, by that which is without life, and the Maker of all, by a thing which is made?

1. To make a true image of God is impossible. What is invisible cannot be portrayed.

2. To worship God by an image is both absurd and unlawful.

Use: Take heed of idolatry, namely, image-worship.

The Second Commandment, and its influence upon the Jews

Some go so far as to say that it forbad the Jew to make any carved work at all. Certainly, judging by national results, it would almost seem as if Israel had so understood it. The Jews are a people famous for many things, for intellectual and administrative ability, and for a marvellous power of sustaining themselves in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. But whilst there have been Jewish warriors and poets, statesmen and financiers, musicians and singers of world-wide reputation, where are their artists and architects? The very temple of Solomon was a Phoenician structure. You may count easily a half-dozen distinguished musical Jewish composers--Mozart, Beethoven, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, and Rossini--but where is the distinguished Jewish sculptor or painter? Still, whilst all this is very suggestive as to the formative influence of the commandment, it seems most reasonable to decide that the sentence, “Thou shalt not make,” is qualified by the sentence, “Thou shalt not bow down nor worship.” The Jews were really only forbidden to make carved images as symbols of Deity, as objects of adoration. (W. Senior, B. A.)

The offence of symbolism

It becomes obvious that an imaged representation of the Invisible One must involve dishonour. Before the Infinite One can be bodied forth He must first of necessity be sensualized. Here is the deep insult. And the guilt of irreverance clings to the human mind in the very fact that it thinks itself capable of such an impossibility, and fails to perceive how it befouls what it touches. What difference then is there between the image of the artist and an intellectual conception of God? None in reality. What is the image? It is more than the carving of the sculptor; it is first his thought. The image is really thought embodied. Words may be used instead of marble, or wood, or colours, but essentially they are the same if they present to the imagination a shape, a form, or an intellectual conception. In this sense words are as finite as images or symbols, and therefore may be as guilty of degradation. Thus it follows that the reason of man has no more right to touch the Invisible Creator than the hands. God refuses also to be the subject of the human intellect. That the human mind should think itself capable of compassing the Infinite is to insult Him with deepest irreverence. “Who by searching can find out God?” God Himself must instruct us how to conceive of Him, and by what faculties of our nature we must draw near to Him. And this He has done. Through Abraham and through Moses, through David and the prophets, and, including all and perfecting all, through Jesus Christ the Divine Son, He has made Himself known to man. (W. Senior, B. A.)

A Jealous God.

I. Reverently, let us remember that the Lord is exceedingly jealous of His Deity. The whole history of the human race is a record of the wars of the Lord against idolatry. The right hand of the Lord hath dashed in pieces the enemy and cast the ancient idols to the ground. Behold the heaps of Nineveh! Search for the desolations of Babylon! Look upon the broken temples of Greece! See the ruins of Pagan Rome! Journey where you will, you behold the dilapidated temples of the gods and the ruined empires of their foolish votaries. The Lord hath made bare His arm and eased Him of His adversaries, for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. With what jealousy must the Lord regard the great mass of the people of this country, who have another god beside Himself! Even believers may be reproved on this subject. God is very jealous of His Deity in the hearts of His own people.

II. The Lord is jealous of His sovereignty. He that made heaven and earth has a right to rule His creatures as He wills.

1. This reminds us of the Lord’s hatred of sin. Every time we sin, we do as much as say, “I do not acknowledge God to be my Sovereign; I will do as I please.”

2. Surely if sin attacks the sovereignty of God, self-righteousness is equally guilty of treason: for as sin boasts, “I will not keep God’s law,” self-righteousness exclaims, “I will not be saved in God’s way; I will make a new road to heaven.”

III. The Lord is jealous of His glory. God’s glory is the result of His nature and acts.

1. How, careful, then, should we be when we do anything for God, and God is pleased to accept of our doings, that we never congratulate ourselves. The worms which ate Herod when he gave not God the glory are ready for another meal; beware of vain glory!

2. How careful ought we to be to walk humbly before the Lord. The moment we glorify ourselves, since there is room for one glory only in the universe, we set ourselves up as rivals to the Most High.

3. Let us see to it that we never misrepresent God, so as to rob Him of His honour. If any minister shall preach of God so as to dishonour Him, God will be jealous against that man.

IV. In the highest sense, the Lord is jealous over His own people.

1. The Lord Jesus Christ, of whom I now speak, is very jealous of your love, O believer.

2. He is very jealous of your trust. He will not permit you to trust in an arm of flesh.

3. He is also very jealous of our company. It were well if a Christian could see nothing but Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The jealousy of God

Jealousy is but the anger and pain of injured and insulted love. When God resents the illegitimate transfer to material symbols of the devotion inspired by His own acts, it is not because His greatness suffers any diminution or because His authority is impaired. It is His love which is wounded. He cannot endure to lose any of the affection, trust, or reverence by which He has stirred our souls. One of the fairest-looking falsehoods by which men excuse themselves for living a life in which God has no place, is the plea that the infinite God cannot care for the love and reverence of such creatures as we are. When will men understand that no father can ever be great enough to be indifferent to the affection, the obedience, and the confidence of his children? (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.--

Visiting the sins of the fathers on the children

I. That the denunciation and sentence relate to the sin of idolatry in particular, if not to that alone.

II. That it relates to temporal, or, more properly speaking, to family prosperity and adversity.

III. That it relates to the Jewish economy, in that particular administration of a visible providence under which they lived.

IV. That at no rate does it affect (or was ever meant to affect) the acceptance or salvation of individuals in a future life. (Archdeacon Paley.)

The children bearing the fathers’ iniquities

I. As to the matter of fact--that God does visit on the children the iniquities of the fathers--the evidence is so broad and conclusive that, without a singular carelessness it cannot be overlooked. The sin of one man brought death into the world, and caused that, throughout the vast spreadings of humanity, wretchedness, both physical and moral, shall hold a kind of undisputed supremacy.

II. Whether such a visitation consists with the principles of justice and equity. In most men’s minds, when this question is proposed, there is a feeling that the visitation is not thus consistent: we think it a righteous procedure that every man should bear his own burden; but we see no equity in the appointment that the innocent should suffer for the fault of the guilty. It is, however, worthy of observation, that the proceeding after all cannot be repugnant to our notions of justice, since its exact parallel occurs in human legislation. If the statute-book of the country enact the visiting on children the sin of the father, it will be hard to show that the visitation is counter to common sense and equity. In cases of treason, we all know that it is not the traitor alone who is punished: his estates are confiscated, his honours destroyed; so that, in place of transmitting rank and affluence to his son, he transmits him nothing but shame and beggary. We do not say that the thing must be just because enacted by human laws; we only say that there can be no felt and acknowledged contradiction between the proceeding and the principles of equity, since human laws involve the children in the doom of the parent. If you can show the child to be innocent, and therefore to deserve nothing of what it receives, you will have made good your point that the visitation is unjust; but to maintain the thorough innocence of the child would be to maintain the purity of human nature. Still, you will say, the child is confessedly worse off than it would have been had the parent not sinned; and though we may deserve all we endure for ourselves, we still practically suffer for the misdoings of another. We admit this; but at the same time we contend that you are shifting the argument. If the child endured no more than it has deserved you admit that the course of justice is unimpeached--and this is the main thing we are anxious to establish: but, if after conceding the strict justice of the measure, you profess to think it hard that the child should endure what, but for the parent’s offence, it would not have deserved, we are ready to follow you into the new field of debate, and to show you, as we think, the erroneousness of your opinion. The child, for example, is of a diseased constitution, of a dishonoured name, of a broken fortune; these constitute the visitation of whose hardship you complain; but who can prove to us that the child is really injured by the visitation? Nay, who can prove to us that the child is not really advantaged? If we were told that, because the parent died in unrighteousness, the child also must be shipwrecked for eternity, the wrought injury would be tremendous and overwhelming: but there is not the least ground for supposing that the threatened visitation extends to the next world; on the contrary, the whole tenor of Scripture--inasmuch as salvation is offered to all--requires us to believe, that the consequences to the children of the father’s transgressions lie confined within our present sphere of being. Why then is it certain that the child is dealt with injuriously, if sentenced for the parent’s iniquity to penury and affliction? Are penury and affliction never overruled for good? Is it necessarily an evil to have been born poor in place of rich--to be of weak health instead of strong--to struggle with adversity, in place of being lapped in prosperity? No man who feels himself immortal, who is conscious that this confined theatre of existence is but the school in which he is trained for a wider and nobler still, will contend for the necessary injuriousness of want and calamity: and yet unless this necessary injuriousness is supposed, it cannot be proved that the children who are visited for the father’s iniquity are on the whole worse off than they would have been had there been no visitation. Thus the argument against the goodness of the Almighty as much falls to the ground as that against His justice; for proceeding on the principle that physical evil is never subservient to moral good, we overthrow our position by assuming what we know to be false. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Inherited character

An old man died a few years ago in the Massachusetts State Prison. He was seventy-six years old, and had spent the last eight years of his life in a cell in that gloomy gaol. His wife for years had been a prisoner there too, and so had his daughter, and seven of his sons. Were not “the iniquities of the father visited upon the children”? In that same State, seventy years ago, a good minister died, who for forty-one years had been a beloved pastor over the same church. He was the fourteenth eldest son of that same name and family who had been a preacher of the gospel. Since his death, one hundred of his descendants have been Christians, and eight of his sons and grandsons have also been ministers. Through that blessed family, for many long years, the Great Father of love has been “showing mercy to thousands in them that love Him and keep His commandments.”

Showing mercy unto thousands.--

The place of mercy in the government of God

Look carefully at a very important feature of the appeal which is not brought out clearly in our English translation. He visits iniquity “unto the third and fourth,” and shows mercy “unto the thousandth,” the commandment reads. Our translators have supplied the word “generation” in italics to the first numeral, and evidently they were right in doing so, but they should have supplied for the same reasons the same word to the second numeral: “He visits iniquity unto the third and fourth generation,” “He shows mercy unto the thousandth generation.” The third and fourth show an indefinite number, the thousandth is also an indefinite number, but it is a much larger number. The principle of the Divine government has a very decided leaning to the side of mercy. Now, perhaps you will say: “I see that this feature of the Divine government works with absolute impartiality, with strict justice, but I can see no indication of its leaning to the side of mercy.” Then look again, and more closely, at the race and the individual.

1. Look at the individual first. A child inherits an impaired constitution. Two features of the Divine government respond at once. First, the restorative forces within the child, the recuperative powers of man’s nature; and second, the restorative forces without, the whole realm of remedies and skill awakened in others in their application. The child of ignorant parents is ignorant. Two features here also are on the side of mercy. The innate thirst of the mind for knowledge, present though weak in the child; and the intelligence of the community in which the child lives, the atmosphere of enlightenment which he must breathe while he lives. The child of irreligious parents is irreligious. Here, too, there are two principles on the side of mercy. However corrupt he may be, there is something in the soul of the child at unrest for God which may be touched into power; and the surrounding Christianity--the Christ who has loved and died to save--lives in many believing hearts through whom He seeks to save the child.

2. Now, concerning the race, it may be said that the limit of degradation seems to be fixed, but the limit of progress cannot be even imagined. How far man will advance in the control and use of the powers of nature, we who witness to-day the stupendous achievements of Christian civilization will not even dare to conjecture. And how far man will be lifted up, in the knowledge and fellowship of God, the Bible tells us that we cannot even imagine. In the whole race, also, the two principles we have seen working in individuals on the side of mercy exist. However corrupted in idolatry men may become, however great the ascendancy of the flesh over the spirit in man, the spirit still exists, and in its very nature cannot be satisfied until it finds and lays hold upon the living God. There is something within men that cannot be satisfied with idolatry, or with sensual corruption, something that may be touched into strong and glorious life. And there is something to touch it. God makes the appeal of His infinite love in Jesus Christ, who has at infinite cost taken away sin and brought in new life to all who receive Him. And we who receive Him, as He lives in us, will touch all the dark souls we can reach with His light and life. We have received from our fathers the elevation and happiness of our Christian land. Let us cherish and transmit to our children the glorious inheritance, and let us send the light into the whole earth. Let us, receiving forgiveness and new life in our Saviour, bring our whole being into a shape worthy of God in moral likeness. (F. S. Schenck.)

God’s mercies

I. What are the qualifications?

1. The spring of mercy which God shows is free and spontaneous. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy only to such as deserve it, He must show mercy to none at all.

2. The mercy God shows is powerful. How powerful is that mercy which softens a heart of stone! Of what sovereign power and efficacy is that mercy which subdues the pride and enmity of the heart, and beats off those chains of sin in which the soul is held!

3. The mercy which God shows is superabundant; “abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands.” The vial of God’s wrath doth but drop; but the fountain of His mercy runs.

4. The mercy God shows is abiding (Psalms 103:17).

II. How many ways is God said to show mercy?

1. We are all living monuments of God’s mercy. He shows mercy to us in daily supplying us.

2. God shows mercy in lengthening out our gospel liberties.

3. God shows mercy in preventing many evils from invading us.

4. God shows mercy in delivering us.

5. God shows mercy in restraining us from sin; lusts within, are worse than lions without.

6. God shows mercy in guiding and directing us.

7. God shows mercy in correcting us. God is angry in love; He smites that He may save. Every cross to a child of God is like Paul’s cross wind, which though it broke the ship, it brought Paul to shore upon the broken pieces.

8. God shows mercy in pardoning us; “who is a God like Thee, That pardonest iniquity?” It is mercy to feed us, rich mercy to pardon us.

9. God shows His mercy in sanctifying us (Leviticus 20:8). This prepares for happiness, as the seed prepares for harvest.

10. God shows mercy in hearing our prayers. God may sometimes delay an answer, when He will not deny. You do not presently throw a musician money, because you love to hear his music: God loves the music of prayer, therefore doth not presently let us hear from Him, but in due season He will give an answer of peace.

11. God shows mercy in saving us: “according to His mercy He saved us.” This is the top-stone of mercy, and it is laid in heaven. Now mercy displays itself in all its orient colours; now mercy is mercy indeed, when God shall perfectly refine us from all the lees and dregs of corruption. As an argument against despair: see what a great encouragement here is to serve God,--He shows mercy to thousands.

“Them that love Me”

I. How must our love to God be qualified?

1. Love to God must be pure and genuine; He must be loved chiefly for Himself. We must love God, not only for His benefits, but for those intrinsic excellencies wherewith He is crowned; we must love God not only for the good which flows from Him, but the good which is in Him.

2. Love to God must be with all the heart, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” We must not love God a little,--give God a drop or two of our love,--but the main stream of our love must run after Him; the mind must think of God, the will choose Him, the affections pant after Him.

3. Love to God must be flaming; to love coldly is all one as not to love.

II. How may we know whether we love God?

1. He that loves God desires His sweet presence; lovers cannot be long asunder, they have their fainting fits, they want a sight of the object of their love. A soul deeply in love with God desires the enjoyment of Him in His ordinances, in word, prayer, sacraments.

2. He who loves God doth not love sin; “ye that love the Lord hate evil.” The love of God and the love of sin can no more mix together than iron and clay; every sin loved strikes at the being of God, but he who loves God hath an antipathy against sin.

3. He who loves God is not much in love with anything else; his love is very cool to worldly things; his love to God moves as the sun in the firmament, swiftly; his love to the world moves as the sun on the dial, very slow.

4. He who loves God cannot live without Him.

5. He who loves God will be at any pains to get Him. Doth he love his friend that will not make a journey to see him?

6. He that loves God prefers Him before estate and life. Before estate: “For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” Who that loves a rich jewel would not part with a flower for it? Before life: “They loved not their lives to the death.” Love to God carries the soul above the love of life and the fear of death.

7. He who loves God loves His favourites, namely, the saints (1 John 5:1).

8. If we love God, as we cannot but be fearful of dishonouring Him (the more a child loves his father, the more he is afraid to displease him), so we weep and mourn when we have offended Him.

III. What are the incentives to provoke and inflame our love to God?

1. God’s benefits bestowed on us. Great is the love that is excited by love. Kindness works on a brute; the ox knows his owner.

2. Love to God would make duties of religion facile and pleasant.

3. It is advantageous (1 Corinthians 2:9).

4. By our loving God we may know that He loves us (1 John 4:19). If the ice melts, it is because the sun has shined upon it; if the frozen heart melts in love, it is because the Sun of Righteousness hath shined upon it.

IV. What means may be used to excite our love to God?

1. Labour to know God aright.

2. Make the Scriptures familiar to you.

3. Meditate much of God, and this will be a means to love Him; “while I was musing, the fire burned.” Meditation is the bellows of the affections. Who can meditate on God’s love? who can tread on these hot coals, and his heart not burn in love to God? (T. Watson.)

“And keep My commandments”

Love and obedience, like two sisters, must go hand in hand. A good Christian is like the sun, which doth not only send forth light, but goes its circuit round the world: so he hath not only the light of knowledge, but goes his circuit too, and moves in the sphere of obedience. In what manner must we keep God’s commandments?

1. Our keeping the commandments must be fiducial. Our obedience to God’s commandments must spring from faith; therefore it is called “the obedience of faith.”

2. Our keeping the commandments must be uniform. We must make conscience of one commandment as well as another; “then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all Thy commandments.” Physicians have a rule, when the body sweats in one part, but is cold in another, it is a sign of a distemper: so when men seem zealous in some duties of religion, but are cold and frozen in others, it is a sign of hypocrisy. We must have respect to all God’s commandments.

3. Our keeping God’s commandments must be willing; “if ye be willing and obedient.” A musician is not commended for playing long, but for playing well; it is obeying God willingly is accepted; the Lord hates that which is forced, it is rather paying a tax than an offering. If a willing mind be wanting, there wants that flower which should perfume our obedience, and make it a sweet smelling savour to God. That we may keep God’s commandments willingly, let these things be well weighed. Our willingness is more esteemed than our service; therefore David counsels Solomon not only to serve God, but with a willing mind. The will makes sin to be worse, and makes duty to be better. To obey willingly shows we do it with love; and this crowns all our services. There is that in the Lawgiver, which may make us willing to obey the commandments, namely, God’s indulgence to us.

There is that in God’s commandments which may make us willing; they are not burdensome.

1. For a Christian, so far as he is regenerate, consents to God’s commands--“I consent to the law that it is good.”

2. God’s commandments are sweetened with joy and peace. Cicero questions whether that can properly be called a burden which one carries with delight and pleasure. If a man carries a bag of money given him, it is heavy, but the delight takes off the burden; when God gives inward joy, that makes the commandments delightful.

3. God’s commandments are advantageous.

4. God’s commandments are ornamental. It is an honour to be employed in a king’s service.

5. The commands of God are infinitely better than the commands of sin, these are intolerable. Many have gone with more pains to hell than others have to heaven. This may make us obey the commandments willingly.

6. Willingness in obedience makes us resemble the angels. Use: It reproves them who live in a wilful breach of God’s commandments,--in malice, uncleanness, intemperance,--they walk antipodes to the commandment.

To live in a wilful breach of the commandment is--

1. Against reason.

2. Against equity.

3. Against nature.

4. Against kindness. (T. Watson.)

Keeping the commandments

I. One condition, then, of obtaining God’s mercy is obedience. But what am I to obey? But I desire to ask whether, at heart, some of you do not:know sufficiently the answer that should be given? Can you say that you know no difference between right and wrong? Is the liar and the man of truth the same to you? May we go together, then, thus far, that we admit the difference between right and wrong? A second step will, I think, be then admitted--to right and wrong we must add the words “ought” and “ought not.” In other words, the distinction between right and wrong brings with it the words “ought,” “ought not,” “responsibility,” “duty.” Here it may be well further remind you that in this word “duty” lies hid an inexplicable treasure of infinite value--I mean our freedom. In the “I ought” is practically included the “I can.” But let me ask you, yet again, whence comes this power to distinguish right from wrong? Here we may differ in words, but in the existence of the power itself many will agree. We may call it moral feeling, moral sense, Divine reason, or use the word to which we have been accustomed--conscience. But, once more, why do we give to this mysterious power so much importance? Why, if this moral feeling, this conscience, is part of ourselves, why not deal with it as we please, and listen or not as it may serve our turn? The real answer, I believe (though all may not be able to give it), is because conscience does not speak as for herself, but as for another. She brings us to a bar of another, whom we fear and may resist, but One higher than ourselves, even God. Here is surely a point worthy of your most careful consideration. II, The text offers mercy for thousands, mercy for all, but on two conditions--obedience and love. Obedience of a kind we may practise to the moral law; but love requires personality. We must, by God’s help, rise above the contemplation of the law to the Person of the Lawgiver, and love the law for His sake--“Lord, what love have I unto Thy law!”--and then love Him because He is what He is.

1. The first test I would suggest to you is this--what use do you make of your Bible? The step from obedience to love, we said, implied the step from an impersonal law to the personal Lawgiver, and this, the belief in one Personal God, we said, required for its fulness the aid of Divine revelation. Here, then, is one test--our Bible. Let me say it as plainly as I can: if you neglect the study, the habitual devotional study, of the one Book that above all others makes known to you the one Personal God, you will be in danger of living a mere moral life--fulfilling, in a sense, the condition of obedience, but falling short of the higher condition of love, and a narrow, selfish, unloving, uninfluential humanity will be the result.

2. Let me offer you another test which each can easily make for himself. What is your relation to prayer? Prayer is the test of belief in a Personal God. The man who never prays, never rises above himself, may be moral, may be obedient to the moral law, but he has lost one proof of his belief in a Personal Lawgiver, to whom the law was intended to lead him; has lost one proof that he has a Personal Guide through the perils of his life; has lost one proof that he is preserving the condition of love. If we can pray, we have faith in a Personal God; we may deplore our coldness from time to time, we may even pray from a sense of duty many times, but we have not lost the great condition of love, and we know by experience how our hearts may become again as the rivers in the south--dry water-beds for a season, but in due time flowing like a flood.

3. Let me give you but one more test, by which you may know whether you are fulfilling this condition of love, the great condition on which God’s plentiful mercy may be obtained. It is the test of the love of our neighbour. (Bp. E. King.)


Verse 7

Exodus 20:7

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

The Third Commandment

The name of God stands for Himself and for that which He has revealed of Himself, not for our thoughts about Him. It is not surprising that this great name was invested with a superstitious sanctity. Even the Jews used it rarely. There is a tradition that it was heard but once a year, when it was uttered by the high-priest on the great day of atonement. In reading the Scriptures it became customary never to pronounce it, but to replace it with another Divine name, which was regarded as less awful and august. The Third Commandment requires something very different from this ceremonial homage to His name. His name stands for Himself, and it is to Him that our reverence is due.

I. We may transgress the commandment in many ways.

1. By perjury.

2. By swearing.

3. By the practice of finding material for jesting in Holy Scripture.

4. By the habit of scoffing at those who profess to live a religious life, and taking every opportunity of sneering at their imperfections.

II. It is not enough to avoid the sin of profanity; we are bound to cultivate and to manifest that reverence for God’s majesty and holiness which lies at the root of all religion, We have to worship Him. It is the “pure in heart” who see God, and only when we see God face to face can we worship Him in spirit and in truth. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

On taking God’s name in vain

I. The first expression to which I refer is, “the name of the Lord thy God,” or strictly, “the name of Jehovah thy God.” The name of the Lord is not, on the one hand, the mere articulate sound by which the mouth expresses the idea of Deity, nor is the phrase, on the other hand, a simple synonym for God. It holds up God in His special character of Jehovah, the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of His own dear people. “The name of Jehovah” means God, known and served under His revealed aspect of mercy, God appreciated as the pardoner of sin and giver of the Spirit, the Jehovah or keeper of His precious promises to His people. For example, of the antediluvian piety it is said: “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord”--i.e., it was then that distinctive recognition was made of God’s special provision of mercy for sinners. His name of Jehovah was received as indicating His relation to His believing people. A name is an expression of the personal substance--an exhibition of the essential character. God’s name by which He delights to be known among men, is Love. His character of compassion is especially displayed in His Word, and hence the Psalmist says: “Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy name”--that is, of all revelations of God’s character, all expressions of His being, the written Word is most full and complete. Here is the way of pardon and acceptance clearly portrayed. Another conspicuous display of God’s character, but only local and temporary in its personal contact, while universal in its possible application, is in the Lord Jesus Christ; and so Jesus is in a high sense “the name of Jehovah.” If. The second expression to which our attention should be directed is the phrase, “to take in vain.” The literal rendering is, “Thou shalt not lift up the name of Jehovah thy God lightly. Taking God’s name in vain is the flippant and thoughtless use of God’s name. It is the taking up the name in the vacant, purposeless way in which we pluck off a leaf as we pass along the road--the use of the name, not only where the purpose is evil, but where there is no defined purpose at all. Again, there may be not only an absence of evil purpose, but, beyond an absence of all purpose, there may even be a purpose of good, but this purpose may be seized upon in so rash and ill-advised a way that the use of the Divine name in it is a taking the name in vain, just as Uzzah’s touching the ark of God, even to stay it upon the cart and prevent its fall, was a sin of profanity, and called for the Divine punishment.

