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Deuteronomy Chapter Five                            

 

Deuteronomy 5

Chapter Contents

The covenant in Horeb. (1-5) The ten commandments repeated. (6-22) The request of the people that the law might be delivered through Moses. (23-33)

Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:1-5

(Read Deuteronomy 5:1-5)

Moses demands attention. When we hear the word of God we must learn it; and what we have learned we must put in practice, for that is the end of hearing and learning; not to fill our heads with notions, or our mouths with talk, but to direct our affections and conduct.

Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:6-22

(Read Deuteronomy 5:6-22)

There is some variation here from Exodus 20 as between the Lord's prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. It is more necessary that we tie ourselves to the things, than to the words unalterably. The original reason for hallowing the sabbath, taken from God's resting from the work of creation on the seventh day, is not here mentioned. Though this ever remains in force, it is not the only reason. Here it is taken from Israel's deliverance out of Egypt; for that was typical of our redemption by Jesus Christ, in remembrance of which the Christian sabbath was to be observed. In the resurrection of Christ we were brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God, with a mighty hand, and an outstretched arm. How sweet is it to a soul truly distressed under the terrors of a broken law, to hear the mild and soul-reviving language of the gospel!

Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:23-33

(Read Deuteronomy 5:23-33)

Moses refers to the consternation caused by the terror with which the law was given. God's appearances have always been terrible to man, ever since the fall; but Christ, having taken away sin, invites us to come boldly to the throne of grace. They were in a good mind, under the strong convictions of the word they heard. Many have their consciences startled by the law who have them not purified; fair promises are extorted from them, but no good principles are fixed and rooted in them. God commended what they said. He desires the welfare and salvation of poor sinners. He has given abundant proof that he does so; he gives us time and space to repent. He has sent his Son to redeem us, promised his Spirit to those who pray for him, and has declared that he has no pleasure in the ruin of sinners. It would be well with many, if there were always such a heart in them, as there seems to be sometimes; when they are under conviction of sin, or the rebukes of providence, or when they come to look death in the face. The only way to be happy, is to be holy. Say to the righteous, It shall be well with them. Let believers make it more and more their study and delight, to do as the Lord God hath commanded.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Deuteronomy

 

Deuteronomy 5

Verse 1

[1] And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.

All Israel — Namely by their elders, who were to impart it to the rest.

Verse 3

[3] The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.

Not with our fathers — Only: but with us, who are all alive - He saith not, that all who made the covenant at Sinai are now alive, but this covenant was made with all that are now alive; which is most true, for it was made with the elders in their persons, and with the rest in their parents, who covenanted for them.

Verse 4

[4] The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,

Face to face — Personally and immediately, not by the mouth or ministry of Moses; plainly and certainly, as when two men talk face to face; freely and familiarly, so as not to overwhelm and confound you.

Verse 5

[5] (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying,

Between the Lord and you — As a mediator between you, according to your desire.

The word of the Lord — Not the ten commandments, which God himself uttered, but the following statutes and judgments.

Verse 7

[7] Thou shalt have none other gods before me.

There being little said, concerning the spiritual sense of the Ten Commandments, in the notes on the twentieth of Exodus, I think it needful to add a few questions here, which the reader may answer between God and his own soul.

Thou shalt have none other gods before me — Hast thou worshipped God in spirit and in truth? Hast thou proposed to thyself no end besides him? Hath he been the end of all thy actions? Hast thou sought for any other happiness, than the knowledge and love of God? Dost thou experimentally know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent? Dost thou love God? Dost thou love him with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength; so as to love nothing else but in that manner and degree which tends to increase thy love of him? Hast thou found happiness in God? Is he the desire of thine eyes, the joy of thy heart? If not, thou hast other gods before him.

Verse 8

[8] Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

Thou shalt not make any graven image — Hast thou not formed any gross image of God in thy mind? Hast thou always thought of him as a pure spirit, whom no man hath seen, nor can see? And hast thou worshipped him with thy body, as well as with thy spirit, seeing both of them are God's?

Verse 11

[11] 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.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain — Hast thou never used the name of God, unless on solemn and weighty occasions? Hast thou then used it with the deepest awe? Hast thou duly honoured his word, his ordinances, his ministers? Hast thou considered all things as they stand in relation to him, and seen God in all? Hast thou looked upon heaven as God's throne? Up on earth as God's footstool? On every thing therein as belonging to the great king? On every creature as full of God?

Verse 12

[12] Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.

Keep the sabbath-day, to sanctify it — Dost thou do no work on this day, which can be done as well on another? Art thou peculiarly careful on this day, to avoid all conversation, which does not tend to the knowledge and love of God? Dost thou watch narrowly over all that are within thy gates, that they too may keep it holy? And dost thou try every possible means, to bring all men, wherever you are, to do the same?

Verse 16

[16] Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Honour thy father and mother — Hast thou not been irreverent or undutiful to either? Hast thou not slighted their advice? Hast thou chearfully obeyed all their lawful commands? Hast thou loved and honoured their persons? Supplied their wants, and concealed their infirmities? Hast thou wrestled for them with God in prayer? Hast thou loved and honoured thy prince, and avoided as fire all speaking evil of the ruler of thy people? Have ye that are servants done all things as unto Christ? Not with eye-service, but in singleness of heart? Have ye who are masters, behaved as parents to your servants, with all gentleness and affection? Have ye all obeyed them that watch over your souls, and esteemed them highly in love for their work's sake?

Verse 17

[17] Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not kill — Have you not tempted any one, to what might shorten his life? Have you tempted none to intemperance? Have you suffered none to be intemperate under your roof, or in your company? Have you done all you could in every place, to prevent intemperance of all kinds! Are you guilty of no degree of self-murder? Do you never eat or drink any thing because you like it, although you have reason to believe, it is prejudicial to your health? Have you constantly done whatever you had reason to believe was conducive to it? Have you not hated your neighbour in your heart? Have you reproved him that committed sin in your sight? If not, you have in God's account hated him, seeing you suffered sin upon him. Have you loved all men as your own soul? As Christ loved us? Have you done unto all men, as in like circumstances, you would they should do to you? Have you done all in your power to help your neighbours, enemies as well as friends? Have you laboured to deliver every soul you could from sin and misery? Have you shewed that you loved all men as yourself, by a constant, earnest endeavour, to fill all places with holiness and happiness, with the knowledge and love of God?

Verse 18

[18] Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

Neither shalt thou commit adultery — If thou hast not been guilty of any act of uncleanness, hath thy heart conceived no unclean thought? Hast thou not looked on a woman so as to lust after her? Hast thou not betrayed thy own soul to temptation, by eating and drinking to the full, by needless familiarities, by foolish talking, by levity of dress or behaviour? Hast thou used all the means which scripture and reason suggest, to prevent every kind and degree of unchastity? Hast thou laboured, by watching, fasting, and prayer, to possess thy vessel in sanctification and honour?

Verse 19

[19] Neither shalt thou steal.

Neither shalt thou steal — Have you seriously considered, that these houses, lands, money, or goods, which you are used to call your own, are not your own, but belong to another, even God? Have you ever considered, that God is the sole proprietor of heaven and earth? The true owner of every thing therein? Have you considered, that he has only lent them to you? That you are but a steward of your Lord's goods? And that he has told you expressly the uses and purposes for which he intrusts you with them? Namely, for the furnishing first yourselves, and then as many others as you can, with the things needful for life and godliness? Have you considered, that you have no right at all, to apply any part of them to any other purpose? And that if you do, you are as much a robber of God, as any can be a robber of you?

Verse 20

[20] Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour — Have you not been guilty of evil-speaking? Of needlessly repeating the real fault of your neighbour? If I see a man do an evil thing, and tell it to another, unless from a full and clear conviction, that it is necessary to mention it just then, for the glory of God, the safety or good of some other person, or for the benefit of him that hath done amiss; and unless I then do it only so far, as is necessary to these ends, that is evil-speaking. O beware of this! It is scattering abroad arrows, fire-brands, and death.

Verse 21

[21] Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

Neither shalt thou covet any thing that is thy neighbour's — The plain meaning of this is, thou shalt not desire any thing that is not thy own, any thing which thou hast not. Indeed why shouldst thou? God hath given thee whatever tends to thy one end, holiness. Thou canst not deny it, without making him a liar: and: when any thing else will tend thereto, he will give thee that also. There is therefore no room to desire any thing which thou hast not. Thou hast already every thing that is really good for thee, wouldst thou have more money, more pleasure, more praise still? Why this is not good for thee. God has told thee so, by withholding it from thee. O give thyself up to his wise and gracious disposal!

Verse 22

[22] These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.

Out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness — That was a dispensation of terror, designed to make the gospel of grace the more welcome, and to be a specimen of the terrors of the judgment-day.

He added no more — He ceased for that time to speak immediately, and with that loud voice unto the people; for the rest were delivered to Moses, and by him communicated unto them. This he did to shew the preeminence of that law above the rest, and its everlasting obligation.

Verse 25

[25] Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die.

Why should we die? — For though God hath for this season kept us alive, yet we shall never be able to endure any farther discourse from him in such a terrible manner, but shall certainly sink under the burden of it.

Verse 26

[26] For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?

Flesh — Is here put for man in his frail, corruptible, and mortal state.

Verse 29

[29] O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

O that there were such an heart in them! — A heart to fear God, and keep his commandments forever! The God of heaven is truly and earnestly desirous of the salvation of poor sinners. He has given abundant proof that he is so: he gives us time and space to repent; by his mercies invites us to repentance, and waiteth to be gracious: has sent his son to redeem us, published a general offer of pardon, promised his spirit to those that pray for him; and has said, yea and sworn, that he hath no pleasure in the death of a sinner!

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Deuteronomy

 

05 Chapter 5

 

Verses 1-5

Deuteronomy 5:1-5

The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.

The promulgation of the law

God was ever wonderful in His works, and fearful in His judgments--but He was never so terrible in the execution of His will as now in the promulgation of it. Here was nothing but a display of grandeur in the eyes, in the ears of the Israelites, as if God meant to show them by this how dreadful He could be. In the destruction of the first world there were clouds--in the destruction of Sodom there was fire; but here were fires, smoke, clouds, thunder, earthquakes, and whatsoever might work more astonishment than was ever in any vengeance inflicted. And if the law, were thus given, how shall it be required? If such were the proclamation of God’s statutes, what shall be His tribunal? The trumpet of an angel called to the one--the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God, shall summon us to the other. Of the one, Moses, who alone witnessed it, saith, “God came with the multitude of His saints”; in the other, thousand thousands shall minister unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand shall stand before Him. In the one, Mount Sinai only was in a flame,--all the world shall be so in the other. In the one there were thunders and fires; in the other, a fiery stream shall proceed from Him, whereby the elements shall melt with fervent heat--the heavens and earth shall be dissolved--they shall flee away, and have no place. God would have Israel see that they had not a Governor whose commands might be neglected or trifled with; and therefore, before He gives His people a law, He shows them that He can command heaven, earth, water, fire, air, by the mere signification of His will--thus teaching them that it was a fearful thing to displease such a Legislator, or violate such statutes--while they beheld the elements examples of that obedience, which man should always yield to his Maker. O royal law, and mighty Lawgiver! How could they think of having any other God, that had such evidence of the Divine power of the God of Israel? How could they think of making any resemblance of Him, whom they could not see, but whom they knew to be infinite? How could they dare to profane His name, who proclaimed Himself to them by the incommunicable name of Jehovah? How could they refuse to observe His sacred day, when they saw Him command those luminaries by which days and years are measured? How could they refuse to render honour and fear to those who derive their authority from God, when they saw Him able to assert His own and maintain that of His vicegerents upon earth? How could they think of killing, when they were so strongly affected with the fear of Him who thus manifested Himself able to save and to destroy? How could they think of the flames of impure desires, who beheld such fires of vengeance? How could they think of stealing from others, when they saw who was Lord of heaven and earth, from whom their neighbour derived all his possessions? How could they think of speaking falsely, when they heard the God of truth speak in so tremendous a voice? How could they think of coveting what was another’s, when they saw how weak and uncertain a right they had to what was their own? Lord, to us was this moral law delivered, as well as to them. The letter and ceremonial is passed away; the spirit remains, and shall remain to the end of time. There had not been such state in Thy promulgation of it, if Thou hadst not intended it for eternity. How should we, who comply with human laws to avoid some trifling forfeiture, how should we fear Thee, O God, who art able to cast both soul and body into hell! (Bp. Hall.)

Who are all of us here alive this day.

For the last day of the year

I. This text applies to many this day to whom it was not applicable last year. Thousands have been born in the course of this year.

II. The text applied to many last year to whom it is not now applicable. They were then alive, but now they are inhabitants of the tomb, and their souls have entered the eternal state. Of these, many classes might be specified.

1. Some who were expecting it. Aged, infirm, afflicted, who were daily awaiting their dismissal.

2. Some who were reckoning on many years to come. Young, healthy, hearts full of life; but they perished as the flower. “Their sun went down while it was yet day.”