1. In respect to God’s verbal name, we are not to be satisfied with our freedom from the coarse profanity which culture and good breeding forbid, but we are to remove the habit of using the holy name in ordinary conversation in which the use has no religious character. We are not to call a wretched and forlorn person or thing “God-forsaken,” or to hail a gift as a “God-send,” when, in using these epithets, we have no design to use their full meaning, and therefore have not the proper attitude of mind for their utterance.

2. In respect to God’s written Word, we are to take it up with reverence both in our hearts and on our tongues.

3. But chiefly, in relation to Jesus and the great eternal truths which the Holy Spirit introduces to the soul. To each man comes through his conscience a summons from God to give heed to his future spiritual and eternal condition. If you slight that summons, given to you in the gospel, you are taking God’s name in vain. (H. Crosby, D. D.)

The Third Commandment

I. The Divine prohibition--

1. Forbids perjury.

2. Forbids hypocrisy--insincere worship.

3. Forbids profanity.

II. The Divine warning. Being in its very nature the most godless of sins, God from His very nature cannot allow it to go unpunished. Did you ever read that remarkable assertion of the famous mathematician, Charles Babbage, in the “Ninth Bridgwater Treatise,” to the effect that the slightest word, though it be but a whispered interjection, vibrating in the air, sets in operation a series of changes which undulate to the very outskirts of creation, rising and falling like an everlasting tide? The whole material universe is a mighty whispering-gallery, in which the Infinite One is everlastingly hearing every word, every whisper, breathed by every human being, from the day Adam pronounced his first vocable in Eden to the day when human time shall be no more. If, then, the scarcely audible rustle of an unconscious aspen leaf sets in inexorable motion atom after atom--from leaf to tree, from tree to earth, from earth to star, till the whole material creation responds in undulation--think you that an oath, spoken by conscious, responsible man, will ever die away, or go unpunished? Oh, no! Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain. (G. D. Boardman.)

The Third Commandment

There are other ways besides making an image of Him by which the conception of Deity can be lowered. Man by his words embodies his thoughts of God as really as when by his hands he carves an image of Him. It bears significantly upon certain usages which tend, though perhaps unconsciously, to dissociate the name of God from the, deep reverence which should invest it. Among these is the habit, formed often unthinkingly, of using frequent and almost meaningless repetitions of the name of God in prayer. Akin to this evil, and one equally opposed to the spirit of the Third Command, is the familiar and endearing use of God’s name in prayer. Some, while praying, employ epithets as if they were on terms of special intimacy, and almost of equality, with their Heavenly Father. Christ has, indeed, taught us to call God “Father”; but He has, in the same breath, bid us gather around the name these reverent words, “which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” And there is nothing in Scripture to indicate a less hallowed aspect toward Christ in prayer than toward the Father. With what unvarying reverence do Paul and John, in their Epistles, refer to the ascended and glorified Redeemer! A true acquaintance with God produces reverence for Him; a correct knowledge of Christ exalts Him far above all principality and power, and gives Him a name that is above every name. (P. B. Davis.)

The Third Commandment

I. What is required. The holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, words, and works.

II. What is forbidden. All profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes Himself known. This command is broken two ways--

1. By not using the name of God as is required (Malachi 2:2). So as many duties as are required, so many sins there are in omitting these duties. Hence this command is broken by our not hallowing and glorifying God’s name, by not taking up the name of God into our minds, lips, and lives.

2. By profaning or abusing of the name of God; that is, anything whereby God makes Himself known.

1. When it is used ignorantly, as it was by the Athenians, whom the apostle Paul charges with worshipping God ignorantly (Acts 18:23).

2. When it is used vainly and irreverently, that is, lightly and rashly.

3. When the name of God is used superstitiously.

4. When it is used profanely and wickedly.

Having spoken of the more gross and palpable breaches of this command, I shall now consider other ways how the Lord’s name is abused and taken in vain.

1. With respect to His names and titles. They are taken in vain--

2. With respect to His attributes, God’s name is abused--

3. With respect to His ordinances. The name of God is abused in ordinances when we do not go about them after the right manner, etc.

4. With respect to His Word, men are guilty of profaning the name of God--

5. With respect to His works, men are guilty of profaning the name of God, when they use the works and creatures of God to sinful lusts and practices.

6. Men profane the name of God, in respect of religion, and the profession of it.

III. The reason annexed. This 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.

1. Whence it is that men think so lightly of the profaning of the name of God, so that in effect they hold themselves guiltless.

2. Whence it is that profaners of the name of God escape punishment from men.

3. I proceed to show how God will not let men escape with it; that He will by no means hold them guiltless. Consider that the profaning of the name of God is a sin--

4. What is the great evil of this sin, that it is so severely punished?

1. How can these lands escape a stroke that have so much of this guilt to answer for?

2. I warn all gross profaners of the name of God to repent and flee to the blood of Christ for pardon; certifying, that if ye do not, ye shall lie under the wrath of God for ever.

3. Let us endeavour not only to reform ourselves, but contribute to the reformation of others in this point. ( T. Boston. D. D.)

The Third Commandment

I. What is meant by the name of God?

II. How is God’s name taken in vain?

1. We take God’s name in vain when we use it lightly or without thinking.

2. It is taking this name in vain when we use it falsely, or speak what is not true in connection with it.

3. But we break this commandment also when we use God’s name profanely.

III. Why should we not take this name in vain?

1. Because it is useless.

2. Because it is cowardly.

3. Because it is vulgar.

4. Because it is wicked.

5. Because it is dangerous. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The guilt of profaneness

1. God has forbidden all profane language, in a manner the most solemn, and best adapted to make the deepest impression on the hearts and consciences of men.

2. Taking the name of God in vain is destructive of all religion. A profane person cannot love, nor fear, nor obey, nor trust in God.

3. The profanation of God’s name tends to weaken and destroy the force and obligation of every civil government. The profanation of God’s name directly tends to bring religion and oaths into contempt; and when these are brought into contempt, how can civil government be administered to preserve the property, liberty, or lives of the subjects?

4. Profane swearing is the most unnatural sin in this wicked world. It does not originate from any natural propensity, instinct, or appetite in the human mind, but is contrary to every dictate of reason and conscience. No one ever heard profane language for the first time without being shocked. No child ever uses it until he has learned it from others.

5. To use profane language is below the dignity of any man. It requires no superior knowledge, learning, or intellectual talents to take the name of God in vain, or to rise to the highest attainments in the art of swearing.

6. Profane swearing is a vice which never lives alone. Who ever knew a profane swearer that was free from every other vice? It is true, a profane swearer may not be a liar, a thief, or a drunkard; but it is the nature and tendency of his profaneness to lead him into these and all other vices. For it takes off the most powerful restraints that can be laid upon the human mind.

7. Profane swearing is a land-defiling iniquity. It is a moral infection, a spreading leprosy, and more infectious than any natural disease. It is a sin which can be more easily and oftener repeated than any other sin. The profane man can utter his oaths and imprecations every hour in the day, and every day in the week, wherever he is, and wherever he goes, as long as he lives.

8. Profane swearing is a sin, which exhibits infallible evidence, that those who are guilty of it are pursuing the broad road which leads to future and endless ruin. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Taking God’s name in vain

There is a three-fold swearing forbidden.

1. Vain swearing; when men in their ordinary discourse let fly oaths.

2. Vile swearing; horrid, prodigious oaths not to be named.

3. Forswearing; this is a heaven-daring sin: “Ye shall not swear by My name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God.” Perjury is a calling God to witness to a lie. In righteousness, therefore, it must not be an unlawful oath. In judgment, therefore, it must not be a rash oath. In truth, therefore, it must not be a false oath.

4. We take God’s name in vain by rash and unlawful vows. (T. Watson.)

The law of reverence

What God approves is not the parade of homage for the letter, but the inward homage of the soul for what the name represents.

I. In relation to public duty.

1. Perjury. Worthily to take an oath being one of the loftiest of human actions, it follows that to take it unworthily is one of the most infamous of crimes. The perjurer professes to believe in God. His pretence is that he confides in the presence, truth, majesty, justice of God. Yet he dons this fair cloak of piety that he may get a lie believed! It is a dastardly attempt to make the righteous God his partner in wronging the innocent, by leading a jury to an unjust verdict, and a judge to an unrighteous sentence.

2. Blasphemy: to impute evil to God; to scoff at the holiness and power of God; to assume the prerogatives of God.

II. In relation to private speech

1. Profane swearing. Leave expletives to those who have more words than ideas, and more tongue than brains. Be sure that reverence is the saving salt of society, and the very soul of virtue.

2. Flippant talk of sacred things.

III. In relation to Divine worship.

1. They who are in the pulpit are there on purpose to lift up the name of God like a standard. Let them beware that they do not, through utterance of false doctrine, lift it for a lie! Let them beware of turning their piety into a mercantile profession, or using it for unworthy ends! Let them beware of preaching Christ out of strife, and of the opposite vice of perfunctory utterance; or unawares they may lift up the name of God for a thing of nought!

2. They who are in the pew need the warning also. We want reverence in the house of prayer--reverence in attitude, reverence in demeanour, reverence in worship. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

On oaths

1. For the matter of an oath, assertory oaths must be of things that are--

Again, promissory oaths must be things just and lawful, possible, profitable, and in our power, and which to our knowledge are such.

2. The form must be, By the true God, it being a peculiar part of His worship.

3. Its rise must be edification, that is, God’s glory, our own vindication, or our neighbour’s good, or the call of a magistrate putting us to it.

4. As to the expressions in which it is conceived, or the thing sworn, it is required that it sought not only truth to, and in the man’s meaning that sweareth, but that the expressions be plain and intelligible to his meaning and understanding to whom the oath is given; otherwise it deludeth, but doth not clear.

5. As to the right manner of swearing, these things ought to be noticed--

The Third Commandment

“For the Lord,” etc.

1. This implies that the sin under consideration may be lightly thought of, and rarely punished, among men.

2. It is an aggravation of this sin, that there seems to be very little temptation to the commission of it.

3. In the next place, it is a sin most pernicious to those who indulge it, and to those with whom they are connected.

4. In conclusion, I observe that God notices, records, and will certainly, in this world or the next, avenge the insults done to His majesty by a violation of this command. (G. Clayton.)

Rules to avoid profanity

1. Beware of the first rudiments and beginnings of oaths, if thou wouldst not learn them.

2. Subdue, as much as you can, all inordinate passion and anger.

3. Labour to possess thy heart and over-awe it with the most serious considerations and apprehensions of the greatness and majesty of God. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)

A proper use to be made of the gift of speech

The Third Commandment shows man at the head of the material creation with the crowning glory of intelligent speech, and, as a social being, possessing the power of speech as the highest instrument of his social nature. God reveals Himself to him by word, by name, as to a speaking being, making language a bond of union between Him and man. God commands him to use this great gift in His worship, in honouring Him.

1. The tongue is the glory of man, and the glory of the tongue is to voice the praises of God. All nature praises God as it obeys His laws. Man stands at the head of creation to take up its many notes of praise and give them intelligent utterance. He stands thus not as a single individual, a great High Priest, but as a race whose myriad voices are to join and mingle in a vast chorus of intelligent and harmonious praise. We are to speak of Him, and to Him, with adoration. He is our Creator, Preserver, Governor, and Judge. We are to speak of Him, and to Him, with love and praise. Our lips should quiver with emotion when we speak of Him who is our Father and our Saviour. We are to speak to Him in His worship, and of Him to each other, only in such a way as shall promote His worship in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.

2. The command is in the prohibitory form. Man has broken this law, and is prone to break it. His voice is silent often when it should be praising God. A man uses the name of God as an exclamation of surprise at some trivial thing or assertion of another, or to sustain some unimportant statement of his own. Sometimes a story is dull, and the story-teller seasons it with a few oaths; or some joke is without point, and so a curse is used to awaken a laugh. Man calls God to make sport for him. A man has become accustomed to exaggerate or to speak falsely, and, conscious that others hesitate to believe him, he continually calls upon the truth-loving God to witness to his lies. Sometimes he becomes heated in argument, or angry under contradiction, or in a quarrel, and he calls upon God to curse him if he is not right, or in his anger he calls upon God to curse the one who irritates him. Sometimes he so loses control of himself that curses pour out of his lips as dense smoke out of a chimney. (F. S. Schenck.)

No excuse for swearing

The swearer tries to excuse himself. “I did not mean it. I was only in fun.” There are some things not the proper subjects of fun. Surely a man ought not to make fun of God, or of invoking the wrath of God upon himself or others. But the swearer says: “It is a relief for me to swear. It cools off my heated spirits.” Often it is the reverse, adding fuel to the flame, not only to himself, but to others, especially those he curses. But if it is a relief, what is it a relief of? It is a relief to the storm-cloud to throw out its lightnings, because it is over-charged with electricity. So it is a relief for you to throw out your cursing because you are over-charged with cursing. Your heart is so full of hatred that when stirred in anger it overflows in curses. You had far better bring such a heart to God with a strong cry for mercy. Again the swearer says: “I know it is wrong, but it is a habit I have fallen into to such an extent that I often swear without knowing it.” Do you not see that habit does not excuse but rather aggravates the offence? No one can become wicked at once. Your habit only shows how often you have sinned, how far you have gone down in this kind of wickedness. Again the swearer says: “I may as well say it as think it.” You should not think an oath or curse. But it is worse to speak it. The letter of the law forbids the word, and so checks the evil in the heart, and at any rate prevents its injuring others. You gain inward control by outward control. Come toward the spirit of the law, checking the thought by obeying the letter. You keep yourself also from being a curse. The swearer is a moral blight in a community, his oath-speaking is a spreading infection, he is himself a curse to others. (F. S. Schenck.)

Speaking of God

The positive side, underlying the negative, is the requirement that our speech of God shall fit our thought of God, and our thought of Him shall fit His name; that our words shall mirror our affection, and our affection be a true reflection of His beauty and sweetness; that cleansed lips shall reverently utter the name above every name, which, after all speech, must remain unspoken; and that we shall feel it to be not the least wonderful or merciful of His condescensions, that He is “extolled with our tongues.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

God not to be trifled with

It is enough to make the blood curdle, to think of the name of God bandied about as a bauble and plaything of fools. This offence cannot go unpunished. If there be a God, He must vindicate His own majesty and glory. It is the very spirit and essence of all evil, the very core of iniquity. If you could see it as it is, in the naked enormity of its guilt, you would flee from it as from the very pestilence of death. You may sport with the whirlwind and trifle with the storm, you may lay your hand upon the lion’s mane and play with the leopard’s spots, you may go to the very crater of a burning volcano, and laugh at the lava which it belches out in thunder; you may trifle with any and everything; but trifle not with God. Let there be one holy thing upon which you dare not lay a profane hand, and let that be the name of God. (J. H. Thornwell, D. D.)

Reverence

To swear by his gods was the most common usage of the heathen; and it grew out of a worship that of necessity debased the heart of moral reverence. Unbelief comes oftener from irreverent association than intellectual doubt. The sneer of a Voltaire has killed more than all his arguments; for, in Paley’s keen words, “who can refute a sneer?” The youth who grows in the midst of profane minds imbibes a scorn of truth before he has searched a single doctrine, as the breath of an infected garment may engender disease. In this light you perceive how this old commandment covers the whole ground of our Christian conduct. So shall we build our piety, as Israel built the Temple; without, the costliest work that faith could rear; the walls overlaid with gold, each door carved with cherubim and palms and open flowers: each pillar with its chapiters and wreaths; its vessels, its lamps, its censers of the beaten gold of Ophir; a house of God, finished throughout all the parts thereof; but within, the Holy of Holies, where the unseen God dwells alone behind the veil of the heart! (E. A. Washburn, D. D.)

Frivolous use of Scripture

Nothing is more easy than to create a laugh by a grotesque association of some frivolity with the grave and solemn words of Holy Scripture. But surely this is profanity of the worst kind. By this Book the religious life of men is quickened and sustained. It contains the highest revelations of Himself which God has made to man. It directly addresses the conscience and the heart, and all the noblest faculties of our nature, exalting our idea of duty, consoling us in sorrow, redeeming us from sin and despair, and inspiring us with the hope of immortal blessedness and glory. Listening to its words, millions have heard the very voice of God. It is associated with the sanctity of many generations of saints. Such a book cannot be a fit material for the manufacture of jests. For my own part, though I do not accept Dr. Johnson’s well-known saying, that “a man who would make a pun would pick a pocket,” I should be disposed to say that a man who deliberately and consciously uses the words of Christ, of apostles, and of prophets, for mere purposes of merriment, might have chalked a caricature on the wall of the Holy of Holies, or scrawled a witticism on the sepulchre in Joseph’s garden. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Irreverence in prayer

An aged minister told me, says a correspondent of the Morning Star, that when he was a young man, he had, on a certain occasion, been praying in a family, and in his prayer he had made a very frequent and energetic use of the terms “Good God,” and “God Almighty.” At the close of his prayer, a little child, about four years of age, came to his mother and said, “Mother, I don’t like to hear that minister pray.” “Why?” inquired the mother. “Because,” replied the child, “he swears so when he prays.” This reproof from the child broke the minister of swearing when he prayed. Prayer is petition, and no one would use the name of a ruler to whom he was making a petition in as harsh a manner as many use the name of the great God.

Profanity known to God

A coachman, pointing to one of his horses, said to a traveller, “That horse, sir, knows when I swear at him.” “Yes,” replied the traveller; “and so does your Maker.”

Swearer rebuked

Mr. Meikle, a gentleman of eminent piety, was a surgeon at Carnwath, in Scotland. He was once called to attend a gentleman who had been stung in the face by a wasp or bee, and found him very impatient, and swearing, on account of his pain, in great wrath. “Oh, doctor,” said he, “I am in great torment; can you any way help?” “Do not fear,” replied Mr. M., “all will be over in a little while.” Still, however, the gentleman continued to swear, and at length his attendant determined to reprove him. “I see nothing the matter,” said he, “only it might have been in a better place.” “Where might it have been?” asked the sufferer. “Why, on the tip of your tongue.”

Payment for swearing

“What does Satan pay you for swearing?” asked one gentleman of another. “He don’t pay me anything,” was the reply. “Well you work cheap--to lay aside the character of a gentleman; to inflict so much pain on your friends and civil people; to suffer; and, lastly, to risk your own precious soul, and for nothing--you certainly do work cheap, very cheap indeed.”

Satanic swearing

A thoughtless, conceited young man was boasting of the number of languages he knew. In French he was a complete Parisian; Spanish and Portuguese were as familiar to him as his old gloves. In Italy he had passed for a native. Now and then he popped out an oath, swearing that he thought he knew almost all languages. An elderly man, who had listened attentively to his address, suddenly stopped him by asking him if he were at all acquainted with “the language of Canaan.” (J. Cope.)

Swearing reproved

A good old man was once in company with a gentleman, who occasionally introduced into conversation the words “devil, deuce,” etc., and who at last took the name of God in vain. “Stop, sir,” said the old man, “I said nothing while you only used freedoms with the name of your own master, but I insist upon it that you shall use no freedoms with the name of mine.”

A wise prohibition

It is interesting to know that when St. Paul’s Cathedral was in building, Sir Christopher Wren, the architect, caused a printed notice to be affixed to the scaffolding, threatening with instant dismissal any workman guilty of swearing within those sacred precincts.

Profanity subjects the soul to Satan

In ancient feudal times, when a man paid a small “peppercorn rent” to the landlord, it was in token of submission. It was no onerous burden. But when the “landholder” fell to fighting with some neighbouring chief or baron, or when he was summoned by the king to join the royal army into France, the “peppercorn submission” brought its corresponding penalty and danger. The payee was bound to follow in the baron’s train, to make any sacrifices required by the landholder, and encounter any dangers, even death, in his service. Such are “profane expressions.” They are tokens of submission to Satan, and the prince of darkness does not scruple to make the utterers testify their allegiance whenever it suits him. Oaths are light things. Blasphemies are rents too readily paid to the “prince of this world”; but they bring in their train heavy responsibilities from which there is no escape, except by sincere repentance.

Profanity

The perniciousness of profanity is its vulgarizing names that should never be uttered save with reverence and awe. The old monks, in their cloistered work on sacred manuscripts, wiped the pen and breathed an invocation before writing the name of the Most High. A great deal of the religious apathy of our day is the natural recoil of the heart from language about Deity and sacred things which shocks the sensibilities and makes piety seem akin to blasphemy.

Reverence for God’s name

That great and good man, the Hon. Robert Boyle, a nobleman, a statesman, and an author, during his lifetime, before he ever said the name of God, always made a hush, a pause!

A signal light

I once knew a sweet little girl called Mary. Her papa was the captain of a big ship, and sometimes the went with him to sea, and it was on one of these trips that the incident, of which I am going to tell you, happened. One day she sat on a coil of rope, watching old Jim clean the signal lamps. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I am trimming the signal lamps, miss,” said old Jim. “What are they for?” asked Mary. “To keep other ships from running into us, miss; if we do not hang out our lights, we might be wrecked.” Mary watched him for some time, and then she ran away and seemed to forget all about the signal lights; but she did, not, as was afterwards shown. The next day she came to watch old Jim trim the lamps, and after he had seated her on the coil of rope, he turned to do his work. Just then the wind carried away one of his cloths, and old Jim began to swear awfully. Mary slipped from her place and ran into the cabin; but she soon came back, and put a folded paper into his hand. Old Jim opened it, and there, printed in large letters--for Mary was too young to write--were these words: “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.” The old man looked into her face, and asked: “What is this, Miss Mary?” “It is a signal light, please. I saw that a bad ship was running against you because you did not have your signal lights hung out, so I thought you had forgotten it,” said Mary. Old Jim bowed his head and wept like a little child. At last he said: “You are right, missy. I had forgotten it. My mother taught me that very commandment when I was no bigger than you; and for the future I will hang out my signal lights, for I might be quite wrecked by that bad ship, as you call these oaths.” Old Jim has a large Bible now, which Mary gave him, and on the cover he has painted: “Signal lights for souls bound for heaven.” (Great Thoughts.)

Clothed with cursing

I remember, some time since, hearing of a rich man who had a large plantation. He was the most terribly profane man that had ever been known in the neighbourhood. He could hardly speak a word on any subject without mingling it with oaths. It was perfectly shocking to hear him speak. At length he was seized with a stroke of something like paralysis. This left him in good health, only he had lost the use of his limbs. And the remarkable thing about it was, that the power of speech was taken away from him, except that he could still swear. Profane words were all that he could utter. He used to be carried about his plantation by his servants in a sort of hand-carriage, and the only words that ever felt from his lips were dreadful oaths and curses. How awful this must have been! What a terrible illustration it affords of that passage of Scripture in which God says that because the wicked “love cursing it shall come into their bones like oil, and they shall clothe themselves with cursing like a garment!” (Psalms 109:17-19) Surely this man was so clothed. A dreadful garment it must have been to wear!

A just reproof

As the Rev. Dr. Gifford was one day showing the British Museum to some strangers, he was much shocked by the profane language of a young gentleman belonging to the party. Taking down an ancient copy of the Septuagint, he showed it to the youth, who, on seeing it, exclaimed, “Oh! I can read this.” “Then,” said the doctors “read that passage,” pointing to the Third Commandment.


Verses 8-11

Exodus 20:8-11

Remember the Sabbath Day.

The Fourth Commandment

I. The first word of the Fourth Commandment reminds us that the Sabbath Day was already established among the Israelites when the law was delivered on Sinai. That law created nothing. It preserved and enforced what God had already taught His people to observe by another method than that of formal decrees.

II. In this Commandment work is enjoined, just as much as rest is enjoined. Man’s sin has turned work into a curse. God has redeemed and restored work into a blessing by uniting it again to the rest with which, in His Divine original order, it was associated.

III. God rests; therefore he would have man rest. God works; therefore He would have man work. Man cannot rest truly unless he remembers his relation to God, who rests.

IV. It is not wonderful that the Jews after the Captivity, as they had been schooled by a long discipline into an understanding of the meaning of the Second Commandment, so had learnt also to appreciate in some degree the worth of the Fourth. Nehemiah speaks frequently and with great emphasis of the Sabbath as a gift of God which their fathers had lightly esteemed, and which the new generation was bound most fondly to cherish. His words and acts were abused by the Jews who lived between his age and that of our Lord’s nativity, and when Christ came, the Sabbath itself, all its human graciousness, all its Divine reasonableness, were becoming each day more obscured.

V. Jesus, as the Mediator, declared Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and proved Himself to be so by turning what the Jews made a curse into a blessing. He asserted the true glory of the Sabbath Day in asserting the mystery of His own relation to God and to His creatures. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

The Jewish Sabbath

1. The Jewish Sabbath was founded on a definite Divine command.

2. The particular day which was to be kept as a Sabbath was authoritatively determined.

3. The purpose of the day was expressly defined.

4. The manner in which the Sabbath was to be kept was very distinctly stated.

5. The sanction which defended the law of the Sabbath was most severe. The only similarity between the Lord’s Day and the Jewish Sabbath is that both recur once a week, and that both are religious festivals. To the idea of the Jewish Sabbath rest was essential, worship was an accident; to the idea of the Christian Sunday worship is essential, rest an accident. The observance of Sunday as a religious institution is a question of privilege, not of duty. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

The Sabbath Day

I. The design of the Sabbath.

1. A day of rest from physical toil.

2. A day of holy employment. “Keep it holy.” (See also Deuteronomy 5:12, Isaiah 58:13-14). It is to be a day of rest, but not a day of idleness.

II. What is the practical religious value of the Sabbath?

1. It is a perpetual reminder of spiritual things.

2. It is a great conservative of good, and a powerful barrier against evil.

III. The duty and privilege of keeping this day.

1. It is a duty we owe to God. He made the Sabbath. He commands us to keep it.

2. It is a duty we owe to ourselves. As a day of rest it is essential to the highest condition of physical health. As a day of holy meditation and worship, it is essential to our spiritual education and growth.

3. It is a duty we owe to our fellow-men. You cannot violate the Sabbath without influencing your brother to do the same. (George Brooks.)

The Fourth Commandment

This Commandment holds a remarkable position in the Decalogue. It lies between those which touch our duty to God and those which touch our duty to man. It belongs to both branches of the Decalogue. Its position tells us that a breach of the Sabbath is a direct insult to God, and is also a direct injury to man, weakening the power of a day which is eminently a blessing to the human race. This remarkable position of the Sabbath Commandment is proof incontrovertible of its binding character for all men in all time. There are two expressions in the command itself which testify to this universality of application.

1. “Remember the Sabbath Day.” It is no new institution which you are now to learn about for the first, but it is an old observance, not Israelitish, but human, Noachic, and Adamic, which you, God’s Israel, are to remember, that you may sustain it in its purity, just as you are to sustain a true and spiritual worship as against idolatry.

2. The other expression which proves the universality of its application (in addition to its very position in the Decalogue) is the reason given for the Divine order--because in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore Jehovah blessed the Sabbath Day and hallowed it.” The reason began at the creation, and therefore the observance began at the creation.

I. What is the idea of the Sabbath? It had its origin in God’s resting on that day.

II. What is its proper observance? God has given it His own holy name--“The Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” and the Holy Spirit calls it “the Lord’s Day,” in the New Testament. This fact shows us that its rightful observance must have regard to our right relation to God. The soul must be turned Godward. (H. Crosby, D.D.)

The Sabbath cheerful and holy

Let us always make the Sabbath a cheerful day, as Phariseeism does not, and let us always make it a holy day, as worldliness does not. (H. Crosby, D. D.)

Sunday and suicide

There is no one thing that kills, exhausts, or sends to the lunatic asylum more of the active and strong men of this country (United States) than the breach of the Fourth Commandment.

1. “He kept no Sunday.” You may safely write that epitaph over hundreds of graves that will be dug this year for ambitious, prosperous, influential men, cut off in the midst of the race of life. There are suicides in scores where no apparent cause exists for what the newspapers call “the rash act.” The man was doing well; his business was prospering; his family relations were pleasant and affectionate.

2. No law of God is arbitrary. It is for man’s good that God has established all His statutes. Clear as that truth is about them all, it is especially clear about the day of rest.

3. As a matter of fact, there is no rest, no relaxation, so utter as that offered by a well-kept Sunday. There is perfect rest and quiet for the body, and, to the worker with his hands, that may be the main point. But there is far more than this. The mind is called away from all its cares and all its common vulgar interests. The man is called to rise out of the changing into the unchanging, out of the temporary into the eternal, out of the low into the infinitely lofty, out of the strife into the deep calm of the eternal peace.

4. It is the neglect of this provision of God that is the root-cause of the deaths and suicides from overwork, which shock us almost daily in the current items of news.

5. We are not placing this thing on the highest motive, because the highest motive is powerless to touch the transgressors. We only say the transgression does not pay. And by working on Sunday we do not mean only the formal going to the office or counting-room. We mean the carrying a man’s business about with him on that day; the taking it home and poisoning the fireside with it; the taking it to church and poisoning the church with it. (Bp. H. M. Thompson.)

The manner of keeping the Sabbath

I. Let us first take the negative view.

1. We are forbidden to do any work upon the Sabbath.

2. We are forbidden to make the Sabbath a day of pleasure (Isaiah 58:13-14).

3. The Sabbath is not to be a day of sloth.

II. Notice the positive duties implied in keeping the Sabbath holy.

1. Portions of the Sabbath should be devoted to public religious worship.

2. Portions of the Sabbath are due to special private devotion.

3. Portions of the Sabbath should be devoted to religious reading.

4. A portion of the Sabbath is very properly adjudged to Sunday-school work.

5. What remains of the Sabbath, deducting the time for necessary temporal cares, should be devoted to family religion. (H. Winslow.)

The Fourth Commandment

I. Duties enjoined.

1. The duty of work. This is man’s normal condition.

2. The duty of rest. The seventh day is to be a day of rest for the body, jaded with the toils of the week: a day of rest for the mind, jaded with the cares of the week: a day of rest for the heart, jaded with the griefs of the week.

3. The duty of worship. “Keep it holy.” The Sabbath, if I may so say, is God’s weekly toll on mankind, the periodical tribute which He demands in token of human fealty.

II. Reason assigned.

1. Cessation of creative process.

2. The Creator’s resting. Holy, blessed, festal contemplation.

3. The Creator’s sanctification of the seventh day.

III. Christ’s doctrine of the sabbath (see Mark 2:23-28.)

1. Man himself is the basis of the Sabbath.

2. Man is greater than the Sabbath. It is to be used as a means, not as an end. Man is more sacred than ordinances.

IV. True method of keeping the Sabbath. It is to be kept in such a way as will unfold man heavenward the most thoroughly, totally, symmetrically. The Sabbath being made for man, he must use it religiously; for the faculty of worship is man’s chief definition. But full unfolding of man’s spiritual nature is possible only in the sphere of edification--that is, society building. The Sabbath summons man to conjugate life in a new mood and tense; but still in the active voice. And here the Son of Man is our teacher and blessed model. No one truly keeps the Sabbath unless he keeps it as the Divine Man kept it: and He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil. Indeed, I cannot conceive how a young man can unfold himself more thoroughly or symmetrically than by devoting himself vigorously to study during the week, and then setting apart Sunday as a day of restful worship, first praising God in His sanctuary, and then praising Him in works of mercy, visiting the sick, comforting the sorrowful, teaching the ignorant, reclaiming the outcast.

V. Change of day. Saturday was the Sabbath of nature, Sunday is the Sabbath of grace; Saturday the Sabbath of a rejected, executed, entombed Jesus, Sunday the Sabbath of a risen, exalted, triumphant Christ; Saturday Creator’s day, Sunday Redeemer’s day.

VI. Lastly: Jesus Christ Himself is our Sabbath, alike its origin, its meaning, and its end. In fact, the final cause of the Sabbath is to sabbatize each day and make all life sacramental. And Jesus Christ being our true Sabbath, Jesus Christ is also our true rest, even the spirit’s everlasting Eden. (G. D. Boardman.)

The Sabbath

I. Its perpetual obligation.

1. Its early Divine institution.

2. The uninterrupted observance of this day.

3. Though the day be changed under the Christian dispensation, the obligation of it remains unaltered.

4. God has eminently honoured and signally blessed this day in every age of time. “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

II. The manner of its observance.

1. This requires, first, that we should diligently prepare for its approach.

2. We must carefully watch against the profanation of it.

3. There is required by this command an entire cessation from secular and worldly occupations.

4. The observation of the Sabbath requires the religious appropriation and occupation of all its hours.

5. We should guard against the two extremes, of excessive rigour on the one hand, and of excessive relaxation on the other hand, in our regard to this sacred institution. (G. Clayton.)

The Sabbath under the law of Moses

I. The endeavour to displace the Fourth Commandment is an open invasion of the first principles both of faith and obedience. For everything conspires to cast an importance around the Ten Commandments peculiar to themselves. As the First command fixes the object of worship, and the Second the means, and the Third the reverential manner, so the Fourth determines the time.

II. But we proceed to show, that even when the ceremonial usages were in their greatest vigour, the Sabbath appeared high and distinct above them. For first, after the record of the promulgation of the Decalogue, three chapters of judicial statutes follow; but in the midst of these, the people are reminded of the essential importance of the Sabbath, in a manner quite distinct and peculiar. Again, after six chapters more concerning the tabernacle and its various services and sacrifices, the whole communication of the forty days’ abode on the mount is concluded with a re-inculcation of the Sabbathrest, in a manner the most solemn and affecting.

III. But proceed we to show that, in the latter ages of the Jewish Church, the weekly Sabbath was insisted upon by the prophets as of essential moral obligation, and as destined to form a part of the gospel dispensation.

IV. Let us then turn from these discussions to some practical points which may affect our hearts.

1. Let us learn to give to the holy day of rest that prominency in our esteem which Moses was instructed to give it in his dispensation.

2. And to this end, let us imbibe the spirit of love and delight in the worship of God, which the Psalms and Prophets display.

3. But add to these motives the awful indignation of Almighty God against the contempt of His name and His day. (D. Wilson, M. A.)

The pearl of days

The Sabbath was spoken of as the “Prince and Sovereign of Days” by a good man, long ago. It might be called the “King of days.” I wish I could get you to love it, so that, instead of it being a dull, wearisome day, and as coming after Saturday, just like passing out of bright sunshine into a dark night--or out of a palace into a prison, it should be wearied for, all the week round, and received with songs of welcome when it comes. The Sabbath comes to us as a holy visitant--as a messenger of love. It bears its message in its very name--Rest.

I. Reasons for observing the Sabbath.

1. We have God’s command. This of itself should be enough for us.

2. We have God’s example. He does Himself what He bids us do.

3. God claims it as His own day. Here is His own direction--“Not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words, on My holy day.”

4. God is pleased and honoured by the keeping of it.

5. It is a memorial of a completed creation work and of Christ’s resurrection. In an ironmonger’s shop in a country town in Scotland, the shopkeeper sat at his desk at the window. A young apprentice in the cellar below had stuck the candle which he carried in a barrel of gunpowder; the gunpowder exploded, the shop window was blown out, and the good man who sat in it was carried in the current of air to the top of the street, and there landed safely on his feet, while the apprentice was blown to pieces. It was such a wonderful deliverance that the ironmonger observed the day as a day of prayer and thanksgiving to the end of his life. Is it difficult to understand how he should have done so? And shall we not gladly commemorate our deliverance--our emancipation--the announcement that the sinner’s salvation was complete, by the rising of Jesus from the dead? Shall we ever suffer ourselves to be deprived of a day that has such happy and hallowed associations?

Sabbath-breaking is a sin

This Commandment is more than the setting forth of a need of our nature, more than advice for our own good. It is a command of God. Breaking the Sabbath is therefore more than an error, more than a mistake. It is a sin.

1. It is a sin because it contemns the authority of God, and that is the essence of all sin.

2. It is a sin further against the love of God. As a father invites his children home to a family gathering because he loves to have them in his presence, so God would have us, His children, come to Him on the Sabbath day because He loves us.

3. It is a sin further against our higher nature. God calls us to remember our spiritual nature and to guard against degrading ourselves to mere sensual beings. (F. S. Schenck.)

Some blessings of the rest day

Here, as everywhere, in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward. There is great blessedness that comes from keeping the rest day holy--to the one keeping it so, and to his fellow-men.

I. Consider the blessings to our fellow-men.

1. The holy or religious observance of the day bestows the rest day upon mankind. The unbelieving world may rail against God and His Church, but while it does so it is receiving from Him through the Church the rich gift of the only rest day it has from grinding labour.

2. The religious observance of the day also preaches a powerful though silent sermon to the non-church-goer, telling him he is a man, not a beast of burden; that there is a God whom he should worship; that there is an eternal life beyond this fleeting one for which he should prepare.

3. The religious observance of the day does much also to educate the conscience of a community.

4. The religious observance of the day further secures the continuance and progress of Christianity in the world. The procession of secular days bears rich material gifts to man. The Holy day spreads heaven’s glories over the earth.

II. The religious observance of the day brings also rich blessing to the one so observing it.

1. Communion with God, to refresh and strengthen the soul.

2. A clear view of our heavenly home, the eternal holy rest from all this world’s toil and care. (F. S. Schenck.)

Reasons for observing the Sabbath

I. The first consideration which I shall suggest is, that if the Sabbath is abolished, the Christian religion will be abolished with it. The question whether this day is to be observed or desecrated, is just a question of life and death in regard to Christianity. In former generations, attempts were made to destroy the gospel by the sword and the fagot; but all such attempts were foiled. Imperial power attempted to crush it; but imperial power found its arm too weak to contend with God. Argument and sophistry were then employed; ridicule lent its aid, and contempt pointed the finger of scorn; but all was in vain. Christianity survived all these, and rose with augmented power and more resplendent beauty--and would do so to the end of time. But there is one weapon which the enemy has employed to destroy Christianity, and to drive it from the world, which has never been employed but with signal success. It is the attempt to corrupt the Christian Sabbath; to make it a day of festivity; to cause Christians to feel that its sacred and rigid obligation has ceased; to induce them on that day to mingle in the scenes of pleasure, or the exciting plans of ambition. The “Book of Sports,” did more to destroy Christianity than all the ten persecutions of the Roman Emperors; and the views of the second Charles and his court about the Lord’s-day, tended more to drive religion from the British nation than all the fires that were enkindled by Mary.

II. The second reason why this subject demands now the special attention of Christians is, that if the Sabbath is not regarded as holy time, it will be regarded as pastime; if not a day sacred to devotion, it will be a day of recreation, of pleasure, of licentiousness. The Sabbath is not essentially an arbitrary appointment, for it is required in the very nature of the animal economy that there should be periodical seasons of relaxation. We must have periodical rest in all the functions of our nature. Buonaparte once passed three entire days and nights without sleep, but he could no longer contend against a great law of nature, and sank to sleep on his horse. There is not a muscle in the animal economy that does not demand rest after effort, that will not have it. If it is not granted voluntarily, it will be taken. In demanding, therefore, that the animal and mental economy should be allowed a day of periodical repose, God has acted in accordance with a great law of nature.

III. A third reason why this subject demands the attention of Christians in a special manner now is, that there is a state of things in this land that is tending to obliterate the Sabbath altogether. The Sabbath has more enemies in this land than the Lord’s Supper, than baptism, than the Bible, than all the other institutions of religion put together. At the same time it is more difficult to meet the enemy here than anywhere else--for we come in conflict not with argument, but with interest, and pleasure, and the love of indulgence, and of gain. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

The holy day

The old principles of Mosaism, I contend, are doing duty still under higher forces in the new life in Christ. They are not abolished, only transformed. The idea of circumcision has been elevated and spiritualized into membership of the body of Christ with baptism as the sign and seal; and the whole sacrificial system has been transfigured into the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the Holy Communion, etc. It seems, therefore, natural to expect that so prominent and important a part of the law as the principle of devoting time to God would reappear also in a higher but yet definite form as these parts have done, that is, in fact, in the form of the Lord’s Day. There are two considerations which strongly support this expectation.

1. There is in the Commandment more than a Jewish ordinance. It expresses a physical law--a law of nature--and it does so most precisely. How all this suggests the beneficence of Jehovah!

2. The second suggestive consideration is the real purpose of the Sabbath as given to the slave-nation. That purpose was beneficent, from every point of view. Do you not see that in a time when men as men had no rights, this law brought a right of rest to the most helpless and defenceless? Do you not see that it imposed a check upon the greed and rapacious selfishness which is natural to those who have their fellow-creatures under their power? Without this law where would the poor slaves have been? (W. Senior, B. A.)

Reason for change of day

Now there is a grand reason for changing of the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, because this puts us in mind of the “mystery of our redemption by Christ.” Great was the work of creation, but greater was the work of redemption. As it was said, “the glory of the second temple was greater than the glory of the first temple”; so the glory of the redemption was greater than the glory of the creation. Great wisdom was seen in curiously making us, but more miraculous wisdom in saving us. Great power was seen in bringing us out of nothing, but greater power in helping us when we were worse than nothing. It cost more to redeem us than to create us. In the creation there was but “speaking a word”; in the redeeming us, there was shedding of blood. In the creation God gave us ourselves; in the redemption He gave us Himself. By creation, we have a life in Adam; by redemption, we have a life in Christ. By creation, we had a right to an earthly paradise; by redemption, we have a title to an heavenly kingdom. So that well Christ might change the seventh day of the week into the first, because this day puts us in mind of our redemption, which is a more glorious work than the creation. (T. Watson.)

Honouring the Sabbath

Dr. Edward W. Hitchcock says: “While he was minister of the American Chapel in Paris, General Grant was invited by the President of the Republic of France to occupy the grand stand at ‘Le Grand Prix,’ the great day of the races, which comes on Sunday. Such an invitation from the chief magistrate of a great nation is an honour which is almost a command. But General Grant, replying in a note to the President, said in substance, ‘It is not in accordance with the custom of my countrymen, or with the spirit of my religion, to spend Sunday in this way. I beg that you will permit me to decline the honour.’ Instead of accepting the invitation, he attended public worship at the American Chapel.”

Sabbath breakers reproved

The late Dr. Lockhart of the College Church, Glasgow, when travelling in England, was sojourning at an inn when the Sabbath came round. On entering the public-room, and about to set out for church, he found two gentlemen preparing for a game of chess. He addressed them in words to this affect, “Gentlemen, have you locked up your portmanteaus carefully?” “No! What! are there thieves in this house?” “I do not say that,” replied the doctor, “only I was thinking that if the waiter comes in and finds you making free with the Fourth Commandment, he may think of making free with the Eighth.” The gentlemen said there was something in that, and so laid aside their game.

Benefit of keeping the Sabbath

In the “Life of Frank Buckland,” the eminent naturalist, who devoted himself so thoroughly to the scientific and practical study of the river and sea fisheries of Great Britain, there is the following testimony to the value of Sunday rest:--March, 1866. I am now working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then a bit in the evening--fourteen hours a day; but, thank God, it does not hurt me. I should, however, collapse if it were not for Sunday. The machinery has time to get cool, the mill-wheel ceases to patter the water, the mill-head is ponded up, and the superfluous water let off by an easy, quiet current, which leads to things above.”

Result of a weekly rest

“Tell me,” said a gentleman, addressing a clean, tidy cabman, how is it that some of the men on the stand look so smart on a Monday morning--they have clean shirts, and are much happier-looking than the other men; and their horses are sprightlier, too. What is the cause of the contrast?” “Oh, they are six-day men, sir. They have green plates; their cabs don’t run on Sundays; both men and horses have now a weekly rest. That’s the reason why they are not jaded like the others, sir.”

Sabbath kept under difficulties

The Mayflower, a name now immortal, had crossed the ocean. It had borne its hundred passengers over the vast deep, and after a perilous voyage had reached the bleak shores of New England, in the beginning of winter. The spot which was to furnish a home and a burial-place was now to be selected. The shallop was unshipped, but needed repairs, and sixteen weary days elapsed before it was ready for service. Amidst ice and snow it was then sent out, with some half-a-dozen pilgrims, to find a suitable place where to land. The spray of the sea, says the historian, froze on them, and made their clothes like coats of iron. Five days they wandered about, searching in vain for a suitable landing-place. A storm came on, the snow and the rain fell, the sea swelled, the rudder broke, the mast and the sail fell overboard. In this storm and cold, without a tent, a house, or the shelter of a rock, the Christian Sabbath approached, the day which they regarded as holy unto God, a day on which they were not to “do any work.” What should be done? As the evening before the Sabbath drew on, they pushed over the surf, entered a fair sound, sheltered themselves under the lee of a rise of land, kindled a fire, and on that little island they spent the day in the solemn worship of their Maker. On the next day their feet touched the rock, now sacred as the place of the landing of the pilgrims. Nothing more strikingly marks the character of this people than this act, and I do not know that I could refer to a better illustration, even in their history, showing that theirs was the religion of principle, and that this religion made them what they were. (A. Barnes.)

Grief at profanation of the Sabbath

Truly it should be a matter of grief to us to see so much Sabbath profanation. When one of Darius’ eunuchs saw Alexander setting his feet on a rich table of Darius’, he fell a-weeping; Alexander asked him why he wept? He said it was to see the table which his master so highly esteemed to be now made a footstool. So we may weep to see the Sabbath, which God so highly esteems, and has so honoured and blessed, made a footstool, and trampled upon by the feet of sinners. (T. Watson.)

Heaven seen on the Sabbath

A gentleman was once directing the attention of his friend to the objects of interest visible from his observatory. “Just beyond the river,” he said, “is a city which on the Sabbath Day can be distinctly seen.” “Why,” asked the friend, “can it be better seen on the Sabbath than on other days?” “Because,” was the reply, “on other days the smoke from its chimneys settles about the city and hides it from sight; but on the Sabbath, when the factories are still and the smoke is gone, the city, with its glittering spires, is clearly seen.” So on the Sabbath, when the smoke and dust of earth and its cares have settled away, through the clear transparent air can be distinctly seen the City of God and the pathway leading thither. (P. B. Davis.)

Bible law recognized

A motion was once made in the House of Commons for raising and embodying the militia, and, for the purpose of saving time, to exercise them on the Sabbath. When the resolution was about to pass, an old gentleman stood up, and said, “Mr. Speaker, I have one objection to make to this; I believe in an old book called the Bible.” The members looked at one another, and the motion was dropped.

The Sabbath appointed by God

The Governor Turnusrupis once asked Rabbi Akiba, “What is this day you call the Sabbath, more than any other day?” The Rabbi responded, “What art thou, more than any other person?” “I am superior to others,” he replied, “because the Emperor has appointed me governor over them.” Then said Akiba, “The Lord our God, who is greater than your Emperor, has appointed the Sabbath day to be holier than the other days.” (Talmud.)

Honouring the Sabbath

When King George III. was repairing his palace at Kew, one of the workmen, a pious man, was particularly noticed by His Majesty, and he often held conversations with him upon serious subjects. One Monday morning the king went as usual to watch the progress of the work, and not seeing this man in his customary place, inquired the reason of his absence. He was answered evasively, and for some time the other workmen avoided telling His Majesty the truth; at last, however, upon being more strictly interrogated, they acknowledged that, not having been able to complete a particular job on the Saturday night, they had returned to finish it on the following morning. This man alone had refused to comply, because he considered it a violation of the Christian Sabbath; anal in consequence of what they called his obstinacy, he had been dismissed entirely from his employment. “Call him back immediately,” exclaimed the good King; “the man who refused doing his ordinary work on the Lord’s Day is the man for me. Let him be sent for.” The man was accordingly replaced, and the King ever after showed him particular favour.


Verse 12

Exodus 20:12

Honour thy father and thy mother.

The Fifth Commandment

I. The relationship in which we stand to our parents, a relationship based upon the fact that we owe our existence to them, that we are made in their image, that for so long a time we depend on them for the actual maintenance of life, and that, as the necessary result of all this, we are completely under their authority during childhood. This relationship is naturally made the highest symbol of our relationship to God Himself.