3. Some, we fear, died unprepared. Aliens to God; strangers to repentance, faith, and holiness.

4. Many, we trust, died in the Lord. Race ended; warfare accomplished; crown received; forever with the Lord.

III. The text is applicable to all those now assembled. “We are all alive here this day.”

1. And it is wonderful that we are so. Amidst so many dangers, diseases, and death.

2. Is entirely owing to the goodness and patience of God.

3. We are alive under increasing responsibilities. Many blessings have been given to us this year, for all of which we must give an account: talents, time, opportunities, Sabbaths, sermons, etc.

4. Being alive should fill us with hearty gratitude to God. Our lips, hearts, and lives should show forth His praise.

5. As we are alive, let us now resolve to live more than ever to God, and for eternity.

IV. It is highly probable that the text is now applicable to some here for the last time. (J. Burns, D. D.)


Verse 6

Deuteronomy 5:6

I am the Lord thy God.

The mission of law

In a general sense law is the manner in which an act shall be performed. In civil life it is a legislative declaration how a citizen shall act; in morals it is a rule of conduct proceeding from one who has the right to rule, and directed to those who have the ability to obey. In this sense laws are mandatory, prohibitory, permissive, according to the object to be obtained, commanding what shall be done, forbidding what shall not be done, permitting what may be done. There is an antagonism prevailing in our country and in other lands against the authority of these old mandates received by Moses from the hand of the Almighty. It is difficult to understand that some who assert the uniformity of nature, or what they are pleased to call “material law,” yet seek to emancipate themselves from moral obligation, which is natural law. They declare for absolute liberty; that man should be governed by his own tastes, desires, and passions; that he should gratify himself without interference from society or the restrictions of law. It is enough to say that man is not constituted for such conditions of liberty, for restraint seems to be as beneficial as law itself. Man is organised restriction, ever subject to consequences and penalties. He cannot pass a certain boundary without peril; he is a living code of law. Unlimited gratification is the right of no man. Such is his constitution that man can think so far, can see so much, can eat and drink to such a degree, can sleep so long, endure so much, and beyond this he cannot go. He is ever within the embrace of law--“Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.” It is true of him in his worst and in his best estate. The law of limitation is as prevalent as law itself. Atoms and worlds, liquids and solids, plants and animals are bounded by limitations. Flowers bloom, trees grow, fish swim, birds fly, beasts roam, lightnings flash, thunders peal, winds blow, oceans roll, all within limitations. The gem is crystallised, the dewdrop is moulded, trees are carbonised, rocks metallised, clouds become rain, and the sun sends forth his wealth of health and beauty, all within limitations. Throw off this law of restriction, and the roots of the trees would take hold of the foundations of the earth and their branches would sweep the stars; throw it off, and man’s growth would be perpetuated until his brow reached the heavens. Throw it off, and the planets would rush in wildest confusion. Man is no exception in this higher nature; excess is ruin. He must not encroach upon the domain of the Infinite. His vices are bounded by consequences and penalties. Excessive gratification multiplies his sorrows and hastens him to a premature grave. He is boundless in nothing but intelligence and virtue; in these he can approach the Infinite, but never reach Him. This is his highest ideal. Man hates restraint; his foolish cry is, “Give us liberty or give us death”; but such liberty is without order. Natural liberty is acting without the restraints of nature; civil liberty is acting with abridged natural freedom; moral liberty is acting within the limitations of moral law. There is a difference between the power to disobey and the right to disobey. A citizen may have the power to take the property of another, but not the right. There is nothing more wholesome for a man to realise than the certainty of law, immutable, inflexible, inexorable. Law is a Shylock; the consequences of violation are sure to come. There is nothing more majestic and solemn than the eternity of law. Human enactments are repealed, human obligations are for a term of years; but the obligations of the law of God will last while He is on the throne of the universe. In our aversion to restraint we are tempted to ask, Who is Jehovah, that we should obey? What is the ground of obligation to Him? Civil government has authority over us, because of the social relations which the Creator has established between man and man, and because of common consent; parental authority springs from relationship, but God’s authority has its source in absolute possession. He made us, and not we ourselves; we are the offspring of His power--“Ye are not your own.” Herein is the eternal fitness of things. From this is the greatest good. The power to enforce His commands may be the subordinate reason for obedience, but it is not the highest. A giant is not necessarily a ruler; might is not right. We must look for a more beneficent reason. Certain special duties may derive their apparent obligations from certain relations. Endowed with intelligence, I should adore God for His wonderful works. Possessing life, reason, and affections and other sources of happiness incident to my being, I owe Him gratitude founded on natural sentiment and demanded by all that is reasonable. But these relations are not necessarily the reason of obedience, nor does His right to rule me and my duty to obey Him flow out of His will. Why has He the right to will me to do thus and thus? But if we look a little deeper, a little closer, we shall discover that His right to will and my duty to obey are from His absolute possession. That right has no limitation. It can never be transferred, or alienated, or destroyed. “The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, Thou hast founded them.” It is a law of nations that the first discoverer of a country is esteemed the rightful possessor and lord thereof; that the originator of a successful invention has unquestionable dominion of the property therein on the score of justice; that the author of a beneficent truth, whether in the domain of science, government, or religion, has priority of claim to the honour and benefits thereof. These things have reached the majesty of international law; hence the long and vexatious controversies touching the relative claims of Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci as to the discovery of this country; the rival claims of Gutenberg and Faust touching the invention of the art of printing; the first demonstration of the circulation of the blood, whether Harvey or Fabricius or Padua; who first identified lightning and electricity, whether Abbe Nollet or our own Franklin, and whether Darwin or Wallace is the author of the theory of natural selection. Men and nations have jealously guarded and vindicated this right of priority of claim; for its maintenance battles have been fought and empires have toppled to their fall. When a man comes into the possession of a block of marble by discovery or presentation or purchase, and adds to its value by his deft fingers with mallet and chisel, and sculptures thereon some bird, or man, or angel, it is the consent of mankind that he has an additional claim to that piece of marble growing out of the right of possession and the success of his skill. “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me.” (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

God’s laws of life

In the present day we hear and read a great deal concerning law. “The laws of nature” is a much more common expression now than in the days of our forefathers; for the study of nature, the investigation of its wonders, and the examination of its phenomena are now more thorough and general and successful than they used to be; and the progress of science has made this expression very familiar to us. All things are in subjection to law, in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath; all things, from a world to a sand grain, from a mighty constellation to a rounded pebble, from “the great and wide sea” to the tiny dew drop, from the giant banyan tree to the lowly shrub, from “behemoth” to the insect, are subject to law. “The laws of nature,” instead of excluding the God of nature, are the beautiful expression of His thought and will. The order of the universe has originated ill the mind of Him who created it. As Hooker finely said, “Law has its seat in the bosom of God, and its voice is the harmony of the world.” God’s moral law was given to man as an intelligent and moral being. This law is written in man’s nature. A philosopher said that two things “filled his soul with awe--the starry heaven above, and the moral law within.” But if the law was already found in man’s conscience, what need was there to proclaim it on Mount Sinai?

1. First, because the record was becoming obscure through growing depravity; the letters were defaced, the moral sense was blunted. Sir Walter Scott’s “Old Mortality” renewed the inscriptions on the old moss-grown tombstones, cut out with his chisel and hammer the letters which time and decay had nearly obliterated. But there was no teacher among the heathen that could renew the inscription on man’s nature, and restore the defaced letters, and remove the grime that had gathered around them. The conscience, like all the other faculties, needed education and training.

2. Secondly, it was necessary that Israel should have a Divine standard of conduct. Having just been delivered from the house of Egyptian bondage, and having been contaminated by the influence of Egyptian idolatry, it was necessary that they should have a rule of life that was clear and unmistakable. They needed a revealed and written standard of duty.

3. Thirdly, it was necessary, in order to preserve to all coming ages God’s judgment of what man ought to be, God’s ideal of man’s life. A revelation by word of mouth would not suffice; for oral tradition would in time be corrupted. There are some human laws that are necessary for some peoples, and not for others; but this is the same in every climate and country--among the Esquimaux in the land of everlasting snows, and among the dusky tribes of Africa, among the civilised nations of Europe, and among savages, among rich and poor, learned and unlearned, Jew and Greek, “Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free.” And this law is unchangeable in its character. Physical laws may be suspended by other or higher laws; as animal food is preserved by salt, and gravitation is overcome by life. “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” I fear that in the present age we are in danger of losing sight of God as our Ruler. We dwell, and rightly, on the revelation of the Fatherhood of God. “Our Father.” What name so attractive and beautiful and helpful as this? But He is also King; He sways a sceptre of righteousness; He exercises dominion; He claims obedience; He demands service. “I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” “And God spake all these words.” God is the Eternal Home of righteousness, and He has made known His righteous will to men. “God spake.” Sin had put an end to the communications between earth and heaven; but God broke the silence. It would be terrible to think of God dwelling in the heavens, and not saying a word to us. The Psalmist’s cry was, “Be not silent to me, lest I be like them that go down into the pit.” In this introduction or preface to the words of the law we see the grounds on which He claims authority over men, and demands their obedience and homage and service; these grounds are--His relation to them, and His merciful deliverance of them.

I. His relation to them. “I am the Lord thy God.” He was the God of their fathers; He had called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees from among idolaters; He was the fear of Isaac; He was the helper of Jacob. And here He says to their descendants, “I am the Lord thy God,” or “I am Jehovah, thy God.” This was the name by which He made Himself known to Moses from the burning bush. God was now about to unfold the meaning of the name in the history of His people. It denotes His eternal self-existence. “I am Jehovah, I change not.” Change is essential to finite beings; to their glory, and blessedness, and peace. Without progress--and progress implies change--a man’s life anywhere would be wretched. Thank God we may be changed; for to be fixed in our present state of ignorance and sin and weakness would be untold misery. But God changes not; and this is His glory. He is so perfect that no change could make Him wiser, or holier, or more blessed than He is. Like the fire in the bush, His glory is flaming through the universe; but it does not depend upon the universe for its existence. And this name not only denotes essential existence, but it was also the covenant name of God, and contained the promise of future manifestation; and this was very appropriate on the threshold of Jewish history, when the horde of Egyptian slaves were about to be converted into an army of brave men. “I am Jehovah, thy God.” He was entering into a close relation to them. And He is now entering into a covenant relation with all who trust in His name. Our God. Jehovah, our God! The Self-existent, our God! The Ruler of all things, our God! The All-sufficient, the Eternal on our side! What grander revelation can we have than this? The unity of the nation is indicated in the use of the singular pronoun, “I am Jehovah, thy God, which have brought thee out.” The Psalmist said, “I will sing praise to my God.” And this was the keynote of many of the Psalms. “My God”--mine personally, mine consciously, mine forever. One man claiming God as his own! You may tell me that God is ruling the universe, guiding the stupendous worlds. But what about me? I have my sorrows, my burdens, my hopes, my grave before me. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none on the earth that I desire beside Thee.”

II. The other ground on which He claims authority over men is found in the merciful deliverance He has wrought out on their behalf. “Which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Egypt was the home of civilisation, of culture, of art, of power. Into Egypt Abram came in his wanderings; the children of Jacob went down there in time of famine; Joseph ruled as prime minister there; it was the nursery of Abraham’s race; and there they grew to be a great people. What was the object of mentioning this event in the introduction to the law? Was it not to show that God’s claims to obedience are based on His faithfulness, and that love is the parent of law? The people were first freed, and then they received the law. God manifests Himself on our behalf, and then claims our obedience. We cannot liberate ourselves from the bondage of sin; for this is a slavery which neither millions of money nor the exploits on battlefields can destroy, a slavery which no Emancipation Act can terminate. But One has interposed for us; the Paschal Lamb has been offered; “Christ our passover was sacrificed for us.” According to the course of history, the law precedes the Gospel; but in the experience of the saved sinner the Gospel precedes the law. There is gratitude felt for the redemption from bondage, and that gratitude leads to obedience and consecration. “His delight is in the law of the Lord.” (James Owen.)

The preface to the Decalogue

I. He makes way to the obeying of His laws by propounding His sovereign power: I am the Lord thy God, I am Jehovah, the only true God; I am self-existent, and I give being unto all things. My essence is eternal and unchangeable; I do what I please in heaven and earth; My power and dominion are infinite. This is a very suitable introduction to the commandments. It is a prevalent motive, a powerful argument to induce us to yield obedience to whatever God shall be pleased to propound as our duty. Besides, “Thou signifies the equality of the obligation; God speaking to all the people as to one man, that every person may think himself concerned to obey, and that no man may plead exception. This Lord, this Jehovah, who here speaks, is God over all; His authority and sovereignty are unlimited.

II. Not only the sovereignty, but the goodness of God is mentioned here as an argument of obedience--“I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” We have by the gracious undertakings of Christ been brought out of the house of bondage, delivered from that captivity and slavery wherein Satan and our own guilt had involved us. This Divine philanthropy, this transcendent beneficence, together with all the other blessings, mercies, and favours conferred upon us, are forcible engagements, yea, strong allurements to obedience. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

Introduction to the Decalogue

The Ten Commandments stand alone, not only in the Old Testament, but in the moral development and education of our race. They form the groundwork, the bedrock, on which all goodness and morality are built.