II. Honouring our parents includes respect, love, and obedience, as long as childhood and youth continue, and the gradual modification and transformation of these affections and duties into higher forms as manhood and womanhood draw on.

III. The promise attached to the Commandment is a promise of prolonged national stability. St. Paul, slightly changing its form, makes it a promise of long life to individuals. Common experience justifies the change.

IV. There is one consideration that may induce us to obey this Commandment which does not belong to the other nine: the time will come when it will be no longer possible for us to obey it. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

The duties of youth

I. Consider various ways in which a man may honour his father and mother.

1. By doing his best in the way of self-improvement.

2. By habits of care and frugality.

3. By keeping himself in soberness, temperance, and chastity.

II. Honour to parents is only the principal and most important application of a general principle. The apostle bids us honour all men, and again, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

III. From the conception of love due to father and mother we rise to the conception of the love due to God. By what heavenly process shall we melt the cold, hard law which forbids idolatry, into the sweet, gentle principle of heart-worship and love? I believe that in this respect the First Commandment is much indebted to the Second, which is like unto it, “Honour thy father.” And so, when God condescends to call Himself our Father, the clouds which conceal Him from our sight seem to break and vanish, and we feel that we can love and houour Him, not merely acknowledge Him, and refuse to accept others besides Him: not merely fear Him, as one too powerful to be safely set at naught; not merely philosophize about Him, and try to express His Infinite Being in some scientific formula of human words. No; but love Him as a father ought to be loved--with all our hearts, and souls, and strength. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)

A promise and a duty

I. The promise. Expanded in Deuteronomy 5:16. The promise is of a long and prosperous life. It is so plain that it can admit of no other interpretation. The only question can be, “Is it an individual or a national life that is here meant?” But this is answered, first, by noticing that the command can only be kept by an individual person; and by a nation only as a number of individuals; and hence, as the command is only addressed to the individual, the prolongation of the individual life must be intended. The “thy” of “thy days” must refer to the same person as the “thy”of “thy father and thy mother.” It is answered, secondly, that a long national career of prosperity presupposes and implies a goodly degree of personal longevity and prosperity, and that the latter is a cause of the former, while the former could in no sense be considered a cause of the latter.

II. The nature of the duty enjoined, The word “cabbed” is very strong; it strictly means “load with honour,” and is often used in reference to the Deity. Obedience is only one of the more prominent practical forms of this honour. The honour strikes deeper than mere obedience--it touches the heart, it bespeaks the affections. It is a reverence inwoven in the very nature, connected with all the chords of being, and so coming to the surface in obedience and outward respect. We notice--

1. That the command is not “Honour thy father and thy mother when they do right.” Our parents, like ourselves, are frail, and may commit error. If their error absolved their children from respect, there could be no filial piety in the world. While the honour due to parents will not go to wicked or foolish lengths, it will go to all reasonable and allowable lengths. It will submit to inconvenience and loss; it will hold its private judgment of what is better in abeyance; it will even keep its own clearly superior wisdom subject to the parental prejudice. So long as conformity to the views and expressed wishes of parents does not harm any third party, a right respect for father and mother will gracefully yield and lay the self-denial on the altar of filial piety.

2. The command is not, “Honour thy father and thy mother while thou art a little child.” Many act as if they had no parents after they had reached their full stature, and some use this theory even earlier. Now, if to anybody this command is not given, it is to the little child, for in his case nature and necessity teach some degree of obedience and respect to parents, and hence the command is comparatively unnecessary to these.

III. Lastly I would ask if there is not need that God’s will in this matter be often rehearsed in our ears. I would say not to little children, “Be obedient to your parents,” but rather to parents, “Make your children obedient.” It is all in your power. If you indulge your little ones in little irreverences and little disobediences because it looks “so cunning,” and foolish friends urge you to the dangerous pastime, then you will have the little disobedient children grow to be big disobedient children, and they will bring down your grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Or if, through sheer carelessness and selfish laziness, you avoid the active watchfulness and discipline that are necessary to ensure obedience, and to promote an obedient habit, you will obtain the same disastrous result. Beware, too, how, in your anxiety to have your boy a man before the time, you consent to his consequential swagger at sixteen, and furnish him with a night-key as a help to independence, in which you are destroying the bonds of dutiful humility and respectful submission with which God bound him to you to preserve. It is in this way I would apply the Fifth Commandment to young children through the parents, who are responsible before God and man. But I also make the special application of the text to children of maturer growth. Let our continued reverence for parent or parents still living, be of itself a glorious example, deeply written on the thoughts and future memories of your own children. Surround the old age which adorns and honours your household with the tribute of your assiduous care, jealous of its comfort and its dignity, and cover its defects with the mantle, not of your charity, but of your filial love and sympathy. (H. Crosby, D. D.)

The Fifth Commandment

I. The Divine mandate.

1. It is not an arbitrary edict; but a natural principle, having its constitutional basis in the very essence of the relation which subsists between parents and children. The parent is to his child, in a certain sense, the representative and symbol of God. It is a significant fact that the Romans denoted dutifulness to the gods and dutifulness to parents by the same word, namely, pietas. Allegiance, or amenability to law, this is a constitutional, constituent part of manhood. And it is the parent (father and mother equally) who is the natural symbol of authority. Parentage, in simple virtue of its being parentage, is inherently imperative; it is of the very essence of parentage that it is constitutively and rightfully authoritative. Authorhood, genealogically as well as etymologically, is the sire of authority.

2. But you interrupt me with a question, “Must the child always obey his parents?” In the sphere of fundamental moral obligations, my father and I stand on an equality before God; in this sphere he has no more right to command me than I have to command him. But in the sphere of incidental, shifting duties, my father is over me, and has a right to command me.

II. The Divine promise. Nothing is more certain, at least in a physiological way, than this: Respect for parental authority tends to longevity; filial reverence is itself an admirable hygiene. What was it that gave to Rome its long-continued tremendous power and majesty? It was the patria potestas, or paternal authority, before which every Roman youth unquestioningly bowed; for loyalty is the sire of royalty. Even China herself, although her civilization was long ago arrested and petrified, owes, I doubt not, her preservation through millenniums to the fealty of her children to their ancestral commandments and traditions.

III. The parent is a symbol of the State. What the parent is to the child, that the State in many particulars is to the citizen, only vastly augmented. In fact, no sooner is the infant born than he enters the jurisdiction of law. As soon as he is able to notice relations and reason about them, so soon does he perceive that he is under authority. One of the first lessons he learns is this: There are some things which he must do, and some things which he must not do; and these commands and prohibitions awaken the ideas of law and subordination. As he grows older, these ideas become more vivid and dominant. And, finally, when he leaves home to take his position as a member of society, he finds that the authority which had hitherto resided in his parents has been transferred to the State. Accordingly, parental authority is the grand, divinely-appointed educator for citizenship. Loyalty to parental law prepares the way for loyalty to civic law.

IV. Our theme is especially pertinent to our own times. There are two tendencies in our land and age which make the discussion of the Fifth Commandment particularly appropriate.

1. And first, our age is an age of innovation. Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years. Therefore do I lift up my voice in behalf of reverend antiquity; doubly reverend, first, because it is antiquity; and secondly, because, being antiquity, it is an oracle.

2. Secondly, our age is an age of anarchy or moral lawlessness.

V. Human parentage is a symbol of the Divine. The Creator ordained it, not so much for man’s sake as for His own sake, meaning that it should serve as the ladder by which we may ascend to His own blessed fatherhood, and joyously feel His paternal sway. And this is majesty indeed. It is told of Daniel Webster that, when a party of distinguished gentlemen were dining with him at his Marsh field home, and one of his guests asked him what single thing had contributed most to his personal success, the famous statesman paused for a moment, and then, with great solemnity, replied, “I think that the most fruitful and elevating influence I have ever felt has been my impression of my obligation to God.” Believe me, no man is ever so sublime as when he is consciously loyal to the King of kings; no man is ever so supremely blessed as when he reverently sits at the feet of the Infinite Father. (G. D. Boardmen.)

The parent and the nation

1. First, Jehovah is the source of all life. “In Him we have our being.” But the parent is God’s means by which He imparts life, the human channel through which Divine life creates. The parent is the shrine of Divine power working creatively. The parent, therefore, as the secondary author of life, is to the child a representative of God. A Divine sacredness, a reflection of the Creator, invests parents through whom life came and grew and was begotten into time. In the mysterious law of life, the link between the child and God is the parent.

2. Secondly, it is true that parental honour is here set down as a statute law of Israel, but have we yet to learn that these “Ten Words” express the profoundest principles of human life? We may rest assured that the honour which God claims for father and mother forms the germ of man at his best and noblest state. Plato would fain have reconstructed the Athenian national life without the family life. Disraeli once said in the House of Commons, “The family is the unit of the nation.” Plato came to the opposite conclusion, viz., the family life is the bane of the nation. He thought it bred selfishness, that it was detrimental to courage, that it narrowed men’s interests and dulled the spirit of patriotism, which prefers country to everything. Blot out reverence for parents and life neither at the beginning nor the end is safe. What is the true wealth of a nation? Is it not patriotic men and virtuous women? But family life alone can produce these; the family life which is overshadowed by a sense of God. Home obedience is the spirit which expands into the fine feeling of the sanctity of law. Parental honour develops into loyalty to the Queen and reverence for the constitution. The love of home and its dear ones grows big with the love of country and with the self-sacrificing energies of patriotism. But so it is also that the decline of home life, the loss of parental and filial feeling, is the sure precursor of national decline. Loyalty, reverence, faith--lose these, and the soul is lost out of the body politic. Its very heart and strength are gone when these are gone. But these are the fruit of home. There are three sources of danger--literary, political, and social.

1. As to the first, all atheistic theories which take away the glory from the head of the parent rob the parental tie of its highest sanctity. When life is only the result of material laws, reverence cannot rise higher than the nature of the fact. A mere flesh and blood relationship will not yield a spiritual feeling. Reverence cannot sustain itself on humanity alone, without God in the background; no, neither reverence for man as man, nor for woman as woman. All lustre dies away, and only commonness remains, barren of the emotions which are the riches of human life.

2. Again, in the sphere of politics it has begun to look wise and liberal, and the only practical thing, to separate civil life from religion, and to draw a line of distinction between Christianity and the nation. The tendency is setting in to look to citizenship in the narrowest sense of commerce and material progress. As certain as moral feeling is the truth of manhood, so certain is it that education or legislation which forgets or ignores the heart is guilty of a fatal defect. When cleverness is divorced from the fear of God, rational selfishness takes the place of honour and faith. It is this radical bias of the heart which will confound all the hopes of mere secularists. Morals need to be sustained in the affections or they are barren precepts only; and they cannot be sustained there except by a power which is able to cope with our radical selfishness and overcome it. We have strong reasons, derived from history and human nature, for believing that Christianity alone is capable of this. The immoral or even the selfish will never think rightly. Stop wrong feeling in one direction, it will burst out in another. Out of the heart are the issues of life. The voice of prudence will never be the law of morals. It is an inference almost as certain as actual fact that the spirit of atheistic communism has had no true home, that is, no true moral training of the heart. It drifted loose from true feeling before it drifted loose from true reasoning, though the two processes were doubtless deeply and inextricably intermingled.

3. But let us turn to the enemies of home in the social sphere. I pass by the danger of conceited superficiality at home. But there is one danger to the English home which must be patent to all, vast, portentous, fearful--the public-house. It swallows up comforts, decencies, and every possibility of religiousness and good citizenship. Materially and morally it works an awful ruin. Homes being deteriorated and parents degraded, then young people abandon them as early as possible. Novelty and sensation are the order of the day. Like a fever it penetrates the very blood. To sit still, to meditate, to enjoy home is getting beyond us. The Church, too, has been compelled to enter into the competition. She must do it to fight against social temptations and moral decline. But let the Church of Christ ever keep her high purpose in view. Let her not degrade herself into a mere rival of sensational amusement. She is the mother of the nation, the ideal of the true home. Let her seek to restore it on the Divine pattern by setting up the family altar and the Word of God. So shall it be well with us, and so will our children live long on the earth. (W. Senior, B. A.)

Parent and child

The command is reflexive. It speaks to the child and says, “Honour”; but in that very word it springs back upon the parent and says, “Be honourable; because in your honourableness your child shall grow reverent.” Of all things in this world the soul of a reverent child is the most beautiful and precious, and therefore of all things in this world honourable parents are the most important. One thing cannot be too strongly insisted on. Parental goodness must be genuine and unaffected, of the heart, flowing easily through the life, in order to evoke reverence. Unreality is sure to be detected by-and-by, and when children find out unreality in those who stand in the place of God--God help them! It never does to give precept instead of example. Children have strangely sensitive natures. They don’t see through pretence, but after a while they do more, they feel it. Brethren, there is much talk of culture now-a-days. I venture to suggest, in the light of the requirements of this Commandment, that the finest culture of all lies within the sphere of home life, the life we seem to be in danger of losing. The finest culture would come from the endeavour to be worthy of a child’s reverence, and trust, and love. What does it need in the parent to be the child’s ideal? It needs the cultivation of truthfulness, and love, and unselfishness. To your own selves, to your own higher nature, you must first be true in order to be true to them. The true heaven of home can only be entered by the parents becoming as their own darling child in innocence, sweetness, and goodness. There is even something higher still. It is through true parentage that the heart of God is best understood, and best realized. He calls Himself “Father,” and likens Himself to a “Mother.” The names are revelations; they are profound instructions. God wants to shine down into His children’s hearts through father and mother. Only two last words.

1. First, to the young unmarried. Some may be thinking of marriage. Well, marriage is of God, but mark the solemn importance with which this Commandment invests it. It is for God also. Marriage means parentage, and parentage involves all this home life, all these influences of which we have been speaking. Are you morally equal to marriage? Are you fit to be a parent when yon think of all that is in this word “honour”? What sort of a mother shall you give your children? What sort of a father?

2. Secondly, a word to the married who have children. It is in the nature of things that parents love their children more than children love their parents. The world is all new, to the young, their interests fly abroad. The parents have more or less gone through that phase of life, and now concentrate their thoughts and hopes upon the children’s welfare. The child turns from the parent after the illusions of life, the parent begins to live over again in the child. The child accepts all the thoughts, and love, and sacrifice as a matter of course, unable, in fact, to realize the hidden life below them. Yes, such times bring moments of almost anguish, but parents see. We are only feeling in our turn what our parents felt before over us. Love on, and knowledge of you and reverence shall surely come to your children. You shall have your reward, it may be, even here, in the protecting love which clings to your old age, and warms and beautifies it, and prolongs the joys of home to the very gates of death, and fills beyond them with visions of union and perfect bliss. But if not here, then when the green sod covers you your reward shall come in tears which melt the soul of your wilful boy back into your arms; in memories which make your wayward girl long passionately to be pressed to a mother’s bosom. Then, I say, your love shall have its due reward. Only be true and faithful, and kind and upright, and father and mother shall be known at last. Be comforted, your love is never lost. (W. Senior, B. A.)

The Fifth Commandment

I. Who is meant here by “father”?

1. The political father, the magistrate. These fathers are to be honoured; for,

These political fathers are to be honoured: “honour the king.” And this honour is to be shown by a civil respect to their persons, and a cheerful submission to their laws, so far as they agree and run parallel with God’s law.

2. There is the grave ancient father who is venerable for old age, whose grey hairs are resembled to the white flowers of the almond-tree. There are fathers for seniority, on whose wrinkled brows, and in the furrows of whose cheeks is pictured the map of old age. These fathers are to be honoured: “thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man.”

3. There are spiritual fathers, as pastors and ministers. The spiritual fathers are to be honoured.

4. There is the economical father, that is, the master; he is the father of the family, therefore Naaman’s servants called their master, “father.” And the centurion calls his servant, “son.”

5. The natural father, the father of the flesh. Honour thy natural father. Children are the vineyard of the parent’s planting, and honour done to the parent is some of the fruit of the vineyard.

II. Wherein are children to show their honour to their parents?

1. In a reverential esteem of their persons.

2. In a careful obedience.

It is but paying the just debt. The young storks, by the instinct of nature, bring meat to the old storks, when by reason of age they are not able to fly. The memory of Eneas was honoured, for carrying his aged father out of Troy when it was on fire. (T. Watson.)

The law of subordination

The importance of this commandment is indicated by

1. Its positive form;

2. Its relative place; and,

3. Its accompanying promise.

I. The scope of this precept embraces an universal law of subordination with corresponding relative duties.

1. A law of subordination is implied in the relation of a child to its parent.

2. This law of subordination is seen in similar relations to be the foundation of society.

3. The law of subordination being thus the broad foundation of society, and the principle on which it is evidently constituted, this Divine order witnesses for the Divine origin of man. Society is now seen to be not a heap of unconnected sand, but a living tree, whose multitudinous branches, meeting in one stem, have their root in Him “from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.”

II. Some of the more prominent applications of this Law. All these include responsibility as well as authority in the superior, and therefore rights as well as duties in the subordinate.

1. There is first the typical ease of parent and child.

2. Closely connected with the relation of parent and child, and even influencing it, is that mutual bond of husband and wife which affords the next great instance of the law of subordination. In her motherhood woman is the equal, in her wifehood the subordinate of man.

3. There are manifold other relations which illustrate the law of subordination--teachers and pupils, seniors and juniors, masters and servants, monarchs and subjects, magistrates and citizens, pastors and people. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

Lessons from the position of the Fifth Commandment

The position of this Commandment among the others has important teachings. It is the centre, the heart of the whole law. Not only has God given us the power to love, but He has placed us in relationships which call this power into exercise and give it right direction, especially the relationship of parents and children. God says here to parents: “As you love your children, so I love you. As you yearn for their responsive love, so I yearn for yours. I am your Father.” God says here to children: “Love your parents, and therein learn to love Me, your Father.” The position of this Commandment among the others has a further teaching of great importance. The place of division into the Two Tables of the Law is somewhat indistinct. It is in this Commandment, but whether it belongs to the First Table, or to the Second, is not quite clear. It certainly treats of duties to man, and so must belong to the Second Table. But hold! May not the parents be regarded as the representatives of God? Then it belongs to the First Table. There is certainly a strong analogy in the relationships. The parents are the nearest cause to the child of its being, its continued existence and its welfare, and this through that wonderful thing God has given them, parental love, which allies them so closely to Himself. We need not try to determine what God seems purposely to have left indistinct. In the indistinctness is the lesson. We are apt to consider duties to man separately, but God joins them indissolubly with duties to Himself. The position of the Commandment in this indistinctness also shows its great importance. Considering it as the last of the First Table we see that in order that children shall become men and women worshipping God in spirit and in truth, they are to be taught and trained by honouring their parents. Considering it as the first of the Second Table, we see that in order that children shall become men and women fulfilling their duties in the various relations of life, they are to be taught and trained by honouring their parents. Both religion and morality have their foundations laid in the home life of children. (F. S. Schenck.)

Reasons for honouring parents

1. The first and greatest is because God commands. His command is written in our own natures and in this holy law. This reason is above all others and embraces all.

2. Such conduct gives the greatest pleasure to our parents, as the reverse conduct brings to their hearts the keenest suffering. We can never fully appreciate all the care and love father and mother have bestowed upon us in infancy and youth, in sickness and in health, and the yearning of their hearts for our love. Surely we should respond to their love--we should seek their happiness.

3. Such conduct is itself excellent. There is something within us that approves it, and condemns the reverse.

4. The Commandment itself contains a reason for obedience, in that it gives a promise, an assurance that in the providence of God obedience to this Commandment will result in long life and prosperity. This sets forth a general rule in the Divine government of the race, promoting stability in social welfare. The child honouring his parents learns self-control, and obedience to law, submission hearty and prompt to rightly constituted authority as a principle of action. Such a child will in all probability become a man of like character. He will obey the laws of health. Entering business he will obey the laws of success, industry, perseverance, economy, enterprise. His powers under full control, he will be also a law-abiding citizen in society. Such character tends to long life and the enjoyment of the gifts of God. A good citizen enjoys the protection of the state not only, but helps to form a condition of social well-being. The child, on the other hand, who is disobedient and disrespectful to his parents, who sets aside their authority and God’s authority, is cultivating a law-breaking character. He will in all probability become a self-willed man, setting at defiance the laws of God and man. Such a life tends to the undermining of health by excesses, to the waste of property by abuse, to the running into dangers recklessly, and to the overthrow of social well-being. Such a character tends to shorten life and to forfeit the gifts of God. (F. S. Schenck.)

Forbearance towards erring parents

How is a religious son or daughter to act towards an irreligious parent? To answer that question in, detail would require a long discourse. Circumstances sometimes make the duty of a child very perplexing. When a father comes home drunk three times a week, violently abuses his daughter who opens the door for him half dead with weariness and fright, curses her, sometimes strikes her, drinks half her wages and nearly all his own, what ought she to do? The principle which determines her duty is clear. The obligation to honour her father is not relaxed. You are not released from a debt because the man to whom you owe it is a drunkard or a profligate; and so irreligion, or even vice in a parent, cannot release a child from filial duty. The application of the principle to particular eases is, I acknowledge, sometimes extremely difficult. Parental cruelty occasionally becomes intolerable. For a child to remain in some houses is to suffer perpetual misery. But the noble and Christian course, as long as your strength is not utterly exhausted, is to manifest the charity which “endureth all things.” If your religion makes you more sensitive to the vices which disgrace the character of your parents, it should also enable you to bear their ill-treatment with more meekness and patience. The consciousness of your own sins should make you more merciful to theirs. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Filial duty

Tenderness and sympathy were conspicuously displayed in the character of the late Dr. Alexander Waugh. A young man of unimpeachable character was desirous of entering upon missionary labour, and was recommended to the notice of the London Missionary Society. He had passed through the usual examination, but stated that he had one difficulty--he had an aged mother dependent upon an elder brother and himself for maintenance; in case of his brother’s death, he wished to be at liberty to return home to support her. Scarcely had he made this natural request than he heard the voice of one of the directors exclaim, “If you love your mother more than the Lord Jesus, you won’t do for us.” The young man was abashed and confounded, and he was asked to retire while his case was considered. Upon his return, Dr. Waugh, who was in the chair, addressed him with patriarchal dignity, telling him that the committee did not feel themselves at liberty to accept his services on a condition involving uncertainty as to the term; but immediately added, “We think none the worse of you, my good lad, for your beautiful regard to your aged parent. You are following the example of Him whose gospel you wish to proclaim among the heathen, who, when He hung upon the cross in dying agonies, beholding His mother and His beloved disciple standing by, said to the one, “Behold thy son!” and to John, “Behold thy mother!”

Filial piety

David Livingstone is said to have learned Gaelic in order that he might be able to read the Bible to his mother in that language, which was the one she knew best.

Obligation to parents

The celebrated Jonathan Edwards, who had the advantage of being trained by singularly pious and judicious parents, wrote, when about twenty years of age, in his diary: “I now plainly perceive what great obligations I am under to love and honour my parents. I have great reason to believe that their counsel and education have been my making; notwithstanding in the time of it, it seemed to do me so little good.”

A noble sentiment

A little boy hearing a party of gentlemen applauding the sentiment, “an honest man is the noblest work of God,” boldly said, “No”; and being asked, “What do you think is the noblest work of God?” replied, “My mother.” That boy made a good man. Who can doubt it?

Archbishop Tillotson’s respect for his father

There are some children who are almost ashamed to own their parents, because they are poor, or in a low situation of life. We will, therefore, give an example of the contrary, as displayed by the Dean of Canterbury, afterwards Archbishop Tillotson. His father, who was a plain Yorkshireman, approached the house where his son resided, and inquired whether “John Tillotson was at home.” The servant, indignant at what he thought his insolence, drove him from the door; but the Dean, who was within, hearing the voice of his father, came running out, exclaiming, in the presence of his astonished servants, “It is my beloved father!” and falling down on his knees, asked for his blessing.