I. Some interesting particulars in the record of these Ten Commandments.

1. There are two distinct versions, differing considerably in detail, yet in substance identical. Inspiration is concerned with great realities, not with trivialities; and both Exodus and Deuteronomy are right when they tell us these were the words God spake, if we do not interpret that statement to mean that it pledges us to believe the verbal accuracy of each record. Two accounts of the same occurrence may be absolutely true, and yet differ considerably in mere verbal correctness.

2. They are never called the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, usually “The Ten Words,” or “The Testimony.” This fact is not unimportant, for the term “word” conveys a richer idea of a revelation from God than the word “commandment.” A commandment is a law binding on those who hear it, but is not necessarily a revelation of the character of the person who gives it; but “the word of the Lord” is not merely an utterance of God, but a revelation from God. The same truth is conveyed in the name most frequently given to the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, “The Testimony.” It is God’s own utterance of His will to His people, of His revelation concerning Himself, of what He bids them do.

3. The number of the commandments is significant. There are ten, and ten is the only complete number. After we count ten we begin again, for ten completes the number of the primary digits.

4. It is hardly correct to say that the first five commandments relate to duty to God, and the second five to the duty to man, for the Fifth Commandment touches the honour due to parents; but, on the other hand, there is another simple and underlying principle that explains and justifies the division of the Ten Commandments into two equal halves of five each. There was a well-known and rational division in ancient ethics between piety and justice. Piety always included in ancient morals the idea of filial reverence. Reverence itself is perhaps the better word for the goodness in the first five commandments; righteousness is the better word for the goodness commanded in the second five. If we bear this in mind we shall at once discern the reason for the division of the two laws into two equal halves. The first five inculcate reverence to God, and to those who on earth represent God in the human relation; the second five teach the duty of righteousness--that is, of right conduct as between man and man. And notice that not one of the commandments of the second table, as it is called, that which touches human duty, has any sanction attached to it. On the other hand, in the first half, the commandments which concern reverence, we find a sanction attached to the second, third, fourth, and fifth laws, while in the second table there is none. The reason for this is obvious. All human duty and human rights are reciprocal. They need nothing more than their own statement to secure their obligation.

II. The limitations, from an ethical standpoint, of the Ten Commandments.

1. With the exception of the last, the Tenth Commandment, all deal with actions alone, and it is remarkable that the only one of the ten that does pass beyond external action, and forbids evil thought, “Thou shalt not covet,” was the commandment that led to St. Paul’s conversion, or at any rate to his conviction of sin (Romans 7:7).

2. The Ten Commandments, with two exceptions, are negative in form. “Thou shalt not” occurs eight times, “Thou shalt” only twice. To forbid wrong-doing is absolutely necessary, but the not doing of wrong is not the highest ideal of morality.

III. The incompleteness and limitations and defects of the Ten Commandments are best seen if we take one of them and compare it with the law of Christ. “Thou shalt do no murder,” for example, is one of these Jewish laws as necessary and as binding today as when it was first spoken. But now compare it with the law of Christ, as declared in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22). We see at once the contrast. Christ’s law is higher and more spiritual than the law of Moses. And so with all these Ten Commandments. The Decalogue does not from any point of view represent an ideal and perfect code of ethics. As moonlight or starlight is to sunlight, so the Ten Commandments are to the law of Christ. One often wonders what would be the effect on the moral life of the Church if at the regular services on the Sunday there was the recital, week by week, of the laws of Christ, or, at any rate, of some of them, followed each one, it may be, by the prayer, “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law,”

IV. Notice the significant fact that the Law of God was not given to His people until their redemption from Egypt was completed. This is the Divine order--redemption by the passover sacrifice, and shedding of the blood of the innocent lamb, then the giving of the law. This was the order in Judaism, and in Christianity the same significant order is preserved. We are first redeemed by the precious blood of Christ from the curse and power of sin, from death; and then we are bidden to keep the law of Christ. The Divine order is not, “Do this and live,” but, “Live and do this”: redemption first, obedience afterwards. This order is not an arbitrary and unmeaning one. It lies in the eternal necessities of our being. Can a dead man do anything? Can a corpse obey a single command? Can it even hear one? And if we are “dead in trespasses and sins,” our first need is not a law, but a life: first deliverance from the doom of sin, first redemption, and then, and not till then, the sinner, saved from the prison house of death, falls at his Lord’s feet and cries, “Lord, I am Thy servant, I am Thy servant, Thou hast loosed my bonds.” (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)

The preface

I. The Lawgiver is their God. Men are naturally religious; that is, they have a fear of, a reverence for, some powerful Being who has power to do them good or evil, and whose favour they wish to enjoy; that Being is their God, and they are His people. The gods of the heathen are false gods. There is but one living and true God, the God of the Bible, the God of Israel. Whom should Israel obey but their God? He has made them, rules over them, has care of them; He knows their nature, knows what is good for them, knows what they should do and be; He will seek only their good and their perfection; He will speak only what it is best for them to hear.

II. The Lawgiver is their Redeemer. This is an additional reason for obedience. For who can so well rule and govern the free as He who made them free? And whom are freemen bound to obey but Him who redeemed them? But someone may ask, Why should there be laws for the free? Why combine law and freedom? Is it for the mere exercise of arbitrary power as sovereign Lord? He is Sovereign, and is the source of all power and law. But He has man’s good in view. Laws are needful for the imperfect. Children get rules; as they grow up into the mind of the father, minute and multiplied rules begin to cease, because the law is now in them, and is, as it were, part of them.

III. The Lawgiver is Jehovah. This name conveys a third reason for obedience. It indicates that God is self-existent, eternal, and unchangeable (Malachi 3:6). Surely, then, Jehovah is a precious covenant for Israel’s God, and for Israel to know Him by. It speaks of Him as the eternally unchangeable One, and therefore ever faithful and true, to be trusted most fully. Conclusion--

1. Freedom and law are both of God, and therefore perfectly compatible and harmonious.

2. Freedom and holiness go together. (James Matthew, B. D.)

The Decalogue

I. There is first to be noted, the aspect in which the great Lawgiver here presents Himself to His people: “I am Jehovah, thy God, who have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Jehovah, the unchangeable and eternal, the great I am; this alone, had it been all, was a lofty idea for men who had been so long enveloped in the murky atmosphere of idolatry; and if deeply impressed upon their hearts, and made a pervading element in their religion and polity, would have nobly elevated the seed of Israel above all the nations then existing on the earth. But there is more a great deal than this in the personal announcement which introduces the ten fundamental precepts; it is His faithful love and sufficiency for all future time, to protect them from evil or bring them salvation.