Honouring a parent

Frederick the Great one day rang his bell several times, and nobody came. He opened the door, and found his page asleep in an arm-chair. Advancing to awake him, he perceived the corner of a note peeping out of his pocket. Curious to know what it was, he took it, and read it. It was a letter from the mother of the youth, thanking him for sending her part of his wages, to relieve her poverty. She concluded by telling him, that God would bless him for his good conduct. The king, after having read it, went softly into his room, took a purse of ducats, and slipped it, with the letter, into the pocket of the page. He returned, and rang his bell so loud, that the page awoke, and went in. “Thou hast slept well!” said the king. The page wished to excuse himself, and in his confusion put his hand by chance into his pocket, and felt the purse with astonishment. He drew it out, turned pale, and looking at the king, burst into tears, without being able to utter a word. “What is the matter?” said the king; “what hast thou?” “Ah! Sire,” replied the youth, falling on his knees, “they wish to ruin me; I do not know how this money came into my pocket.” “My friend,” said Frederick, “God often sends us blessings while we are asleep. Send that to thy mother, salute her from me, and say that I will take care of her and thee.”

Honour thy parents

An amiable youth was lamenting the death of a most affectionate parent. His companions endeavoured to console him by the reflection that he had always behaved to the deceased with duty, tenderness, and respect. “So I thought,” replied the youth, “whilst my parent was living; but now I recollect, with pain and sorrow, many instances of disobedience and neglect; for which, alas! it is too late to make atonement.”

Pleasing parents

Epaminondas, the Theban, after winning a battle, said, “My chief pleasure is, that my parents will hear of my victory.”

Begin right

If you begin to put up a house, and lay the foundation wrong, or to build a ship, and make a mistake in laying the keel, you’ll have to take it all down and begin again. Oh, it is very important to begin right! It is so in everything. And it is so in trying to do our duty to our neighbour. The Fifth Commandment shows us how we must begin to do this. We must begin at home. You show me a boy or girl who is not a good son or daughter, who does not honour father and mother, and I will show you one who will not make a good man or woman. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Kindness to parents

There is a celebrated charity school in London, called the “Blue Coat School.” It bears this name because the scholars there all wear blue coats with long skirts to them. I remember reading about one of the boys in this school, who was in the habit of saving part of his own meals, and all the bits and scraps he could gather from the table after their meals were over. He used to put them in a box near his bed, and keep them there. This led the other scholars to talk against him very much. At first they thought he was greedy, and kept them there to eat at night, when the rest were asleep. Some of them watched him, but he was never seen to eat them. Once or twice a week he used to make a bundle of the contents of the box, and go away with it. Then the boys thought that he meant to sell them and keep the money. They concluded that he was a mean, miserly fellow. They refused to let him play with them. They joked about him, and called him hard names, and persecuted him in many ways. But he bore it all patiently, and still went on, saving and carrying away all he could honestly get. At last they complained of him to their teacher. The boy was watched when he took away the next bundle. He was seen to go into an old, worn-out building, occupied by some of the poorest people in the city. There he made his way up to the fourth storey of the building, and left his bundle with a poor old couple. On inquiry it was found that these were his parents. They were honest, worthy people, whom age and poverty had reduced to such a condition of want that their chief dependence was the food thus furnished by their son. He was willing to deprive himself of food, and bear the reproach and persecution of his schoolmates, in order to do what he could for the support of his parents. When the managers of the school heard of it, they provided relief for the poor boy’s parents, and gave him a silver medal for his praiseworthy conduct.

Dr. Johnson and his father

The great Dr. Johnson was a very learned man; he wrote a “dictionary.” I know what I am going to say is true. He lived in Uttoxeter. His father was a bookseller, not in a very grand way, because he used to sell his books in the market-place. One day he asked his son Samuel (for that was the Christian name of Dr. Johnson) to come down and help him in the sale of his books in the market-place. Little Samuel was rather a sort of a dandy, a conceited fellow; and he thought it beneath his dignity to sell books in the market-place. “He demean himself to stand in the market.place to sell books, indeed, for his father! He was too great a gentleman for that!” Fifty years passed away, and Dr. Johnson had become now an old man. It haunted him; he could not forget, though more than fifty years had passed,--what he had done to his father, in refusing to sell books in the market-place. He was very sad and unhappy about it. So, one day, the doctor took off his hat, and went and stood in the same market-place, on the very spot where he said he would not stand to sell books for his father. And all the boys laughed at him; but there he stood with his bald head, not feeling the rain, or caring for the boys’ laughter, that he might do a sort of act of penance, to ease his conscience! He did not “honour his father” when a boy, and he remembered it fifty years after, and it was a pain to him. A statue to Dr. Johnson now stands on the spot, and this noble act of his is depicted upon it. (J. Vaughan.)

Parents are God’s representatives

In battle, men will give their lives to prevent the ragged and shot-torn colours of their country from falling into the hands of the enemy. These ragged colours represent their country. The dust-covered messenger who carries private despatches to an embassy in a foreign country is received with all respect, because he represents his king. Even the child who carries an important message is treated with the reverence due to the sender of the message. So parents are to be honoured, not alone as parents, but as the representatives of God Himself. (S. S. Times.)

That thy days may be long.

Long life

1. My design is to show you that practical religion is the friend of long life, and I prove it first from the fact that it makes the care of our physical health a positive Christian duty. The Christian man lifts this whole problem of health into the accountable and the Divine. He says: “God has given me this body, and He has called it the temple of the Holy Ghost, and to deface its altars, or mar its walls, or crumble its pillars, is a sacrilege.” The Christian man says to himself: “If I hurt my nerves, if I hurt my brain, if I hurt any of my physical faculties, I insult God and call for dire retribution.” An intelligent Christian man would consider it an absurdity to kneel down at night and pray, and ask God’s protection, while at the same time he kept the windows of his bedroom tight shut against fresh air. The care of all your physical forces--nervous, muscular, bone, brain, cellular, tissue--for all you must be brought to judgment.

2. Again, I remark that practical religion is a friend of long life in the fact that it is a protest against all the dissipations which injure and destroy the health. Bad men and women live a very short life; their sins kill them. Napoleon Bonaparte lived only just beyond mid-life, then died at St. Helena, and one of his doctors said that his disease was due to excessive snuffing. The hero of Austerlitz, the man who by one step of his foot in the centre of Europe shook the earth, killed by a snuff-box! Oh, how many people we have known who have not lived out half their days because of their dissipations and indulgences! Now, practical religion is a protest against all dissipation of any kind.

3. Again, religion is a friend of long life in the fact that it takes the worry out of our temporalities. It is not work that kills men; it is worry. When a man becomes a genuine Christian he makes over to God not only his affections, but his family, his business, his reputation, his body, his mind, his soul--everything. Oh, nervous and feverish people of the world, try this mighty sedative! You will live twenty-five years longer under its soothing power. It is not chloral that you want, or more time that you want; it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

4. Again, practical religion is a friend of long life in the fact that it removes all corroding care about a future existence. You have been accustomed to open the door on this side the sepulchre; this morning I open the door on the other side the sepulchre. Glory be to God for this robust, healthy religion. It will have a tendency to make you live long in this world, and in the world to come you will have eternal longevity. (Dr. Talmage.)

Vindication of God’s faithfulness, in the performance of the promise o.f long life

We may boldly challenge long life, when all the circumstances of it will tend to our everlasting welfare. But God, who knows how frail and yielding the best of us are, and in the series of His Divine Providence seeth what prevailing temptations we shall be exposed unto, doth oftentimes, in mercy, abridge this promise; and takes us from the world, lest the world should take us from Him; and deals with us, as princes deal with duellists, they make them prisoners, that they might preserve them: so God, that He might preserve His people from their great enemy, commits them to safe custody of the grave. And, if this be to be unfaithful, certainly His faithfulness would be nothing else but an art to circumvent and undo us; should He, only to keep that inviolate, perform those promises, which would be to our hurt and detriment. Nor, indeed, can any man, whom God hath blessed with a right judgment and due esteem of things, be willing to compound for the continuance of this present life, with the hazard or diminution of his future happiness. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)


Verse 13

Exodus 20:13

Thou shalt not kill.

The Sixth Commandment

I. That this Commandment was intended, as some suppose, to forbid the infliction of capital punishment, is inconceivable. The Mosaic law itself inflicted death for murder, Sabbath-breaking, and the selling of a Jew into slavery. The root of the Commandment lies in the greatness of human nature; man is invested with a supernatural and Divine glory; to maintain the greatness of man it may be sometimes necessary that the murderer, who in his malice forgets the mystery and wonderfulness of his intended victim, should be put to death.

II. Does the Commandment absolutely forbid war between nations? Certainly not. The nation to which it was given had a strict military organization, organized by the very authority from which the Commandment came. Moses himself prayed to God that the hosts of Israel might be victorious over their enemies. Wars of ambition, wars of revenge--these are crimes. But the moral sense of the purest and noblest of mankind has sanctioned and honoured the courage and heroism which repel by force of arms an assault on a nation’s integrity, and the great principle which underlies this Commandment sanctions and honours them too. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

The Sixth and Seventh Commandments

There are very sad and fearful thoughts connected with these Commandments. But there are also very blessed thoughts connected with them.

I. Is it nothing to remember that the Lord God Himself watches over the life of every one of us, poor creatures as we are, that He has declared, and does declare, how precious it is in His eyes? Our life is subject to a thousand accidents. All things seem to conspire against it. Death seems to get the mastery over it at last. But no; He has said, “Death, I will be thy plague.” As every plant and tree seems to die in winter and revive in spring, so He says to this more wonderful life in our bodies, “It shall go on, and this is the pledge and witness that it shall: the Head of you all, the Son of man, the only-begotten Son of God, died Himself and rose again. God’s conflict with death is accomplished. The grave shall not kill.”

II. And so, again, the Lord is the God over the household. He who says, “Thou shalt not kill,” bids us understand that it is well to pour out blood as if it were water rather than to become base and foul creatures, beasts instead of His servants and children. That was the reason He sent the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites. They were corrupting and defiling the earth with their abominations. It was time that the earth should be cleared of them. The God who gave these Commandments is King now, and there is no respect of persons with Him.

III. Christ died to take away the sins of men. He died to unite men to the righteous and sinless God. The Lord our God, who has redeemed us out of the house of bondage, will always deliver us from sin, will give us a new, right, and clean heart. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

The Sixth Commandment

I. The sin forbidden. In this, “thou shalt not kill,” is meant the not injuring another.

1. We must not injure another in his name. We injure others in their name when we calumniate and slander them. No physician can heal the wounds of the tongue.

2. We must not injure another in his body. The life is the most precious thing; and God hath set this Commandment as a fence about it, to preserve it. All these sins which lead to murder are here forbidden: As

We may be said to murder another:

1. With the hand: as Joab killed Abner and Amasa; “he smote him in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels.”

2. Murder is committed with the mind. Malice is mental murder; “whoso hateth his brother is a murderer.”

3. Murder is committed with the tongue, by speaking to the prejudice of another, and causing him to be put to death.

4. Murder is committed with the pen. Uriah.

5. By consenting to another’s death. Saul.

6. By not hindering the death of another when in our power. Pilate.

7. By unmercifulness.

8. By taking away that which is necessary for the sustentation of life.

9. By not helping him when he is ready to perish. We must not injure another’s soul. Who do this?

The second thing forbidden in it is, the injuring one-self; “thou shalt not kill”: thou shalt do no hurt to thyself.

1. Thou shalt not hurt thy own body. One may be guilty of self-murder, either

2. Here is forbidden hurting one’s own soul.

Who are they that go about desperately to murder their own souls?

1. Such wilfully go about to murder their souls, who have no sense of God, or the other world; they are “past feeling.”

2. Such as are set wilfully to murder their own souls, are they who are resolved upon their lusts, let what will come of it. Men will, for a drop of pleasure, drink a sea of wrath.

3. They murder their souls, who avoid all means of saving their souls.

4. They do voluntarily murder their souls, who suck in false prejudices against religion; as if religion were so strict and severe, that they who espouse holiness, must live a melancholy life, like hermits and anchorites, and drown all their joy in tears. This is a slander which the devil hath cast upon religion: for there is no true joy but in believing.

5. They are wilfully set to murder their own souls, who will neither be good themselves, nor suffer others to be so.

II. The duty implied. That we should do all the good we can to ourselves and others.

1. In reference to others.

2. In reference to ourselves.

The Commandment, “thou shalt not kill,” requires that we should preserve our own life and soul.

1. It is engraven upon every creature, that we should preserve our own natural life.

2. This Commandment requires, that we should endeavour, as to preserve our own life, so especially, to preserve our own souls. (T. Watson.)

The Sixth Commandment

This command forbids the illegal and unrighteous taking of life. What a terrible commentary upon the condition of man that there needs to be such a command as this, “Thou shalt not kill”! Sin is its only explanation. Consider--

I. The murderer.

1. This crime comes as the sequence to a life of terrible guilt.

2. It subjects him to the extreme penalty of the law, and holds him up as a monster unfit for human fellowship and life.

3. It does violence to the highest interests of his soul.

II. The murdered man.

1. Murder cuts him off in the midst of his days.

2. It destroys all his earthly interests, and does him the greatest injustice. No time given to set business in order or provide for household.

3. It endangers his eternal welfare.

III. Society.

1. Murder outrages the rights of life and property.

2. Hence to defend life becomes a duty (Psalms 82:3-4; Job 29:13).

IV. Applications.

1. We should keep the heart free from hatred and the like.

2. We should cultivate a sweet disposition and control over temper and passion. The passionate man may commit murder in the frenzy of his excitement.

3. We should avoid everything that tends toward this crime, such as quarrels, differences, strong drink, and all other things whose tendency is to evolve passion and destroy self.control. (L. O. Thompson.)

The Sixth Commandment

Man alone has the inspiration of Deity. This Divine inbreathing is the august peculiarity which separates man discretively and everlastingly from the animal creation. On his body side he sprang from dust; on his soul side he sprang with the animals; on his spirit side he sprang from God. Thus in his very beginning, in the original make-up of him, man was a religious being. Coming into existence as Jehovah’s inbreathing, man was, in the very fact of being Divinely inbreathed, God’s Son and Image. Hence it is that the human body is such a sacred thing. It is the shrine of God’s Son, God’s image, God’s likeness, God’s spirit, God’s breath. As such it is the priceless casket of unknown sacred potentialities. Hence, murder is, in the intensest sense of the word, sacrilege: not only a crime against man, but a crime against God, in whose image man is made. But murder may be of varying degrees of atrocity. Accordingly, let us now glance at some of the various forms of murder.

1. And, first, there is the murder which is born of malice, or murder in the common acceptation of the term. Murder of this kind, whether perpetrated swiftly, as by the bullet, or slowly, as by arsenic, is the most fiendish of crimes. And nature, in an especial manner, ever waits to avenge it. Nor is this strange; for, as we have seen, man, on his body side, is linked with the material creation. The same elements which compose our physical organism compose, although in different proportions, the water we drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the dust we await. Hence nature herself often becomes a principal factor in the detection of the murderer. She ever stands ready to be murder’s avenger, supplying the prosecuting attorney with her re-agents, even with blood-corpuscles themselves.

2. Again, there is the murder which is born of sudden passion: the murder, for example, of lynch-law, when a mob usurps the functions of a court of justice; the murder of sudden vengeance, as when an outraged husband encounters and slays the destroyer of his home; the murder of manslaughter, whether voluntary or involuntary, whether provoked by insult, by menace, or by alcohol.

3. Again, there is the murder which is born of despair. Suicide, when committed by a sane person, is murder. Indeed, how often the two crimes are committed by the same person--the murderer first slaying his victim, then slaying himself. Justly does the law pronounce a suicide a felo de se--that is, one who makes a felon of himself, suicide being felonious self-murder.

4. Again, there is the murder which is born of shame: I mean infanticide.

5. Again, there if the murder which is born of harmful occupations. First in this list I would put the dram shop; it matters not that the killing is slow; the killing is moral murder; and before every saloon I would post a placard.bearing the Sinaitic legend: “Thou shalt not kill.” Again, there is the sale, when not prescribed by the physician, of narcotic drugs, in their various forms, from opium joints to chloral drops. Again, there are the slow murders which are perpetrated in houses of nameless sin--murders which are particularly sacrilegious, because, as we have seen, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

6. Again, there is the murder which is born of thoughtlessness (see Deuteronomy 22:8). It is one of the cheering signs of the times that the public is awakening to the sense of its grave responsibility in this direction, for example, demanding that life shall not be imperiled by the failure to provide substantial structures, fire-escapes, life-preservers, railway precautions, sanitary arrangements of fresh air and wholesome food and pure water and clean streets, isolated refuges for sufferers from contagious and infectious diseases, competent physicians and druggists and nurses, sufficient hours for rest on the part of operatives, excursions for children, sanitariums for the poor, parks and recreation grounds--in brief, hygienic regulations in general.

7. And now let us ponder Christ’s interpretation of the law against murder (Matthew 5:21-22). According to Him, murder is not a matter of outward act, but of inward feeling: not a question of standing before the community, but of character before the All-seeing. No murder was ever committed which did not begin in the heart. Who of us has kept the Sixth Commandment as the Divine Man has interpreted it? Who of us has not been angry, passionate, revengeful, petulant? Remembering, then, these quarrels of ours, these grudges and piques and faults of temper, who of us is not in danger of the eternal Gehenna? But we are not yet through with the Sixth Commandment. Although it is prohibitive in form, saying, Thou shalt not kill, yet it is affirmative in spirit, saying, Thou shalt love. (G. D. Boardman.)

The law of mercy

I. The essential principle of this Commandment.

1. In preferring the old Prayer Book reading, “Thou shalt do no murder,” the revisers have done well. Killing may be no murder. The right of self-defence belongs both to the individual and the community.

2. Human life is sacred, but not so sacred as the end for which it is given, viz., that man created in the image of God should do His will. That is the paramount obligation. The will of God may make it right for us to lay down our lives, or right to defend them at the cost of death to others.

II. The Mosaic enunciation of this Commandment.

1. It is inconceivable that the great law-giver can have read it in the sense of an absolute “Thou shalt not kill.”

2. In this stern impartiality the Hebrew legislator rose head and shoulders, not only above his contemporaries, but above generations very far subsequent to him. Even in Christian England, and in our own day, we tolerate in connection with many offences, an alternative of “fine or imprisonment?; a bad remainder of feudal times, which lets the rich man lightly off, but crushes his poorer neighbour--an inequality with which Moses could not be charged. But he went further than this. He laid down the principle that criminal carelessness and selfish indifference to human life ought to be regarded as tantamount to murder (see Exodus 21:28-29). If our own British laws were as clear as this in their denunciation of criminal carelessness and wicked recklessness of human life, it would be vastly to the public advantage. What of the jerry-builders heaping rotting garbage into the foundations of houses, putting cheap arsenicated papers on the walls, and scamping drains that they may net exorbitant rents at the price of human lives? What of smug railway-directors sweeping in golden dividends, but leaving poor signalmen to toil for such long hours that exhausted nature muddles the points, and horrible collisions follow? What of the chemist who adulterates his drugs, the inn-keeper who puts damp sheets on the traveller’s bed, and the butcher who sends diseased meat into market? The plain truth is, that these people are murderers. We are yet as to legislation a long way behind the brave old ruler who said out forcibly what such criminals should suffer; but our moral sense sees clearly that they inflict death upon innocent people, a death as sure as if they had put knife to the throats or revolver to the hearts of their victims, a death often slower and more cruel in its torture.

III. The Saviour’s comment upon this word (see Matthew 5:21-22). Nothing condemned by Moses as a breach of the sixth word is excused by Jesus. Instead of loosing, He tightens the reins. He tracks the lurking murder in many an unsuspected heart. He marks three degrees of murderous guilt, all of which may be manifested without a blow being struck: secret anger; spiteful jeer; open, unrestrained outburst of violent, abusive speech.

IV. The positive interpretation of this Commandment will lift us to the true platform of Christian morality by transfiguring it into a law of mercy. The same essential principle which forbids murder ordains brotherhood. (W. J. Woods B. A.)

Injuring man prohibited

We now come to the commandments which refer exclusively to our duty to man. Of these there are five. The first four we group together. They each read: “Thou shalt not injure thy fellow-man.” We cannot injure God--we can only act irreverently and carelessly toward God, and so injure, not Him, but ourselves. Sin has made us natural enemies to one another--Ishmaelites, whose hands are against every man, and every man’s hand against us. Man’s condition by nature is not seen in man’s condition in England, France, or civilized America, but in man’s condition in the savage island of the Pacific, where the heavenly rays of the gospel have least penetrated. The civilizations of Christianity exhibit, not humanity, but Christianity. The civilizations of ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome (although a little revelation filtered through upon them) exhibit humanity, in its best estate, as a refined selfishness, where every man seeks (adroitly, perhaps, and not openly) to injure his neighbour. The injury which man can do to his fellowman can be divided into four kinds--injury to person, injury to society, injury to property, and injury to reputation. (H. Crosby, D. D.)

Personal application of the Commandment

The Commandment is addressed to each man, and applies to his own life and the life of his neighbour.

1. His own life he is forbidden to take. He is commanded to care for it. Man does not own himself, has no title in his own life as before God, has no right to destroy it, but should take good care of it, for it belongs to God. We are here forbidden to brood over our troubles. It is wrong to cultivate a melancholy spirit, or a rebellious one. We should strive against these natural tendencies which threaten life and dishonour God. God requires us further to have that high regard for our lives which shall lead us to guard and maintain them in the best possible condition. We are to become familiar with the laws of health, and obedient to them. The Commandment tells us how we shall dress. Adornment should be subordinate to comfort. Thin shoes and bare arms venture out to a late party on a winter’s night; a severe cold sometimes follows, and a speedy death. We say, What a mysterious providence to take one so young! Do we not know that the laws of providence are in favour of good health and long life, and that sickness and death often come directly from our disobedience of these laws. This Commandment directs us in the conduct of our business. In gaining our living we are not needlessly to risk our lives. We are to be masters of our business, not mastered by it.

2. God requires further that each one shall hold the life of others sacred as well as his own. He is forbidden to take it. He is commanded to care for it. The contentious spirit is to be checked in its small beginnings, for its natural tendency is to hard feelings and deadly hatred. Our pride is not to be cultivated, for an over-estimate of our own importance is sure to be cut to the quick by the slights of others, and arousing into anger will cherish the desire for revenge. High temper quickly flies into anger when provoked, and often acts and speaks in the heat of passion, adding fuel to its own flame and striking fire into other hearts. It is said that Julius Caesar won many victories over his own spirit by the simple rule never to speak or act when provoked until he had repeated slowly the Roman alphabet. We are to beware of having any prejudice against our neighbour. We are to think of him kindly, and speak of him and to him kindly, no matter what he thinks of us, or how he speaks of us or to us, or even if he will not speak to us at all. All private grudges and neighbourhood feuds, if they stand at all, must stand under the frowning face of this Commandment. Neither can cool indifference to our neighbour’s welfare find any place in our hearts under this law of God. In the social arrangements of the day lives are often placed in the charge of others. Those having this charge should pay special attention to this Commandment. The owner of a tenement house, if he regards this Commandment at all, will seek the health, comfort, and welfare of his tenants. Builders of roads, bridges, and houses, if they regard this Commandment at all, will seek not only good wages, but mainly to do good work, that men’s lives may be safe. This Commandment directs us to be good citizens and to seek the health and welfare of all the members of the community where we dwell. The sanitary arrangements of city, town, and village, are commended to our attention. We may not neglect them without guilt. The sacredness of life enjoined in the Commandment covers not merely the bodily life, it lies specially in our spiritual life, in the image of God. Is life worth living? asks the worldly philosopher, as if there was some doubt about it. Worth living? Surely it is, since our spiritual life though fallen may be brought into a shape worthy of God our Father. Herein we see the highest realm of this Commandment, the true sacredness of life. We are carefully to avoid in ourselves and in our influence all those things which would have any tendency to destroy the soul. (F. S. Schenck.)

Anger leading to murder

I remember when I was a boy at school a case of this kind occurred. One of the scholars, whose name was James, had a terrible temper. The least thing that displeased him would throw him into a rage, and then he would act in the most violent manner. He never seemed to feel how dreadfully wicked it was, or to be afraid of the consequences that might follow from it. One day, during recess, he stretched himself on a bench to take a nap. One of the boys thought be would have a little fun with James. He look a feather, and leaned over the bench, and began to tickle him in the ear. James shook his head, and cried “Quit that.” Presently he felt the feather again. “You quit that, I say!” he exclaimed, very angrily. The boy very thoughtlessly went on with his mischief. Then James sprang from the bench, seized a pair of compasses lying on the desk near him, and threw them at the boy with all his might. They struck him on the side of the head. They entered his brain. He fell down, never spoke again, and was carried home a corpse. How dreadful this was! Here was the young serpent that had been allowed to nestle in this boy’s heart springing up suddenly to its full growth, and making a murderer of him. Oh, watch against these young serpents! (R. Newton, D. D.)

Refusing to fight a duel

Colonel Gardiner, having received a challenge to fight a duel, made the following truly noble and Christian reply: I fear sinning, though you know, sir, I do not fear fighting”; thus showing his conviction of a fact too often forgotten, that the most impressive manifestation of courage is to “obey God rather than man.


Verse 14

Exodus 20:14

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The Seventh Commandment

I. What it forbids.

1. Unchastity in thought and desire (Matthew 5:28; Proverbs 6:18).

2. Unchastity in conversation (Ephesians 5:3-4).

3. Sensuality in all its forms and actions.

II. What it requires.

1. To avoid temptation, by carefully keeping the heart (Proverbs 4:23).

2. To cherish a regard for God and His will (Proverbs 5:21).

3. To keep the body pure as a temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:17-18).

4. To seek lawful wedlock when chastity cannot otherwise be retained (1 Corinthians 7:2).

5. To honour the estate of matrimony (Hebrews 13:4).

III. Its penalties.

1. It consumes the body and destroys the soul (Proverbs 5:11; Proverbs 6:32).

2. It destroys a man’s name and family (Proverbs 6:33).

3. It involves others in guilt.

4. It breaks down moral principles, and does violence to all the virtues.

5. It incurs the displeasure of God. He has denounced this sin in almost every book of the Bible.

6. It excludes from heaven, unless the sin be repented of and, by the help of God, forsaken (Ephesians 5:5).

7. It will be visited by condign punishment (Hebrews 13:4 with 10:31). (L. O. Thompson.)

The Seventh Commandment

The faithful observance of the matrimonial contract is guarded by this Commandment. Marriage holds both socially and morally a quite exceptional rank among contracts.

I. Glance for a moment at its social consequences, which are those that bulk most largely in the view of a civil legislator. No community can be more orderly, healthy, rich, or happy, than the sum of the families which compose it.

II. The moral aspects of marriage, however, are those which in this place deserve the most careful attention.

1. The law of marriage is a restraint upon the relations of the sexes which at first sight may appear arbitrary or conventional. It is less so than it looks. Monogamy is suggested by the proportion which exists between males and females in the population, and is found to be conducive both to individual well-being and to the growth of society. Manifestly, therefore, it has its roots in the nature of man himself, and is in harmony with the best conditions of his being. Still, it is a restraint; and a restraint imposed just where the animal nature of man is most pronounced and his personal passions are most head-strong. The limitations of the marriage-bond constitute only a single department (though an important one) of that old-fashioned and manly virtue called “temperance,” or the due control of oneself. It is a virtue which has to be learned in youth; and in learning it we need to bear in remembrance what St. Peter says, that the lusts of the flesh are the peculiar foes of the spiritual life; its incessant and its mortal foes: “Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”

2. There is a second aspect of this law of marriage to which I must venture to invite your attention. I have said that it testifies to the need for restraint upon the physical appetites. It shows no less the extreme consequence of associating the strongest and most necessary of all appetites with a whole cluster of higher moral and social affections before it can be worthy of human beings. The union of true husband and wife in holy wedlock involves a crowd of complex elements, many of which touch the spiritual nature. It assumes a “marriage of true minds”; for that is not an ideal marriage which is not first a union of souls before the “twain become one flesh.” It reposes upon mutual esteem. It presupposes common tastes and establishes a most perfect system of common interests. It is, to begin with, a friendship, although the closest of all friendships. It leads to a noble dependence of weakness upon strength, and a chivalrous guardianship of strength over weakness. It asks for a self-renunciation on the part of each to the welfare of the other, which is the very perfection of disinterested love. It engages principle and honour to sustain mere inclination, and raises what would otherwise be the passion of an hour into a permanent devotion. By means of all this, the nobler social and moral emotions are enlisted in the service of “love,” so that there emerges that lofty ideal of chaste wedded affection in which lies the chief poetry of common lives. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

The Seventh Commandment

Leighton, in explaining this precept, says, I purpose not to reckon up particularly the several sorts and degrees of sin here forbidden, for chastity is a delicate, tender grace, and can scarcely endure the much naming of itself, far less of those things that are so contrary to it. If you would be freed from the danger and importunity of this evil, make use of these usual and very useful rules:

1. Be sober and temperate in diet: withdraw fuel.

2. Be modest and circumspect in your carriage. Guard your ears and eyes, and watch over all your deportment. Beware of undue and dangerous familiarities with any, upon what pretence soever.

3. Be choice in your society, for there is much in that.

4. In general flee all occasions and incentives to uncleanness. But the solid cure must begin within, otherwise all outward remedies will fail. Then,

The Seventh Commandment

I. God forbids unfaithfulness towards husband or wife. Any previous step in course of infamy--any kind of incentive to impurity. Indecent conversation. Immodesty in dress. Evil thoughts.

II. Rules favourable to moral chastity.

1. Mortify any evil propensity.

2. Strengthen spirituality of mind.

3. Seek society and friendship of good and holy.

4. Fill up time with wholesome and right employment.

5. Observe temperance in all things--eating, sleeping, drinking. (W. B. Noel, M. A.)

The Seventh Commandment

I. The essential unity of man and woman.

1. Community. Woman is man’s complement, his essential peer, his alter ego, his second self; constituting with him the genus mankind, or Homo.

2. Diversity. Man and woman are the two poles of the sphere of mankind--the one implying the other. Like the stars, they differ in their glory.

II. Marriage a Divine institution. A constituent elemental fact of humanity.

III. The marriage relation takes precedence, of every other human relation (Genesis 2:24). None but the Lord who joins, can disjoin. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It is the Divine Lawgiver’s ordinance, guarding the chastity of marriage, the sanctity of home, the blessedness of the household, the preservation of society, the upbuilding of mankind. Let earth’s civic authorities, then, take exceeding care that they legislate and administer in this supreme matter of marriage according to the Divine oracle. Would God they all conceived it according to the standard and in the spirit of the Nazarine Teacher! And so we pass from the Seventh Commandment itself to the Divine Man’s exposition of it (Matthew 5:27-32). Here at least is freshness of moral statement, radiant in beauties of holiness, born from the morning, sparkling with the dew of perpetual youth. Our topic, I must sorrowfully add, is pertinent to our age and land. Loose notions touching marriage, divorce, re-marriage, are painfully, alarmingly prevalent. We need not go so far as Utah to find Mormons, theoretical and practical. Let it be thundered from the pulpit, from the academy, from the forum, that divorce (absolute divorce, allowing re-marriage), saving for one solitary cause, is a threefold crime--a crime against home, a crime against society, a crime against God. And now let us ponder the Divine Man’s prescription for the cure of unchastity: “If thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: and if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” No; Christ’s asceticism is not asceticism for its own sake, but asceticism for the sake of the moral discipline and rectification of character. Enough that I simply remind you that whatever fosters or suggests unchaste desire or thought--whether it be painting or statuary, opera or dance, romance or song, ambiguous allusion or the figment of one’s own imagination, as in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the chambers of imagery--it must be instantly, remorselessly, everlastingly renounced. (G. D. Boardman.)

The Seventh Commandment

I. The duties required.

1. The preservation of our own chastity and purity. There is a twofold chastity.

2. This command requires us to preserve the chastity of others, and that so far as we can, in their hearts, lips, and lives. Our duty in this point may be reduced to these two heads.

II. The sins forbidden.

1. Uncleanness in heart, all speculative filthiness, unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections, though people do not intend to pursue them to the gross act (Matthew 5:28).

2. Uncleanness in words, all filthy communications and obscene language (Ephesians 4:29).

3. Uncleanness in actions. Besides the gross acts, there are others leading thereunto, which are there also forbidden. As,

I shall next make some improvement of this subject.

1. Let those that have fallen into the sin of uncleanness, repent, and walk humbly all the days of their life under the sense of it.

2. Let those that stand take heed lest they fall. Labour to get your hearts possessed with a dread of this sin, and watch against it, especially ye that are young people, seeing it is a sin most incident to youth when the passions are most vigorous; which yet may stick fast with the blue marks of God’s displeasure upon you when you come to age. For motives, consider--

The Seventh Commandment

I. That which is here literally and expressly forbidden is--

1. That detestable and loathsome sin of adultery. There are two things in this sin of adultery that make it so exceeding heinous.

2. This Commandment forbids the uncleanness of fornication. Which, properly, is the sin committed betwixt two single persons. And, though it hath not some aggravations that belong to the other, yet it is an abominable sin in the sight of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 22:15; Galatians 5:19; Colossians 3:5).

3. Here, likewise, are forbidden all incestuous mixtures; or uncleanness between those who are related to each other within the degrees of kindred specified (Leviticus 18:6-18).

4. Here is likewise forbidden polygamy, or a taking a wife to her sister; that is, to another (Leviticus 18:18).

5. Here also are forbidden all those monsters of unnatural lust, and those prodigies of villainy and filthiness, which are not fit to be named among men; but thought fit to be punished upon beasts themselves “as ye may read (Leviticus 20:15-16; Leviticus 18:22-23).

6. All those things that may be incentives to lust and add fuel to this fire are likewise forbidden in this Command.

7. Because this law is spiritual, therefore it not only forbids the gross outward acts of filthiness but the inward uncleanness of the heart; all lustful contemplations, and ideas, and evil concupiscences.

II. The greatness and heinous nature of this sin appears--

1. In that it is a sin which murders two souls at once, and, therefore, the most uncharitable sin in the world.

2. This is the most degrading sin of all others.

3. This is a sin that doth, most of all ethers, obscure and extinguish the light of a man’s natural reason and understanding.

4. This is a sin justly the most infamous and scandalous amongst men (Proverbs 6:32-33).

5. Consider, that this sin of uncleanness is a kind of sacrilege; a converting of that which is sacred and dedicated unto a profane use.

6. Consider, if all these things will not prevail, the dreadful punishment that God threatens to inflict upon all who are guilty of this sin. Yea, He speaks of it as a sin that He can hardly be persuaded to pardon; a sin that puzzles infinite mercy to forgive (Jeremiah 5:7-9). And, indeed, God doth often, in this life, visit this sin: sometimes, by filling their loins with strange and loathsome diseases (Proverbs 6:26), sometimes, by reducing them to extreme beggary; for this sin, as Job speaks, is a fire that consumeth to destruction, and would root out all his increase. Yea, this very sin is so great a punishment for itself that the Wise Man tells us (Proverbs 22:14) that those whom God hates shall fall into it.

III. Let me now give you some cautionary rules and directions, by observing of which you may be preserved from it.

1. Be sure that you keep a narrow watch over your senses. For those are the sluices which, instead of letting in pleasant streams to refresh, do commonly let in nothing but mud to pollute the soul.

2. Addict thyself to sobriety and temperance; and, by these, beat down thy body and keep it in subjection to thy reason and religion.

3. Continually exercise thyself in some honest and lawful employment. Lust grows active when we grow idle.

4. Be earnest and frequent in prayer: and, if thou sometimes joinest fasting with thy prayers, they will be shot up to heaven with a cleaner strength. For this sin of uncleanness is one of those devils that goes not out but by fasting and prayer. God is a God of purity. Instantly beg of Him, that He would send down His pure and chaste Spirit into thy heart, to cleanse thy thoughts and thy affections from all unclean desires. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)

The Seventh Commandment

I. Something implied--that the ordinance of marriage should be observed; “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband,” “marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.” Marriage is a type and resemblance of the mystical union between Christ and His Church. Special duties belonging to marriage are love and fidelity.

1. Love. Love is the marriage of the affections.

2. Fidelity. Among the Romans, on the day of marriage, the woman presented to her husband fire and water: fire refines metal, water cleanseth; hereby signifying, that she would live with her husband in chastity and sincerity.

II. Something forbidden--the infecting ourselves with bodily pollution and uncleanness: “thou shalt not commit adultery.” The fountain of this sin is lust. Since the fall, holy love is degenerated to lust. Lust is the fever of the soul. There is a twofold adultery:

1. Mental; “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” As a man may die of an inward bleeding, so he may be damned for the inward boilings of lust, if they be not mortified.

2. Corporal adultery, when sin hath conceived, and brought forth in the act.

Wherein appears the heinousness of this sin of adultery?

1. In that adultery is the breach of the marriage oath.

2. The heinousness of adultery lies in this, that it is such a high dishonour done to God.

3. The heinousness of adultery lies in this, that it is committed with mature deliberation. First, there is the contriving the sin in the mind, then consent in the will, and then the sin is put forth in act. To sin against the light of nature, and to sin deliberately, is like the dye to the wool, it gives sin a tincture, and dyes it of a crimson colour.

4. That which makes adultery so heinous is, that it is a sin after remedy. God hath provided a remedy to prevent this sin; “to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife.” Therefore after this remedy prescribed, to be guilty of fornication or adultery, is inexcusable; it is like a rich thief, that steals when he hath no need. It is matter of lamentation to see this Commandment so slighted and violated among us. Now, that I may deter you from adultery, let me show you the great evil of it. First, it is a thievish sin. Adultery is the highest sort of theft; the adulterer steals from his neighbour that which is more than his goods and estate, he steals away his wife from him, “who is flesh of his flesh.” Secondly, adultery debaseth a person; it makes him resemble the beasts; therefore the adulterer is described like a horse neighing: “every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife.” Nay, this is worse than brutish; for some creatures that are void of reason, yet, by the instinct of nature, observe a kind of decorum of chastity. The turtle-dove is a chaste creature, and keeps to its mate; the stork, wherever he flies, comes into no nest but his own. Naturalists write, if a stork, leaving his own mate, joineth with any other, all the rest of the storks fall upon him and pull his feathers from him. Adultery is worse than brutish, it degrades a person of his honour. Thirdly, adultery doth pollute and befilthy a person. The body of a harlot is a walking dunghill, and her soul a lesser hell. Fourthly, adultery is destructive to the body. Uncleanness turns the body into a hospital, it wastes the radical moisture, rots the skull, eats the beauty of the face. As the flame wastes the candle, so the fire of lust consumes the bones. Fifthly, adultery is a purgatory to the purse: as it wastes the body, so the estate, by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread. Sixthly, adultery blots and eclipseth the name; “whoso committeth adultery with a woman, a wound and dishonour shall he get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away.” Some while they get wounds, get honour. The soldier’s wounds are full of honour; the martyr’s wounds for Christ are full of honour; these get honour while they get wounds: but the adulterer gets wounds in his name, but no honour: “his reproach shall not be wiped away.” Seventhly, this sin doth much eclipse the light of reason, it steals away the understanding, it stupefies the heart; “whoredom takes away the heart.” It eats out all heart for good. Solomon besotted himself with women, and they enticed him to idolatry. Eighthly, this sin of adultery ushers in temporal judgments. This sin, like a scorpion, carries a sting in the tail of it. The adultery of Paris and Helena, a beautiful strumpet, ended in the ruin of Troy, and was the death both of Paris and Helena. “Jealousy is the rage of a man”; and the adulterer is oft killed in the act of his sin. Ninthly, adultery, without repentance, damns the soul. How may we abstain from this sin of adultery? I shall lay down some directions, by way of antidote, to keep you from being infected with this sin.

1. Come not into the company of a whorish woman; avoid her house, as a seaman doth a rock; “come not near the door of her house.”

2. Look to yon eyes.

3. Look to your lips.

4. Look in a special manner to your heart.

5. Look to your attire. A wanton dress is a provocation to lust.

6. Take heed of evil company.

7. Beware of going to plays. A play-house is oft the preface to a whore-house.

8. Take heed of mixed dancing. Dances draw the heart to folly by wanton gestures, by unchaste touches, by lustful looks.

9. Take heed of lascivious books and pictures.

10. Take heed of excess in diet. The flesh pampered is apt to rebel.

11. Take heed of idleness. When a man is out of a calling, now he is fit to receive any temptation.

12. To avoid fornication and adultery let every man have a chaste, entire love to his own wife. It is not the having a wife, but the loving a wife makes a man live chastely. He who loves his wife, whom Solomon calls his fountain, will not go abroad to drink of muddy, poisoned waters.

13. Labour to get the fear of God into your hearts, “by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” As the banks keep out the water, so the fear of the Lord keeps out uncleanness. Such as want the fear of God, want the bridle that should check them from sin.

14. Set a delight in the Word of God. “Let the Scriptures be my chaste delights.” The reason why persons seek after unchaste, sinful pleasures is because they have no better. He that hath once tasted Christ in a promise, is ravished with delight; and how would he scorn a motion to sin!

15. If you would abstain from adultery, use serious consideration. Consider,

16. Pray against this sin. If the body must be kept pure from defilement, much more the soul of a Christian must be kept pure. (T. Watson.)

The law of chastity

I. The Law of chastity is that which regulates the intercourse of the sexes, whether in wedlock or other relations.

1. Marriage is the union of one man with one woman until death do them part.

2. The sacredness of the marriage contract as between one man and one woman was among the first things to be sullied by the fall, and through the lingering progress of many centuries has but slowly recovered.

II. The essential principle of this Law of chastity.

1. The man and the woman are the two halves of God’s image. Not the masculine qualities alone, but also the feminine; not man’s strength alone and vigour, but also woman’s beauty and gentleness, are reflections of what, in the archetype, is found in God alone.

2. In this principle that the sexes are complemental to each other, together making one reflection of the image of God, we must learn that as a rule marriage is the appointed instrument for our highest moral development. When souls are wedded, when husband and wife alike are baptized into the Divine secret of utter self-abnegation, so that every drudgery is glorified, and every sacrifice made sweet, earth has no fairer picture of celestial joys.

III. The leading violations of the Law of chastity. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

The scope of the Seventh Commandment

The Jewish tradition in the time of our Lord taught that it forbad simply the act of adultery. More, says Christ (Matthew 5:27-28), it forbids all impure thoughts and desires. Let us be as practical as possible about guarding against the beginnings of this sin. We who are parents should guard against its beginning in our children. We all agree that ignorance is not the mother of devotion, and yet act as if ignorance was the mother of purity. Knowledge is the basis of true religion, and the safeguard of virtue. Our children will learn concerning the new-born passions which fire their imagination, either from impure companions or from you, and it is a matter of tremendous importance whether they learn purely or impurely. These new-born passions have a wise purpose in the will of God, and governed by His law they become the source of the purest and richest blessings. They are as God’s gift of fire to us. Controlled, it makes our firesides places of comfort and cheer; uncontrolled, it consumes our homes and leaves us miserable wanderers over a wintry waste. They are, like fire, excellent servants but terrible masters. It is well to know their nature and God’s law for their control. We will all do well, and especially the young, to cultivate taste for purity, so keen and sensitive that it will instinctively turn from the suggestion of impurity with loathing. We can do this in selecting our reading, and there is much need of it. There are many novels and poems of insinuating vice and suggestive impurity. It is wise to let our novel-reading be a very small proportion of the whole, simply for needed recreation, and then only the very best, of noble characters and heroic deeds; and our poetry, of fair ideals and beautiful scenes. We should cultivate the taste for purity in the choice of our companionship. Let our acquaintanceship even, as far as it is a matter of our choice, be of those whose delight is in pure thinking and feeling, in clean speaking and living; and let our friendship, which is altogether a matter of choice, be only with the pure. We strive to have in our gardens the most beautiful flowers, and the finest flavoured fruit, but we are careful to have no poison vine, however brilliant its colours, trail over the flowers, no poison berries, however tempting to the sight, hang side by side with the fruit. Let us take at least as good care of our minds and hearts as we do of our gardens. Now we may approach the subject of marriage. A high ideal of marriage is a great incentive to purity of heart. If young people anticipate a pure marriage, every step towards it must be in the way of virtue. If you wish to win a pure white soul for your lifelong companion, you will be unwilling to give less than you wish to receive. You will keep your own soul sweet and clean. (F. S. Schenck.)

Marriage

Marriage is a Divine institution founded in the nature of man as created by God. There is no higher mode of living for man and woman than to be husband and wife. It is the most intimate and sacred union that can exist on earth, to which all other relations are to give place. It is the union of one man and one woman for life, whose duties are not only to each other and to society, but to God. The legitimate power of the State is simply to enforce the law of God. If the State attempts to separate those whom God hath joined together, or to unite those whom God forbids to unite, her laws are nullities at the bar of conscience. God’s institution of marriage is the foundation of the family, and the family is the foundation of society, the State, and the Church. Rome rose by the sanctity of her family life, and fell when it was undermined, as any fabric however stately will fall when the foundation is removed. Her rise was through the courage of her men and the virtue of her women. The perpetual fire on the altar of the Temple of Vesta, tended by a chosen band of white-robed virgins, was a true symbol of her strength. But the days of degeneration came, and the fire flickered and went out. There were no divorces in the early years of her history. There were many easily obtained divorces in the years of her luxury. Mutual consent was all that was needed to break the tie. Now the Roman laws in their later laxness are at the basis of much of our (American) legislation, and have displaced the law of God. We should be aroused from indifference by her experience. Like cause will produce like effect. Beyond love of our country Christian sentiment should arouse in its strength, and impress God’s law of marriage upon the statute books of our States. It is enough to enshrine marriage in our regard, that it is ordained by God and governed by His law. Now all God’s laws are for the highest good of man, and hence we find many inestimable blessings flowing from marriage. It confers happiness upon the married. True, there are unhappy marriages. These who marry for property will be very apt to find the husband or wife an encumbrance. Those who marry heedlessly will find here as everywhere that heedlessness brings disaster. But the great majority of married people are happier for the marriage, as happy as their circumstances and character will allow. Poverty can never have the pleasures of wealth, but can have more pleasure in a loving marriage than in single loneliness. Love makes many a cottage happy. Covetousness can never have the pleasure of generosity, but in a loving marriage it finds dwarfing influences, and so becomes a smaller barrier to happiness. Selfishness in whatever form can never have real happiness, but true love in marriage tends to destroy selfishness. Marriage is God’s grand institution for cultivating love in human hearts. What would this sin-stricken world be without the affections of the family circle, the love of husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters? What refining influences come into this world with a little child! How selfish and narrow and hard our hearts and lives would become were it not for God’s gift of children, awakening gratitude to Him, self-sacrificing love for them, and all the sweet sympathies and tender patient ministries of the home! What more helpless than a babe? God in marriage secures the might of love for its helplessness. What more ignorant? God secures teachers whose patience is well-nigh inexhaustible. Is there danger the child may become rough and selfish? In the required yielding to one another of brothers and sisters of different ages is found an antidote of selfishness, and the cultivation of gentle manners. Certainly the child will need government. The family is God’s place for cultivating obedience to law from the earliest hours of childhood. Submission to right authority is the spirit of a good child, of a good citizen, of a good Christian. Is there any wonder, then, that God guards this blessed institution of marriage against all that would pollute and destroy it? If the frequency and earnestness of the warnings of the Holy Scripture against any sin measure the tendency of man to commit that sin, then impurity is one of the most fearfully prevalent and dreadful sins of the race; and so the history of the past and of to-day plainly teaches. Our laws are lax here too. They do not regard adultery and its hideous kindred as crimes. To steal ten dollars sends a man to prison. To steal happiness and honour only gives a right to sue for damages. And has society, the State, no interest in such things? Surely adultery is a crime. However silent our laws may be, let us never forget that God is not silent. The Bible does not whisper, it thunders peal on peal the hot denunciations of Divine wrath against the adulterer. Marriage is further ennobled in our thought since God has chosen this most intimate and sacred union to illustrate the union between Christ and His Church. On the plains of Northern Italy there stands an ancient and beautiful city. Near its centre rises a building of pure white marble, wonderful for its grandeur and beauty, seeming more like a dream from heaven than a creation of the earth. As one stands upon the roof of this cathedral of Milan, surrounded by the multitude of its dazzling pinnacles and spires, he may look far off to the north, over the plains and hills, until his eye rests upon the snowclad summits of the Alps, those other pinnacles and spires which God Himself created, and clothed with the ever pure white garments of the skies. So, from this purest of earth’s relationships, we lift our thoughts to the mystical union of life and love, between the heaven and the earth, the marriage of the Church to her Divine Lord. Who shall speak of the love and faithfulness of this Divine Bridegroom, the love which knows no changing, which led Him to lay down His life for His Church? How steadily and warmly should her love go out to Him! (F. S. Schenck.)