II. Yet it did not the less on that account assume--being a revelation of law in form as well as substance, it could not but assume--a predominantly stringent and imperative character. The loving spirit in which it opens is not, indeed, absent from the body of its enactments, though, for the most part, formally disguised; but even in form it reappears more than once--especially in the assurance of mercy to the thousands who should love God and keep His commandments, and the promise of long continuance on the land of rest and blessing, associated respectively with the second and the fifth precepts of the law. But these are only, as it were, the relieving clauses of the code: the law itself, in every one of the obligations it imposes, takes the imperative form--“Thou shalt do this,” “Thou shalt not do that”; and this just because it is law, and must leave no doubt that the course it prescribes is the one that ought to be taken, and must be taken, by everyone who is in a sound moral condition. Still, the negative is doubtless in itself the lower form of command; and when so largely employed as it is in the Decalogue, it must be regarded as striving to meet the strong current of evil that runs in the human heart. III, Viewing the law thus, as essentially the law of love, which it seeks to protect as well as to evoke and direct, let us glance briefly at the details, that we may see how entirely these accord, alike in their nature and their orderly arrangement, with the general idea, and provide for its proper exemplification. As love has unspeakably its grandest object in God, so precedence is justly given to what directly concerns Him--implying also that religion is the basis of morality, that the right adjustment of men’s relation to God tends to ensure the proper maintenance of their relations one to another. God, therefore, must hold the supreme place in their regard, must receive the homage of their love and obedience; and this in regard to His being, His worship, His name, and His day. The next command may also be taken in the same connection--a step further in the same line, since earthly parents are in a peculiar sense God’s representatives among men. This, however, touches on the second division of moral duty, that which concerns men’s relation to each other; and according to the particular aspect in which it is contemplated, the fifth command may be assigned to the first or to the second table of the law. Scripture itself makes no formal division. Though it speaks frequently enough of two tables, it nowhere indicates where the one terminates and the other begins--purposely, perhaps, to teach us that the distinction is not to be very sharply drawn, and that the contents of the one gradually approximate and at last pass over into the other. And finally, to show that neither tongue, nor hands, nor any other member of our body, or any means and opportunities at our command--that not these alone are laid under contribution to this principle of love, but the seat also and fountain of all desire, all purpose and action--the Decalogue closes with the precept which forbids us to lust after or covet wife, house, possessions, anything whatever that is our neighbour’s--a precept which reaches to the inmost thoughts and intents of the heart, and requires that all even there should be under the control of a love which thinketh no evil, which abhors the very thought of adding to one’s own heritage of good by wrongfully infringing on what is another’s. Viewed thus as enshrining the great principle of love, and in a series of commands chalking out the courses of righteous action it was to follow, of unrighteous action it was to shun, the law of the two tables may justly be pronounced unique--so compact in form, so orderly in arrangement, so comprehensive in range, so free from everything narrow and punctilious--altogether the fitting reflex of the character of the Supremely Pure and Good in His relation to the members of His earthly kingdom. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

Rules for the understanding of the Decalogue

For the right understanding of the Ten Commandments these rules are to be observed--

I. That the law is perfect, and bindeth everyone to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof and unto entire obedience forever, so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty and to forbid the least degree of every sin.

II. That it is spiritual and so reacheth the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul, as well as words, works, and gestures.

III. That one and the same thing, in divers respects, is required or forbidden in several commandments.

IV. That as where a duty is commanded the contrary sin is forbidden and where a sin is forbidden the contrary duty is commanded: So, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included.

V. That what God forbids is at no time to be done; what He commands is always our duty, and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times.

VI. That under one sin or duty, all of the same kind are forbidden or commanded, together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto.

VII. That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves we are bound, according to our places, to endeavour that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.

VIII. That, in what is commanded to others, we are bound according to our places and callings to be helpful to them, and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)


Verse 7

Deuteronomy 5:7

Thou shalt have none other gods before Me.

Our duty towards God

The word “gods” in this passage may be regarded as denoting not only the various objects of religions worship, but also all the objects of supreme regard, affection, or esteem. To acknowledge Jehovah as our God is to love Him supremely, to fear before Him with all the heart, and to serve Him throughout all our days in absolute preference to every other being. As this is the only true, natural, and proper acknowledgment of God, so, when we render the same service to any creature, we acknowledge that creature as our god. In this conduct we are guilty of two gross sins. In the first place, we elevate the being who is thus regarded to the character and station of a god; and in the second place, we remove the true God in our hearts from His own character of infinite glory and excellence, and from that exalted station which He holds as the infinite ruler and benefactor of the universe. This sin is a complication of wickedness wonderfully various and dreadful.

1. We are in this conduct guilty of the grossest falsehood. We practically deny that Jehovah is possessed of those attributes which alone demand such service from intelligent creatures; and on the other hand, assert in the same manner that the being to whom we render this service is invested with these attributes.

2. In this conduct also we are guilty of the greatest injustice. This evil is likewise two-fold. First, we violate the rightful claim of Jehovah to the service of intelligent creatures; and secondly, we render to a creature the service which is due to Him alone. The right which God has to this service is supreme and unalienable. He is our Maker and Preserver. The obligations arising from this source are not a little enhanced by the fact that the service which He actually requires of us is in the highest degree profitable to ourselves, our highest excellence, our greatest honour, and our supreme happiness.

3. We are also guilty of the vilest ingratitude. From the wisdom, power, and goodness of God we derive our being, our blessings, and our hopes.

Learn--

1. That idolatry is a sin of the first magnitude.

2. That all mankind are guilty of idolatry. Covetousness is styled “idolatry” by St. Paul, and “stubbornness” by the prophet Samuel.

3. With these observations in view we shall cease to wonder that mankind have been so extensively guilty of continual and enormous sins against each other. Sin is one undivided disposition. It cannot exist towards God and not towards man, or towards man and not towards God. It is a wrong bias of the soul, and of course operates only to wrong, whatever being the operation may respect. That which is the object of religious worship is, of course, the most sublime object which is realised by the devotee. When this object, therefore, is low, impure, when it is fraught with falsehood, injustice, and cruelty, it still keeps its station of superiority, and is still regarded with the reverence due to the highest known object of contemplation. Thus a debased god becomes the foundation of a debased religion, and a debased religion of universal turpitude of character.

4. Hence we see that the Scriptures represent idolatry justly, and annex to it no higher punishment than it deserves.

5. These observations teach us the wisdom and goodness of God in separating the Jews from mankind, as a peculiar people to Himself.

6. We learn hence also the malignant nature of atheism.

7. We see with what exact propriety the Scriptures have represented the violation of our immediate duty to God as the source of all other sin. Impiety is plainly the fountain of guilt, from which flows every stream. Those who are thus false, unjust, and ungrateful to God will, of course, exhibit the same conduct with respect to their fellow creatures. (T. Dwight, D. D.)

On the idolatry of the Hebrews

The proneness of the Hebrew nation to fall into idolatry presents to us a very extraordinary appearance. The Jews were, indeed, a gross people, but not more so than other nations in the same period of improvement. On the contrary, they appear to have been more civilised than their contemporaries, and the very foundation of the difficulty is that they were infinitely more enlightened.

I. In the first place, we may believe that the causes, whatever they were, which influenced all the other nations of the earth in that period, and led them to idolatry, operated also upon the hebrew nation. One of the first errors of men in religion probably was that the Supreme God was too great to trouble Himself with the affairs of this lower world. Hence flowed easily all the other errors. The first idolatry was a mixed idolatry. It did not exclude the true God. It only associated other gods with Him. At last He was forgotten, while they continued to be remembered. Here, then, we may search for one cause of idolatry among the Hebrews. We must also mention the rage of the times as another cause. While the idea was yet new, mankind were universally employed in developing it; and while they were intent on fixing the administration, and marking the different departments of the supreme government, they received every new divinity who was offered to them with all the ardour of a new discovery. The pleasure of the process was correspondent. It gratified the imagination by peopling all nature with ideal beings, and it flattered men’s ideas of the various and the vast by showing that their number, their natures, and their employments might be infinitely multiplied. We may join to these considerations the indulgence which this religion offered to the passions.

II. But the Hebrews were not only influenced by causes common to them with all the nations of the earth in that period, but also by causes which were peculiar to their own nation.

1. Their local situation. They were placed between two powerful empires, the Egyptian and the Assyrian. The fame of these two powerful nations was well known to the Hebrews, and they aspired to share it. Accustomed to ascribe everything to Divine agency, it would occur to them that the cause of their greatness must be owing to the gods whom they worshipped, and that, if they revered the same gods, they might have the same success.

2. But the chief cause of the repeated lapses of the Hebrews into idolatry lay deeper. We must search for it in their civil constitution and the political parties of their state. The institution of the kingly office produced a material change in the government of the Hebrews. It immediately gave rise to two great political parties, which continued to distract the state from the reign of Saul until the Babylonish captivity. The original government of the Hebrews was a theocracy. This was the legal principle from which their laws and constitution, both civil and religious, flowed. The kings of the Hebrews were not kings in any sense in which that word is now used. The Supreme Being was the real legislator; their kings were mere substitutes of the Sovereign, and were understood to act under His appointments. Whenever a king of bad principles arose, who wished to aggrandise his own power and to free himself from the authority of his superior, the first measure which he would adopt for this purpose would be to withdraw the nation as much as possible from the reverence which they owed to God Almighty. This he could not do better than by introducing a number of other gods and leading the nation to offer worship to them. Men arranged themselves on the one side or the other, not only according to their political views, but also according to their characters and dispositions. Idolatry would attract the young and the inexperienced, who admired the great empires, and would consequently be ambitious of imitating them. Idolatry would also attract all the vicious and the sensual, who were under the dominion of the grosser passions, and world therefore naturally lean to the religion which indulged them. The Hebrew idolaters did not mean to exclude their own God. They only joined other gods with Him. They might probably, too, admit that their own God was the greatest, or even that He was supreme God, and the rest His ministers. By these or other means they might reconcile idolatry to their own worship. (John Mackenzie, D. D.)

The First Commandment

The affirmative part is, Thou shalt have Jehovah for thy God. The negative part is, Thou shalt have no other God. This, therefore, is that which is the very substance of this commandment: There shall be unto thee a God, and I am that God. If you ask what is enjoined in this, I answer, no less than the whole service and worship of God, and our behaving ourselves towards Him as such. But more particularly to display the contents of this commandment, it is requisite that we discourse both of the inward and outward worship of God, for both these are contained in this Divine precept. It enjoins that service which consists in the employment of the head and heart, and also that of the body and outward actions. Under the first are commanded these following duties--

1. The believing of a God (Hebrews 11:6).

2. Being persuaded that there is but one God.

3. The believing of His Word.

4. Right apprehensions concerning God’s glorious attributes and perfections.

5. Thinking and meditating on Him and His Divine perfections.

6. To the acts of our understanding must be added those of our will and affections, and consequently we are to have a high respect and observance of the Divine Author of our being, the glorious God; we are to admire Him, we are to rejoice in Him. But the chief of the affections which are most celebrated in the Holy Scriptures are fear, and hope, and love, of which therefore I am obliged more distinctly and amply to speak.

And then we are to remember that Christ redeemed not only our souls but our bodies; therefore we are to serve Him with both.

(a) A speaking reverently of God and all things belonging to Him.

(b) Open profession of the name of God and of the holy religion which we have embraced.

(c) Prayer, including confession, petition, praise, and giving of thanks.

1. First, atheism is directly opposite to the duty required of us in this first precept of the moral law. This atheism is--

2. Superstition, as well as atheism, is forbidden in this commandment. For this we are to know, that there are two extremes in religion, one in the defect, which is neglect and contempt of God and His worship, profaneness, and even atheism itself; the other in the excess, which is a vain and unnecessary worship, and this is superstition. The former proceeds from a fond conceit of reason without fear; the latter, from fear without right reason. The first is a defiance of religion; the second makes it a sordid thing. The one makes men irreligious and profane; the other fills them with false imaginations and needless terrors. We have seen in the general that superstition is an overdoing in religion; but more particularly to explain the nature of it--

3. Idolatry is condemned by this commandment. It is having that thing or being for a god which hath no divinity in it.

Here, then, is a threefold idolatry forbidden--

1. That which is moral, which is an immoderate affecting or prosecuting of anything that is not our chief good. It is setting our hearts wholly on any finite and worldly object. All wilful sinners, all those that delight in the practice of what is vicious, are such, for they make their lusts their chief good, and so in a manner make them their gods. This is moral idolatry.

2. There is polytheism, or pagan idolatry, i.e. the believing and worshipping of a multiplicity of deities, even among the works of the creation, as of the sun, moon, and stars, etc. As the atheist maintains that there is no God, so the Gentile worshipper is for making everything a god.