Purity outward and inward

Sir Edward Coke was very neat in his dress, and it was one of his sentiments, “that the cleanness of a man’s clothes ought to put him in mind of keeping all clean within.”

Value of purity

A Greek maid, being asked what fortune she would bring her husband, answered: “I will bring him what is more valuable than any treasure--a heart unspotted, a virtue without a stain, which is all that descended to me from my parents.” No woman could have a more valuable dowry!

The power of passion

One bright July morning I was driving to town. As I came to the top of the hill just above the bridge, on the outskirts of the place, a little boy, from a cottage on the north side of the road, fired off a small cannon. He was so near the road, the cannon made so great a noise, and the whole thing came so unexpectedly, that my little bay pony took fright, and shied, with a spring, to the other side of the road. He not only overturned the carriage in doing so, but was with great difficulty reined in and prevented from running away. “You should not fire your cannon so near the road,” said I to the boy; “you frightened my horse badly, and nearly made him run away.” “I didn’t mean to do it,” said he, “but it got agoing before I saw the horse, and then I couldn’t stop it.” I said no more, but drove on, thinking of the boy’s answer, as I have often thought of it since, though all this happened years ago. “Couldn’t stop it.” How often, when we start “lust,” there is no stopping. Do not begin, and the difficulty will not arise--it will not get “a-going.”


Verse 15

Exodus 20:15

Thou shalt not steal.

The Eighth Commandment

I. In this Commandment the institution of property is recognized and sanctioned by the authority of God. The institution of property is necessary--

1. For increasing the produce of the earth;

2. For preserving the produce of the earth to maturity;

3. For the cultivation and development of the nature of man;

4. For the intellectual development of man.

II. The institution of property imposes upon all men the duty of industry in their callings; the duty of maintaining independence; the duty of avoiding any, even the least, invasion of the rights of others; the duty of self-restraint in expenditure, as well as of honesty in acquisition.

III. If property is a Divine institution, founded on a Divine idea, protected by Divine sanction, then in the use of it God should be remembered, and those whom God has entrusted to our pity and our care. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

The Eighth Commandment

To steal, I am sorry to say, is a universal temptation, common to all sorts of people. It often springs from the sense of necessity: this it is which, as you remember, gives such tragic power to Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” whose hero, Jean Valjean, stole a loaf of bread. Again the temptation to steal springs from indolence, or, to use a good, or rather bad, old French-Latin word, laziness; for there are not a few persons who, instead of getting an honest living by working, prefer to get it by what they call their wits, resorting to all sorts of shifts and tricks, which are really stealings. Again, the temptation to steal springs from dissolute or what is called fast living; how many of the embezzlements which so often startle the community spring from the fact that the embezzlers had entered on careers of personal debauchery! Again, the temptation to steal springs from the love of display; how many of the defalcations which land our citizens in prison or in Canada are owing to their passion for equipage, for furniture, for jewelry, for fashion! Again, and chiefly, the temptation to steal springs from the haste to become rich; how true it is that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil! Let us first glance at the case of private stealings. For example: there is the taking advantage of the ignorant in a bargain. Again, there is the taking advantage of the necessitous, when they lie prostrate and helpless, demanding from them, for instance, extortionate interest for the use of money, exorbitant rent for premises or tools, or extravagant prices for commodities. Again, there is the refusing, I will not say lawful wages, but I do say fair wages--that is, just compensation to servants, whether in the family, the farm, the factory, the store, or the bank; for every man born into this world is entitled, by the very fact of his existence upon this footstool of God, to a living. Again, there is the delay in the payment of debts when due. Again, there is the contracting of debts beyond any reasonable possibility of paying them, the indulgence in venturesome speculations, the living beyond income--these, and such as these, morally surveyed, are stealings. Again, there is the practice of endorsing, or going security. It is right for you to help your friend when he is in trouble; but it is not right for you to help him, however much in trouble, if your endorsement of his note is going to cost some other friend of yours his comfortable home. To aid one man by endorsing him may result in stealing from many men. Again, there is the habit of begging for endorsements; for example: tempting one to misrepresent, on the one hand, the amount of assets, and, on the other hand, the amount of liabilities; contracting liabilities without the knowledge of the endorser; keeping up appearances when insolvent; in brief, offering a premium for the use of your name. Again, there is the evading of government taxes and custom-house duties by making defective or ambiguous returns--a mode of stealing which, I regret to say, is not altogether unfashionable among people of position. Once more, there is the lazy subsistence or dependence on charity (and there is a great deal more of this than we at first recognize); the dependence on friends to eke us out, when, if we had been a little less slothful in diligence as well as a little more fervent in spirit, we might not have needed their aid; the sluggard, I take it, is quite a prince among thieves. Let me now speak of the case of official stealings, no matter what the office is, whether public or private, whether in a bank, or in a store, or in an institution, or under the government. Office is in its very nature a trust; and as such it is a sacred thing. And to betray a trust is the worst, because the meanest, kind of stealing. And now let me pass from official stealings to what I may call associated or corporate stealings. There is something in the very nature of the organization of a company which somehow tends to the extinction of personal responsibility. It is well understood that many a man will, as a member of a corporation--no matter what kind, whether a trust company, like a bank or a charitable institution, or an executive company, like a railroad or a telegraph organization--do things as a manager of that company which he would scorn himself for doing as a private individual on his own personal responsibility. In fact, it has become an aphorism that corporations have no souls. And monopolies, or corporations granted the exclusive privilege of manufacturing or selling certain articles of commerce:--what are they but oftentimes organized robberies of society, thefts of your purse and my purse? But there are other kinds of property besides those which we call real and personal, which may also be stolen. For example: There is the stealing of time; and time, you know, or will know, is money. When a man comes and takes up twice the time that is necessary in arranging with me for his own advantage, or even the advantage of a good institution, he steals my time, and in stealing my time, he steals my patience as well as my money. Again, there is the petty larceny of writing a letter of inquiry for your own advantage, and omitting to enclose a postage stamp; for he that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. Again, there is the stealing of another’s time and opportunity and serenity when you keep him waiting and fuming through your own failure to keep your engagement with him punctually. Again, there is the theft of plagiarism, the stealing of ideas, the withholding of credit or praise when credit or praise is due. Again, there is the stealing of reputation or character. Lastly, irreligion is the typical specimen of perfect theft. For while man in relation to his fellow-man has right to own property on his own account, yet man in his relation to his God is but a trustee. Steal not, then, O friend, from a greater than thy neighbour, even thy Divine Master! Language fails you when you undertake to denounce a defaulter against man. But where is your language when you think of a defaulter against Almighty God? (G. D. Boardman.)

Property sacred

I. Property as a sacred right. A man’s right in justly-acquired property is a reflection of God’s rights in all His works. All property is the outgrowth of life, the results in houses, harvests, machinery, manufactures, commerce, and art of creative power. But that creative power is the gift of God, and therefore both its rights and responsibilities have their foundation and standard in God Himself. The property belongs to the man, but the man belongs to God. Thus the honest gains of toil, skill, judgment, self-denial, and good fortune are a man’s own by a Divine right of which the civil right is the echo.

II. Property as a sacred trust. The same fact which makes property sacred gives birth to sacred responsibilities. As in old feudal days lands were given by the king on certain conditions of service, so now God’s gifts have always duties attached to them. Sacredly given, they are to be sacredly used.

Application:--

1. As to our use of our money. Is it not significant that God claimed tithes? Not to pay a tenth of His income into the temple treasury God considered a sacrilege in a Jew. Do we give a tenth to God?

2. Our use of ourselves. Wealth is more than money. It comprises all that God gives us, our talents, our influence, our whole self. He who might do good, who might heal and comfort and bless if he would, and yet does not, is guilty of unfaithfulness. (W. Senior, B. A.)

The Eighth Commandment

I. We may cause injury to others through lending and borrowing.

II. We shall do wrong to our fellow-men by inflicting injury on property that is open, through kindness of the owners, to the public, as gardens, private picture-galleries, etc. It is mean, dishonourable, to do hurt to such property.

III. Through incurring of debts or obligation to our fellow-men.

IV. The wrongs done in mercantile pursuits. This is done--

1. By selling to customers goods of inferior value.

2. By inferior weights.

3. By the adulteration of merchandise.

4. By false pretences. The placing the best strawberries or apples on top of the measure, etc.

V. Breaches of trust.

VI. Gambling. Property is a trust. You have no right to squander your own, or to lead another to squander what he has in trust. (W. Ormiston, D. D.)

The law of property

I. Consider, first, what it means--the rights of property.

1. In a country like this, long occupied and thickly peopled, almost everything belongs to somebody; and most of us possess a few things that we call our own, either earned or inherited, or otherwise received. In a new country the first-comers enter upon unoccupied ground, and each, while making his own claim, recognizes the claims of others. The relations of property are expressed by the possessive pronouns, and it is remarked that these are found in all languages. On what, then, is this right of property grounded? Not on social compact, not on the law of the land, not on the principle of utility, but on the will of God revealed in the constitution of our nature, and in the teaching of His Word. All acquired property is the product of labour, or the fruits of labour; and why do men labour? Is it not for the means of living? If, then, the constitution of our nature is such that we must labour for the means of living, it must be the will of Him who made us that we should receive and possess the fruits of our labour (see Proverbs 16:26; Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:10).

2. The principle of possession excludes the principle of communism. If the fruit of my labour is mine, the fruit of another man’s labour is his to do as he will with it. Communism has always ended in disaster; and always must. It is a tissue of mistakes. It is wrong in its original inference that the principle of property is the cause of destitution, whereas the real cause is selfishness and sin; it is wrong in its ruling idea that all should share and share alike, a notion which would tax industrious people for the benefit of idlers, and rob the skilful for the advantage of the incompetent; it is wrong in its proposed method, for force is no remedy, and the circumstances of men can only be mended by mending the men themselves; and it is wrong in its cherished hopes, for if by some fatal success the communists should break down the present social system and suppress private wealth, the result would be to take all heart of enterprise out of the world’s workers, to dry up the waters of progress at their source, and to crush the human race under a final incubus of intolerable woe. Not in the suppression of property, but in a wise understanding of its uses, and in a right direction of its powers, lies the redress of human wrongs, with the hope of a good time coming.

II. What it ensures--the use of property.

1. Property has economical uses. It increases, protects, and stores, the produce of the earth.

2. Property has also its moral uses.

III. What it forbids--the violation of property.

1. There are robberies over and above those which policemen investigate. Private gambling. Betting. Extravagance and petty theft on the part of domestic servants.

2. Fraud, or the withholding of a man’s due. “Trade practices.”

IV. What it involves--the responsibilities of property. We are God’s stewards. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

The Eighth Commandment

I. What it forbids.

II. What it requires.

1. It requires restitution of whatever we have, at any time, unjustly taken or detained. For, that being in right not our own, but another’s; keeping it is continuing and carrying on the injustice.

2. This Commandment also requires industry; without which, the generality of persons cannot maintain themselves honestly.

3. To observe it well, frugality must be joined with industry, else it will be all labour in vain.

4. This Commandment requires in the last place, that we neither deny ourselves, or those who belong to us, what is fit for our and their station, which is one kind of robbery; nor omit to relieve the poor according to our ability, which is another kind. For whatever we enjoy of worldly plenty is given us in trust, that we should take our own share with moderation, and distribute out the remainder with liberality. (Abp. Secker.)

The Eighth Commandment

I. Whence doth theft arise?

1. The internal causes are:

2. The external cause of theft is, Satan’s solicitation: Judas was a thief; how came he to be a thief? “Satan entered into him.” The devil is the great master-thief, he robbed us of our coat of innocency, and he persuades men to take up his trade; he tells men how bravely they shall live by thieving, and how they may catch an estate.

II. How many sorts of thefts are there?

1. There is stealing from God; and so they are thieves, who rob any part of God’s day from Him.

2. There is a stealing from others.

III. What are the aggravations of this sin of stealing?

1. To steal when one has no need. To be a rich thief.

2. To steal sacrilegiously. To devour things set apart to holy uses.

3. To commit the sin of theft against checks of conscience, and examples of God’s justice: this is like the dye to the wool, it doth dye the sin of a crimson colour.

4. To rob the widow and orphan; “ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child”; it is a crying sin; “if they cry unto Me, I will surely hear them.”

5. To rob the poor. (T. Watson.)

The Eighth Commandment

I. Stealing by forgetfulness. People with these bad memories borrow things from their neighbours and friends, and forget to return them. Now, to the persons who lend those things, it is just as bad as if a thief should come into their house and steal them. Umbrellas, and books, and things of that kind are most likely to suffer in this way.

II. Cunning, is another branch of it. Did you ever see a counterfeit bank-note? It passes for a good note, though it is not worth a straw. And gold and silver coin are counterfeited in the same manner. The people who make them think themselves very cunning. But they are not a bit better than thieves. But a great many other things may be counterfeited as well as money. When God shall come to reckon with them at last, they will find that the real name for what they called smartness was stealing. This is the name by which God calls it.

III. Those who break the Eighth Commandment by deceit. For instance, a lady goes into a shop to buy a dress. She finds one of the colour she wants. If she could be sure that the colours would not fade she would take it. She says to the shopkeeper, “Will these colours stand?” “Oh, yes, madam, they are the very best colours to wear. They will stand as long as the dress lasts.” The lady buys the dress on this assurance, though all the while the shopkeeper knows the colours will not stand at all. In this way he steals the lady’s money.

IV. Those who break the Commandment by extortion.

V. Those who break the Commandment by violence and fraud. We must resist little temptations. Everything must have a beginning. I remember reading once about a man who was going to be hung for robbery and murder. On the scaffold, he said he began to steal by taking a farthing from his mother’s pocket while she was asleep. Many children begin to steal at the sugar-bowl or the cake-basket. To take the smallest thing that does not belong to us, without permission, is stealing. And, then, there is another thing to do: we must pray to God to keep us from temptation. (R. Newton, D. D.)

True honesty

There is an anecdote told of a brave general of the American Revolution, that he one day overheard the remark of a grandson, that “he hoped to be middling honest.” The old gentleman stopped, turned short upon the speaker, and broke out: “What is that I hear? Middling honest! let me never hear again such a word from your lips. Strictly honest is the only thing you ought ever to think of being.”

Praying better than stealing

Some poor families lived near a large wood-wharf. In one of the cabins was a man who, when he was sober, took pretty good care of his family; but the public-house would get his earnings, and then they suffered. In consequence of a drunken frolic he fell sick. The cold crept into his cabin, and but one stick was left in his cellar. One night he called his eldest boy, John, to the bedside, and whispered something in his ear. “Can’t do it, father,” said John aloud. “Can’t--why not?” asked his father, angrily. “Because I learned at Sabbath-school , Thou shalt not steal,’” answered John. “And did you not learn, ‘Mind your parents,’ too?” “Yes, father,” answered the boy. “Well, then, mind and do what I tell you.” The boy did not know how to argue with his father, for his father wanted him to go in the night and steal some sticks from the wood-wharf; so John said to his father: “I can pray to-night for some wood; it’s better than stealing I know.” And when he crept up into the loft where his straw bed was, he did go to God in prayer. He prayed the Lord’s Prayer, which his Sabbath-school teacher taught him, only he put something in about the wood, for he knew God could give wood as well as “daily bread.” The next noon, when he came home from school, what do you think he caught sight of, the first thing after turning the corner? A load of wood before the door, his door. Yes, there it was. His mother told him the overseers of the poor sent it; but he did not know who they were. He believed it was God; and so it was.

What is stealing

Two old men were once arguing upon the question of venial sin. Their faces one could not forget. One said, “Well, after all you have to say, you will not tell me that the theft of a pin and a guinea are the same.” The other said, “When you tell me the difference between a pin and a guinea to God, I will give you an answer.” It at once settled the point; and there was no more said about venial sin.

The rights of property defended

It must be acknowledged that the sufferings and crimes which are incident to the institution of property are so grave as sometimes to provoke the inquiry whether, after all, the institution itself can be defended. Selfishness, covetousness, dishonesty, fierce and angry contention, are among the worst vices of which men can be guilty; and it may almost seem as though we might escape from them all by abolishing the rights of property. What are the grounds, then, on which the maintenance of these rights, in some form or another, can be defended? Archdeacon Paley, in one of the chapters of his “Moral Philosophy,” has illustrated some of the advantages of the institution of property, with his usual clearness and felicity. He shows that it both increases the produce of the earth, and preserves it to maturity. Houses, ships, furniture, clothes, machinery, pictures, statues, books, require a great amount of labour to produce them; the stimulus to production would be altogether destroyed if after they were produced they belonged to nobody, and if people who had done no work were as free to use them as those by whose self-denial and labour they were produced. No mines would be worked, no fields would be cleared, no waste land would be brought into cultivation, no marshes would be drained, unless the men who did the work had the hope either of owning the property which they created, or of receiving in some other form compensation for their labour. The material wealth of the world would almost disappear, and the poorest and most wretched would have even less than they have now, if the rights of property were abolished. But there are other grounds on which the institution may be defended. The rights of property are essential not only to the creation and preservation of material wealth, but to the cultivation and development of the nature of man. It is only because corn belongs to the farmer, and coal to the mine proprietor, and bread to the baker, and meat to the butcher, it is only because clothes belong to the tailor, and houses to the builder, and because the law protects every one of them in the possession of his property until he is willing to part with it, that men work in order that they may get coal, and corn, and bread, and meat, and clothes, and house room. The Indian would sit idle in his cabin if the game he hunted did not become his own. Excessive physical labour is no doubt a great evil; but the evils of indolence are still greater. There are parts of the world where it is hardly necessary for men to work at all in order to get the bare necessaries of life, and the result is a miserable want of physical vigour and a portentous development of vice. We were made to work. It is by work that muscle is created and the whole body kept free from disease. Work as a rule is good for health, and good for morality and happiness too. Moreover, the institution of property supplies a most powerful motive to intellectual exertion. We want food, clothing, and a thousand other things; but they belong to people who will not part with them, except for the results of our own work. Inventive genius is stimulated to improve the processes of manufacture; administrative skill is exercised in lessening the cost of production; merchants watch the rise and fall of the markets in remote countries, estimate the effect of good and bad seasons and of political events on the probable price of commodities. There is not a counting house however small, there is not a workshop in a back court, where business can be carried on without thought. The institution of property secures an amount and variety of intellectual activity for which, perhaps, we have never given it credit. It has also very important relations to the moral life of man. The whole organization of the world is intended to discipline our moral nature; and the very variety of the sins to which the existence of property gives occasion, illustrates the variety of the virtues which it is intended to exercise. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Dishonesty in trade

If a manufacturer charges you twenty pounds for a hundred yards of cloth and sends you only half the quantity, he as really steals ten pounds as though he broke open your cash box and took out a ten pound note. If he engages to send you cloth of a certain quality and charges you for it, and then sends you cloth which is worth in the market only two-thirds the price, he is just as much a thief as though he stood behind you in a crowd and robbed you of your purse. No one disputes this. The same principle holds in every business transaction. To give short weight or short measure, is to steal. To supply an article of inferior quality to that which it is understood that the buyer expects, is to steal. To take a Government contract and send to Weedon or Portsmouth articles which you know will be worthless, or which you know are of a worse kind than it was understood that you would furnish, is to steal. To take advantage of your superior knowledge in order to pass off on any man articles for which he would never give the price that he pays for them but for his confidence in your integrity, is to steal. To start a company and to induce people to take shares in it by false representations of the amount of the subscribed capital and of its probable success, is to steal. If a workman who is paid to work ten hours, takes advantage of the absence of the master or foreman to smoke a pipe and read a newspaper for one hour out of the ten, he steals one-tenth of his day’s wages. He does the very thing that a shopkeeper would do who gave him fourteen ounces of butter or sugar instead of a pound, or nine yards of calico when the bill charged ten. An assistant in a shop, who instead of caring for his master’s interests as if they were his own, puts no heart into his work, exercises no ingenuity, treats customers carelessly instead of courteously, and so diminishes the chances of their coming again, gets his salary on false pretences, does not give the kind of service which he knows his employer expects, and which he would expect if he were an employer himself. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

An example of honesty

Speaking of the early American prairie settlements, a modern historian says: “Theft was almost unknown; the pioneers brought with them the same rigid notions of honesty which they had previously maintained. A man in Maucoupin County left his waggon, loaded with corn, stuck in the prairie mud for two weeks near a frequented road. When he returned he found some of his corn gone, but there was money enough tied in the sacks to pay for what was taken.

Honesty

In Abraham Lincoln’s youthful days he was storekeeper’s clerk. Once after he had sold a woman a little bill of goods and received the money, he found, on looking over the account again, that she had given him six and a quarter cents too much. The money burned in his hands until he had locked the shop and started on a walk of several miles in the night to make restitution before he slept. On another occasion, after weighing and delivering a pound of tea, he found a small weight on the scales. He immediately weighed out the quantity of tea of which he had innocently defrauded the customer and went in search of her, his sensitive conscience not permitting any delay.


Verse 16

Exodus 20:16

Thou shalt not hear false witness.

The Ninth Commandment

I. This Commandment is a recognition of those tribunals which are necessary to the peace and to the very existence of the State.

II. In this Commandment there is a Divine recognition of the importance of the moral judgments which men pronounce on each other: the judgments which individual men form of other men as the result of the testimony to which they have listened, whether it was true or false; the judgments which large classes of men or whole communities form of individuals, and which constitute what we call the opinion of society concerning them.

III. Many ways might be mentioned in which we may avoid bearing false witness against our neighbour.

1. We should try to form a true and just judgment of other people before we say anything against them.

2. We have no right to give our mere inferences from what we know about the conduct and principles of others as though they were facts.

3. We have no right to spread an injurious report merely because somebody brought it to us. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

The law of truth

1. There is no engine by which we help or harm one another more than by our speech. In one aspect words are mere counters, but he who supposes them to be only that is greatly mistaken; more often they are very children of our inner selves, out-growing quickly the control of their parents, and entering upon an independent career which may be full as sunshine is of blessing, or more destructive than a prairie-fire.

2. What is truth? It stands for the relation which God has established between things, the relation in which their harmony consists. It expresses conformity to fact--what really is seen as it is. It accords with, and is, the constitution of all things. It is of the essential substance of God; for if God were not true He would not be God. The more we think about this sublime theme, the more we see its ineffable dignity, and that the law which guards truth must be of supreme importance.

I. Consider this law in relation to courts of justice.

1. The literal form of the precept implies the existence of a court of justice. Here is a definite acknowledgment, at least by implication, of the principle of state tribunals; and if of tribunals, then also of governments, and of the necessary machinery of government.

2. Courts of justice exist, as their name implies, in order that justice may be done; and justice can only be done in proportion as truth prevails. The supreme business of every member of the court, from the judge to the humblest official, is with truth.

II. Consider this law in relation to public opinion.

1. It is not by any means an ideal bar, this of public opinion: inconsistent in much, inconsequent in more; not patient in sifting evidence, nor impartial in hearing both sides, nor cautious in coming to conclusions; liable also to bursts of impulse, when, as in a wind-swept cornfield, all heads are bowed one way only to bend back again at the next breath: often its judgments are hasty, not seldom warped, sometimes cruelly unjust. Nevertheless, public opinion is a great natural assize, where every one of us passes judgment upon others, and where others pass judgment upon every one of us--a court with wider jurisdiction than any other in the world, a court always sitting, a court everywhere present. The special moment and consequence of its decisions lies in the fact that they affect our reputation. This being so, every man has a right to demand of every other man, and every man is bound to accord to every other man, a true and righteous witness.

2. In glancing at the more conspicuous forms of false witness in the court of public opinion, one dark and monstrous shape demands immediate notice. I mean slander, the deliberate invention of a lie to injure a neighbour. All forms of wilful misrepresentation, base insinuation, wanton detraction, damning with faint praise, and guilty silence that does the work of open defamation, belong to this category. Next to slander, I must mention tale-bearing, which signifies the spreading of evil reports. We ought not to carry stories to our neighbours’ discredit, even if they are true (Leviticus 19:16).

III. Consider this law in relation to the personal conscience.

1. When the Commandment says, “Thy neighbour must not be wronged by untruthful words,” it manifestly says also, “Thou shalt not be a liar.” Unless we are true, how can our witness be true? And if we are true, how can our witness be other than true? Three elements enter into a falsehood. It is a statement of what is not true; it is intended to deceive, and it violates a promise or obligation to speak the truth.

2. In this view of the obligation of every man to “put away lying and speak truth with his neighbour,” the paramount importance of the law of truth stands forth conspicuous. Equivocation is seen to be nothing but a lie complicated with the meanness of evasion. Mental reservations are detected as lies blackened by breach of contract. Exaggerations and extenuations, fibs and white lies, are shown to be inexcusable. Pious frauds are branded as fraudulent piety. And the one only course open to a Christian man in his dealings with his neighbour is to speak truth. “Dare to be true; nothing can need a lie!” (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

The Ninth Commandment

This Commandment hath a prohibitory, and a mandatory part: the first is set down in plain words, the other is clearly implied.

1. The prohibitory part of the Commandment, or, what it forbids in general. It forbids anything which may tend to the disparagement or prejudice of our neighbour. More particularly, two things are forbidden in this Commandment.

(a) Speaking that which is false; “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.” There is nothing more contrary to God than a lie. Imitate God who is the pattern of truth. Pythagoras being asked what made men like God answered, “When they speak truth.” It is made the character of a man that shall go to heaven; “he speaketh the truth in his heart.”

(b) That which is condemned in the Commandment is witnessing that which is false; “thou shalt not bear false witness.” There is a bearing of false witness for another, and a bearing false witness against another.

(c) That which is condemned in the Commandment is swearing that which is false. When men take a false oath, and by that, take away the life of another. The Scythians made a law, when a man did bind two sins together, a lie with an oath, he was to lose his head, because this sin did take away all truth and faith from among men. The devil hath taken great possession of such who dare swear to a lie.

2. The mandatory part of this Commandment: that is, “that we stand up for others and vindicate them, when they are injured by lying lips.” A man may wrong another as well by silence as by slander when he knows him to be wrongfully accused, yet doth not speak in his behalf. If others cast false aspersions on any, we should wipe them off. When the primitive Christians were falsely accused for incest, and killing their children, Tertullian made a famous apology in their vindication. This is to act the part both of a friend and of a Christian, to be an advocate for another, when he is wronged in his good name. (T. Watson.)

The scope of the Ninth Commandment

This Commandment checks all propensities to lying, and commands truthfulness of speech to and about our neighbour. It is very difficult to over-estimate the value of truth or the importance of being truthful in character and speech. There is a reality to the things and the laws which surround us and are within us which we call truth. When our thoughts exactly correspond with this reality we have apprehended truth. When we conform ourselves to this we are true. If our thought does not exactly correspond with this reality we are in error, and error is a mischief to us. We disobey the laws, we abuse the things about us, we are like blind men striking against obstacles, falling into pits. The nature of things remains unchanged, the laws are immutable, but we are false to them. Truth is not merely to be known, it is to be transmitted into life. Man is to be so hearty in his allegiance to the truth he knows, that he lives it and speaks it. The man who knows the truth and disobeys it, is false in his nature. He may not deceive his neighbours as to himself. Every one may know he is a false man, but his whole life is bearing false witness as to the truth, and as to it may deceive many. The greater part of the truth we possess we have derived from others. There is an exchange of truth. Men who search in one realm give the truth they find to their fellows who are searching in other realms, and receive truth from them in return, and each generation leaves its rich legacy of inherited and acquired truth to the following, and thus the race advances in the knowledge of truth. Wide is the realm of truth, in earth and sky, in matter and spirit, in time and eternity. Man should not shut his fellow out from any portion of it. If any one bears false witness to any part of the wide realm of truth, it is always against his neighbour, depriving him wrongfully of that which is of the greatest importance to his well-being. Great is the difference between truth and falsehood. Infinity and eternity cannot measure it. Of God it is said; “He is light. He is the truth.” Of the devil it is said: “There is no truth in him. He is a liar and the father of it.” Hell is the home of universal falsehood and distrust. Each one there is alone in the midst of others, deceiving and being deceived, distrusting and being distrusted. Heaven is the home of universal truth and confidence. The more we follow truth, the nearer we advance to God. The truths in nature are His thoughts, written on the heavens in light, on the earth in beauty, on our souls in virtue. As we express truth we help others to advance to Him, by small steps or large, according to the importance of the truths we speak. The Commandment requires truth in ordinary conversation. Conjecture and partial information must be spoken of as such, not made to pass for complete knowledge. We must strive to know fully, that we may speak clearly. Vivid, sprightliness, and colour may be employed to interest in and set forth the truth, not to gain applause, and all exaggeration must be avoided. Our aim must not be selfish, to be considered as having had a wonderful experience, or as having fine descriptive powers, or as being well informed, but simply to convey truth to our neighbour. In all those cases in which we speak to our neighbour with intent to lead him to a desired line of conduct, our self-interest may be aroused against our loyalty to truth. Mental reservation, double meaning, significant silence, the end justifies the means, and all kindred evasions, may quiet a confused conscience, but will never do to plead before a truth-loving God. But, says the business man, must I reveal the defects in the property I am trying to sell? Must I reveal the fact I have skilfully acquired, that prices in the market will be much lower tomorrow? Certainly, you must, or you will both lie and steal in one act. We are to speak truth, again, not only to our neighbour, but about him. This Commandment guards a man’s reputation--gives each man a right to have his reputation the exact expression of his character. We should guard against secret prejudice against our neighbour, or envy of him, and should cultivate such love for him that we will rejoice in his good qualities and in his good name, that we will sorrow over the faults in him we cannot help seeing, and throw over them the garment of Christian charity, rather than exulting to proclaim them to the world. This Commandment should govern not only our tongues, but our hearts and ears as well. It forbids an appetite for gossip, a desire to hear detraction, and a tendency to form unfavourable opinions of others. By holding our peace when we have it in our power to defend, by failing to mention the good when the evil is spoken of, by encouraging the telling of evil by eager listening, we assault the reputation of our neighbour by the assent of our silence. There is a modern statue of Truth, instinct with the fire of genius, which strongly incites an opposite spirit and action. A stately woman in pure white marble, with beautiful and firm face, wears on her head a helmet and carries a sword in her hand. At her feet lies a mask touched by the point of her sword. She has just smitten it from the face of Slander, and now she proudly draws her robe away from its polluting touch. (F. S. Schenck.)

The Ninth Commandment

I. This command prohibits lying.

1. What a lie is.

(a) There is a jocular lie: a lie, framed to excite mirth and laughter; not to deceive the hearer, only to please and divert him.

(b) There is an officious lie: which is told for another’s benefit and advantage; and seems to make an abundant compensation for its falsehood, by its use and profit.

(c) There is a malicious and pernicious lie: a lie, devised on purpose for the hurt and damage of my neighbour.

2. Now, for the aggravations of this sin, consider--

II. There remain two other violations of this Commandment: the one is, by slander and detraction; the other, by base flattery and soothing. And both these may respect either ourselves or others.

1. Indeed slander and detraction seem somewhat to differ. For slander, properly, is a false imputation of vice; but detraction is a causeless, diminishing report of virtue.

III. The third sin against this Commandment is base flattery and soothing; which is a quite opposite extreme to the other, as both are opposite to truth. Now this is, either self-flattery, or the flattering of others.

1. There is a self-flattery. Learn, therefore, O Christian, to take the just measure of thyself.

2. There is a sinful flattering of others: and that, either by an immoderate extolling of their virtues; or, what is worse, by a wicked commendation even of their very vices. This is a sin most odious unto God, who hath threatened to cut off all flattering lips (Psalms 12:3). (Bp. E. Hopkins.)

Slander

A man of overweening curiosity who looked down his neighbour’s chimney to see what he was cooking for supper, not only failed to find out what he desired to know, but was nearly blinded by the smoke. Somebody has conveyed a well-deserved rebuke to such unamiable people, who said, “If we would sit down by our neighbour’s fire occasionally, instead of looking down his chimney, we would see many good points in his character that smoke will certainly obscure.” There are so many ways of kindling a flame by the poisonous breath of slander, that only a few of them can now be referred to.

I. Perverting one’s words or actions is an every-day occurrence.

II. Another way by which flames are often kindled to the damage of one’s good name, is the habit of jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence to sustain them. While Wilberforce occupied his prominent place in the British parliament he was exceedingly annoyed by finding himself chronicled in opposition papers as “St. Wilberforce.” “He was lately seen,” said the slanderous print, “walking up and down in the pump-room at Bath, reading his prayers, like his predecessors of old, who prayed at the corners of the streets to be seen of men!” Mr. Wilberforce, who was not more distinguished for his brilliant mental gifts than for his unobtrusive goodness, remarked upon this wanton falsehood: “As there is generally some slight circumstance which perverse-ness turns into a charge or reproach, I began to reflect, and I soon found the occasion of the calumny. I was walking in the pump-room, in conversation with a friend; a passage from Horace was quoted, the accuracy of which was questioned, and as I had a copy of the Latin poet in my pocket, I took it out and read the words. This was the plain “bit of wire” which factious malignity sharpened into a pin to pierce my reputation.” It is pitiful to think how many ugly pins have been fashioned out of smaller bits of wire than that l

III. The cruel purposes of slander may also be accomplished by sly insinuations and crafty questions calculated to arouse serious and damaging suspicions. When any one spoke evil of another in the presence of Peter the Great, he would promptly stop him and say, “Well, now; but has he not got a bright side? Come, tell me what good you know of him. It is easy to splash mud; but I would rather help a man to keep his coat clean l”

IV. Slander is encouraged by those who patiently listen to it, and who prompt the cruel person to vent his venom on the innocent. (J. H. Norton, D. D.)

Violations of the law of truth

I. Misrepresentation. It is an ingenious method to class an opponent with those whom the world has already condemned as heterodox. It is still another to make his truth responsible for all the folly that unwise minds have added to it.

II. Insinuation. A whisper dropped carelessly in some corner among the combustibles, a look, a shrug of the shoulders, a sneer, a laugh may serve the purpose. Rumour with most minds is presumptive evidence, and they will say with a knowing air, “There must be some fire in so much smoke.”

III. Detraction. If we be unable to find evil in the opinions or actions of another, we can attribute his good to doubtful motives.

IV. Talebearing. Is there, I pray you, a creature more contemptible than this, who fattens on the griefs of others, and passes day and night in such petty larceny? How few dream of their responsibility in this! We know the power of strychnine or arsenic, but not of a word. What undesigned phrases we drop in conversation, and forget as soon as passed, yet they are never forgotten! What insignificant insects may have a fatal sting! (E. A. Washburn, D. D.)

The Ninth Commandment

This Commandment requires us, as the Catechism says, “to keep our tongues from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering.” Slandering means saying anything that will injure the character of another person. There was a company of ladies once at the house of a clergyman. As he entered the room he heard them speaking in a low voice of an absent friend. “She’s very odd,” says one. “Yes, very singular indeed,” says another. “Do you know, she often does so and so?” says a third, mentioning certain things to her discredit. The clergyman asked who it was. When told, he said, “Oh yes, she is odd; she’s very odd; she’s remarkably singular. Why, would you believe it?” he added, in a slow, impressive manner; “she was never heard to speak ill of any absent friends!” A clergyman was once examining the children of an infant school upon the Commandments. He put his hand on the head of a little boy, and said, “My little man, can you tell me what the Ninth Commandment means by “bearing false witness against thy neighbour”? The boy hesitated a while, and then said, “It means telling lies, sir.” The minister didn’t exactly like this answer, so looking at a little girl who stood next to him, he asked, “What do you say?” Without waiting a moment, she replied, “It’s when nobody does nothing, and somebody goes and tells of it.” “Very good,” said the minister. The little girl’s answer was a very funny one; but the little boy’s was true. Bearing false witness is telling lies, and telling lies is bearing false witness. We break the Ninth Commandment every time we tell a lie.

I. The first reason why we should never bear false witness or tell a lie is, because it is a mean thing. Who was the first person of whom we know that ever told a lie? Satan. Where was this lie told? In the garden of Eden. Satan bore false witness against God. He contradicted God. This was mean of Satan. He did it out of spite. A gentleman once sent his servant to market with the direction to bring home the best thing he could find. He carried home a tongue. He was sent again with the direction to bring home the worst thing he could find. Again he brought home a tongue. This was right; for the tongue is the best thing in the world when properly used, or the worst when not so used.

II. The second reason why we should not do it is, because it is aa unprofitable thing. People generally expect to make something when they tell a lie.

III. The third reason why we ought not to do this is, because it is dangerous. Lying is like letting water through a bank. When it once begins to run, there is no telling where it will stop. Now, suppose it were possible all at once to draw every bolt and fastening out of that ship as she sails over the ocean, what would become of her? She would fall to pieces directly, and all her cargo would be lost. Well, every family, every village or town, is like such a ship. It is made up of a number of persons bound together. And what binds them together? Why, truth or confidence. Truth among people in society is like the bolt in the ship. If nobody told the truth, and people had no confidence in one another, they could no more live together in families or communities, and do business together, than a number of pieces of timber without bolts to fasten them together could make a ship. Would it not be very dangerous to have a person on board a ship who had a machine for drawing the bolts out, and who was trying to use it all the time? Certainly it would. Well, lying is such a machine.

IV. Our fourth and last reason is, we ought not to do it because it is a wicked thing. This is shown by--

1. What God says of liars (see Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:5).

2. What God does with liars (see Revelation 21:8). (R. Newton, D. D.)

On the sin of bearing false witness

I. First, what are the different senses in which a man may be said to bear false witness against his neighbour.

II. The enormity of the sin of bearing false witness. The malignity of an offence arises either from the motives that prompted it or the consequences produced by it. The most usual incitement to defamation is envy, or impatience of the merit, or success of other; a malice raised not by any injury received, but merely by the sight of that happiness which we cannot attain. Calumnies are sometimes the offspring of resentment. When a man is opposed in a design which he cannot justify, and defeated in the prosecution of schemes of tyranny, extortion, or oppression, he seldom fails to revenge his overthrow by blackening that integrity which effected it. The consequences of this crime, whatever be the inducement to commit it, are equally pernicious. He that attacks the reputation of another, invades the most valuable part of his property, and perhaps the only part which he can call his own. (Bp. J. Taylor, D. D.)

Breaches of the Ninth Commandment

I. In heart a man may fail--

1. By suspecting others unjustly, this is called evil surmising (1 Timothy 6:4), which is when men are suspected of some evil without ground, as Potiphar suspected Joseph.

2. By rash judging, and unjust concluding concerning a man’s state, as Job’s friends did; or his actions, as Eli did of Hannah, saying, that she was drunk, because of the moving of her lips.

3. By hasty judging, too often passing sentence in our mind from some seeming evidence of that which is only in the heart, and not in the outward practice; this is but to judge before the time, and hastily (Matthew 7:1).

4. There is light judging, laying the weight of conclusions upon arguments that will not bear it, as Job’s friends did, and as the barbarians suspected Paul, when they saw the viper on his hand, to be a murderer (Acts 25:4).

5. The breach of this command in the heart may be when suspicion of our neighbour’s failing is kept up, and means not used to be satisfied about it, contrary to that (Matthew 18:15). If thy brother offend thee, etc., and when we seek not to be satisfied, but rest on presumptions, when they seem probable.

II. In gesture this command may be broken, by nodding, winking, or such like (and even sometimes by silence), when these import in our accustomed way some tacit sinistrous insinuation, especially when either they are purposed for that end, or when others are known to mistake because of them, and we suffer them to continue under this mistake.

III. By writing this command may be broken, as Ezra 5:6.; Nehemiah 6:5, where calumniating rebels are written, and sent by their enemies against the Jews and Nehemiah; in which respect many fail in these days.

IV. But words are most properly the seat wherein this sin is subjected, whether they be only or merely words, or also put in writing, because in these our conformity or disconformity to truth doth most appear. (James Durham.)

Slander

The false witness which was born against the Puritans by the profligate wits of the court of Charles II., produced in the mind of this country a strong antagonism to the great principles for which the Puritans contended. The calumnies which, during the first two centuries, were flung at the Christians, made many upright heathen believe that Christianity itself was an execrable superstition. Slander a clergyman and you help to make the principle of an Established Church odious, and you try to win the cause of ecclesiastical freedom before the tribunal of public opinion by “false witness” against your neighbour. Slander a Nonconformist and you help to make Nonconformity odious, and you try by “false witness “against your neighbour to induce the tribunal of public opinion to pronounce in favour of religious establishments. Pick up and circulate any scandal you may happen to hear--no matter how untrustworthy the authority for it--to the dishonour of a religious man, and you do what lies in your power to create a conviction in the public mind that all religious men are hypocrites, and that religion itself is an imposture. It is by the opinion which society forms on individuals that its general opinions on all questions, moral, religious, and political, are to a very large extent created; and to bear “false witness” either for or against any man is to attempt to deceive and to mislead that great Tribunal--whose decisions affect not merely the happiness and the reputation of particular men, but the formation of the conscience and the judgment of the whole nation. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

False witness

There was a boy of the name of John Busby. He said once, “What a wicked man Mr. Bradburry is.” A gentleman said to him, “I do not think he is wicked; I think he is very good; he is always on the line of his duty.” “I only know,” said John, “that he went to church last Sunday, and he slept all through the sermon.” The other was very much surprised, because he thought Mr. Bradburry was a very good man; so he said to the boy, “Can you tell me what the text was?” “No, I can’t,” said John; “but I can tell you Mr. Bradburry was asleep all the time.” “Then,” said the gentleman to him, “I happen to know the text; for Mr. Bradburry told me not only the text, but all about the sermon. You say he was fast asleep; but I can tell you he has got very weak eyes, and there is a gas lamp between him and the pulpit; and he is obliged to shut his eyes because he cannot stand the light.” Do you see, that was “bearing false witness” on the part of John Busby; that was slander, taking away his character. We must not bear “false witness.” We used sometimes to play a game called “Scandal.” It is a very good game. You all sit round in a circle, and somebody tells a person at one end a story he has heard about something or somebody--anything you like. He whispers it to the next one, and he again whispers it to the next, and he to the next, and to the next. When it comes to the last person, he is to say aloud what he has had whispered to him, and the first is to say what he had said. Often the act of repeating it all around makes it seem quite a different story. That is called “Scandal” or “Slander.” You try that game some day, and it will teach you the importance of being very exact in repeating what you hear, if you would not “bear false witness.” (J. Vaughan.)

A cure for backbiting

A gentleman writes that he once saw the title “Slander Book,” printed on the back of a small ledger in a friend’s house. On examining it, he found that the various members of the household were charged so much for every piece of slander they were found uttering. The accounts were very neatly and correctly kept, credits entered, etc., as in a merchant’s office. The plan originated with a good young girl, who had observed the wretched effects of evil-speaking in families and in the neighbourhood.

Scandal

The story is told of a woman who freely used her tongue to the scandal of others, and made confession to the priest of what she had done. He gave her a ripe thistle top, and told her to go out in various directions and scatter the seeds, one by one. Wondering at the penance, she obeyed, and then returned and told her confessor. To her amazement, he bade her go back and gather the scattered seeds; and when she objected that it would be impossible, he replied, that it would be still more difficult to gather up and destroy all evil reports which she had circulated about others. Any thoughtless, careless child can scatter a handful of thistle-seed before the wind in a moment, but the strongest and wisest man cannot gather them again.


Verse 17

Exodus 20:17

Thou shalt not covet.

The Tenth Commandment

I. The history of the world is stained and darkened by the crimes to which nations have been driven by the spirit of covetousness, Covetousness is forbidden not merely to prevent the miseries, and horrors, and crimes of aggressive war, but to train the spirit of nations to the recognition of God’s own idea of their relations to each other. Nations should see underlying this Commandment the Divine idea of the unity of the human race; they should learn to seek greatness by ministering to each other’s peace, security, prosperity, and happiness.

II. Individuals, as well As nations, may violate this law. They may do it--

1. By ambition.

2. By discontent and envy.

3. By the desire to win from another man the love which is the pride and joy of his life.

The very end for which Christ came was to redeem us from selfishness. The last of the Ten Commandments touches the characteristic precept of the new law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (R. W. Dale, D. D.)

Coveting prohibited

I. What is coveting? The Hebrew word is really but expressive of a strong controlling desire. This is not forbidden per se in the Commandment, but a special form of coveting, determined by the objects enumerated. Prussic acid in itself is not bad--it is just as good as bread or milk; but it would be evil in me to use or seek prussic acid as my food, because its relation to me in that case would be pernicious.

II. What are the objects which we must not covet? If anything belongs to our neighbour, either by the tie of property, as a house, or by the tie of domestic union, as a wife, it thereby partakes of the sacredness of his own person, and is so to be viewed by us. The coveting any such object for ourselves is directly at war with this view. It pollutes this sanctity, it destroys in our heart the harmony of things and introduces confusion. Anything appertaining to our neighbour is in such relation to us as to condemn all coveting. The elements of his wrath, his happiness, his fame, his success, are all included. His time, his talents, his opportunities, his advantages, so far as they are peculiarly his and are not common to all, are in the same category.

III. What is the harm of coveting?

1. It degrades our neighbour in our heart.

2. We are nursing the brood of sin in our soul. It is spiritual corruption--gangrene. You are carefully cherishing the eggs of envy, jealousy, malice, anger, and revenge, when you indulge in your unhallowed desires; and these dire monsters will be hatched and become your irresistible masters before you are aware.

IV. How shall we avoid this evil coveting? “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” The desires of the heart are not to be annihilated, man is not to be reduced to an inert lump, his passions are to burn as brightly as ever, his eager heart to beat as strongly as before, yet not for worldly jewels, but for heaven’s crown. The current is to run as swiftly as before, but now in a new channel. We are to seek first--that is, as chief--the kingdom of God and His righteousness. (H. Crosby, D. D.)

Inordinate desire forbidden

Love is compatible with desire, but it is not consistent with inordinate desire.

I. The violation of this command arraigns the wisdom of Providence.

II. The violation of this command disturbs the balance of society.

III. The violation of this command produces criminal deeds.

IV. The violation of this command embitters existence.

V. This command can only be kept in the spirit of the gospel. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

The law of motive

1. Human laws cannot meddle with a man’s desires; they may control his conduct, may even punish his utterances; but any attempt to fetter his wishes would be as futile as to chain the free winds, or restrain the ocean’s tides. Therefore, when this Commandment says, “Thou shalt not covet,” etc., it gives a plain warning that the Decalogue is something more than a criminal code.

2. Again, a man’s desires can only be known to God and himself, and no other person has any right to rule them. Therefore, when this Commandment lays claim to such a right, it manifestly speaks in the name of God.

I. What is the essential principle of this Commandment?

1. What is forbidden is unlawful desire. We are to cherish contentment; to avoid discontent and envy.

2. But of all violations of this Commandment, the Scriptures single out for especial reprobation the greed of money. Even when there is no apparent disregard of the rights of others, the inordinate love of gain--“accursed hunger of pernicious gold”--is stigmatized with the name of covetousness. But, it may be asked, if it is lawful to make money, why is it unlawful to love money? The answer is, that money should be only a means to an end, the end being the glorifying of God with our substance; but a man cannot serve two masters. If we love the means, we cease to love the end; and the love of money is forbidden because it kills the love of God

II. The special function of this Commandment.

1. To awaken a conviction of moral failure. The ordinary course of many a man’s moral life might be compared to the glassy surface of a river, smooth because undisturbed. If in that swift torrent, at mid-channel, some firmly-bedded rock obtrudes itself, there is a sudden swirling and commotion, the opposition reveals the current. Like that rock is this law of motive. It does not cause, does not reverse the stream, but it discovers it. Oh, terrible illumination!

2. So in the providence of God the way is prepared for a gospel of grace and truth.

III. The secret of this law’s fulfilment. We can perfectly keep no Commandment except as we have learned the law of motive; and we can keep the law of motive only as we do it with loving hearts.

1. Without love no law can be truly obeyed, whether to God or our neighbour; but he that loves as Christ loved, will love rightly; he that loves rightly will desire rightly; and he that desires rightly will keep both this Commandment and all the Decalogue.

2. This spirit of neighbourly love needs to be empowered by the grace of Christ. Our Saviour is not only the Pattern, but also the Source of it. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)

The Tenth Commandment

I. Let us inquire, what is covetousness?