3. The last sort of idolatry is that which hath a mixture of the worship of the true God with it. From the sacred history in Exodus 32:5 we may inform ourselves that the Israelites worshipped Jehovah and the golden calf at the same time. They sometimes worshipped the Lord and Baal together, which Elijah objects to them in 1 Kings 18:21. This medley of religious worship you will find among the strange nations which were transplanted into Samaria (1 Kings 17:41). They feared the Lord and served their graven images. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

The only true God

The truth of the existence of the Supreme is always assumed in the Scriptures; it is not proved. For proof the Bible says, “See previous volumes.” The universe and man’s moral nature attest His existence. Sometimes “the wish has been father to the thought”; and men who “do not like to retain God in their knowledge” have said in their heart, “There is no God.” The idea of God is universal. It has been said that some of the tribes of Africa are so degraded as apparently to have no idea of a Supreme Power; but if this were correct it would be the exception and not the rule. Some men are born blind, but the rule is that men should see. “If,” says Professor Blackie, “there be races of reasonable beings who have no idea of a cause, it is just the same thing as if we were to find in any Alpine valley whole races of cretins, or anywhere in the world whole races of idiots; they are defective creatures such as no naturalist would receive into his normal description of one of nature’s types; such as roses, for instance, without fragrance, horses without hoofs, and birds without wings. Any type of things, indeed, as well as man, may, by a combination of untoward influences, be curtailed and stunted into any sort of degradation.” And Livingstone affirmed that among the most ignorant tribes in the interior of Africa may be found the idea of a Supreme Being. “There is no necessity for beginning to tell the most degraded of these people of the existence of a God, or of the future state, the facts being universally admitted. Everything that cannot be accounted for by common causes is ascribed to the Deity, as creation, sudden death, etc. ‘How curiously God made these things!’ is a common expression, as is, ‘He was not killed by disease, he was killed by God!’“ The Israelites believed in the Eternal God; but they had just been delivered from a land where there were “gods many and lords many”; and this was the commandment that fell on their ears, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” It has been said that the existence of other gods is not denied in these words; but they mean that, while every nation had its own god, Jehovah was to be the God of the Israelites. Nothing is said of the existence or non-existence of other divinities; but “Thou shalt have no other gods.” The prohibition addressed to them, “Thou shalt have no other gods,” was tantamount to a declaration through the universe, “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning.” There can be but one God. This truth may be contrasted with the dualism that was prominent in some of the heathen systems of religion. According to the old Persian belief, there were two co-eternal beings who divided the government of the world between them. One of them was regarded as the principle of light, the source of all good; and the other was the principle of darkness, the source of all evil. This was an attempt to solve the problem of the existence of evil in the universe. “To us there is but one God.” When this word was spoken on Mount Sinai, polytheism was common among all nations. Among the heathen there were numberless divinities. The different parts of nature were presided over by different deities; different events in history were under the control of different rulers; different nations and tribes had their friends and enemies among the conclave of the gods. There was a god of the hills, a god of the valleys, a god of the rivers, a god of the seas. There was a god inflicting disease, and a god removing it; a god sending pestilence, and famine, and war, and a god arresting them; a god bestowing bountiful harvests and commercial prosperity, and another inflicting judgments and calamities. But we learn that there is one God of all the earth, of all its forces, and elements, and laws; one God in all events, in the fury of the storm, in the march of the pestilence, in the desolations of war; one God for all nations and realms. And this truth may be also placed in contrast with the pantheism found in ancient systems, and revived in some modern philosophical speculations. The idolater deifies parts of the universe, the pantheist deifies it all. The universe is God; there is nothing but the universe; everything is a part or modification of God. The distant star is a part of God; the flower at your feet is a part of God. You are a little drop from the ocean of the Godhead, and your highest bliss, your most glorious destiny, is to cease individually to be, and to be absorbed in the All, which is God. He is “before all things.” When there was no material universe, when not a stone of the temple had been laid, when not a star had been kindled, He was “inhabiting eternity”; the worlds might be blotted out, the stars might be quenched, yet He would remain, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega. It may be alleged that this truth of the unity of the Godhead also uproots the orthodox evangelical belief that acknowledges Christ as the incarnate God, and the Holy Spirit, not as a mere influence, but as a Divine Person. But the revelation of the unity of God is not more clear than that of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” We may say that the unity of the Divine existence is reflected in the unity of nature. There may be discords, and yet there is harmony underlying and pervading all, thus teaching that the universe in all its forms and changes is the product of one mind. “I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.” The style and expression and colours and characteristics of some of the great paintings have been studied so thoroughly by some artists, that they will immediately say of a picture, This is Rubens, or, This is Raphael. And the spirit and style of the writings of great poets are so well known to some enthusiastic students, that they will say of a new poem, This is Tennyson, or, This is Browning. So the works of God testify of Him; we see His hand, His signature; there is only One who could do it, the One God. And here let me say, accustom yourselves to associate the name and presence of God with nature around you. A flower is doubly precious when it is presented by a lover’s hand. And the flowers would be to us more beautiful, and the bread we eat more sweet, if we felt that they came from an Infinite Father’s hand. The unity of design in nature serves to emphasise the words spoken on Sinai, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Now, this revelation of the Divine existence suggests to us many thoughts which I shall not enlarge upon.

1. It suggests to us the blessedness of the Divine nature. There is no contrariety, no strife, no division of counsel.

2. Again, this truth invests with authority the demands made upon our service as intelligent and responsible beings. If there were more than one God, the question might be asked, What God are we to obey?

3. Also, we may learn that He demands the homage and affection of our whole nature. The one God requires the whole heart, united in itself in one love. The unity of our nature is secured only by our love to God. There is no other power that can do it. Self-interest may try, pleasure may try, ambition may try, but the nature is still divided; and conscience, instead of expressing its approval, is like Mordecai at the gate, refusing to bow the knee. The unity of Germany was a dream, until the enthusiasm of the different states was aroused by the menaces of a common enemy; and in the fire of that enthusiasm they were welded together into one empire. The unity of man’s nature is a dream until, by the fire of God’s love, all his powers and faculties and emotions are fused into one. The whole man is to be given to God. There are many who are ready to unite in the confession, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth,” who are only uttering words, as a child first lisping his A B C, without attaching any definite meaning to the words, and without the heart’s emphasis on the words. Is our belief in God a tradition, or a real living faith? Is He our God? Do we acknowledge His presence? Do we worship Him in truth? (James Owen.)

Duties required in the First Commandment

I. We are obliged to know God. This supposes that our understanding is rightly informed as to what relates to the Divine perfections, which are displayed in the works of creation and providence. But that knowledge which we are to endeavour to attain, who have a brighter manifestation of His perfections in the Gospel, is of a far more excellent and superior nature; inasmuch as herein we see the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or behold the perfections of the Divine nature, as displayed in and through a Mediator; which is that knowledge which is absolutely necessary to salvation (John 17:3). By this means we not only know what God is, but our interest in Him, and the foundation which we have of our being accepted in His sight.

II. We are further commanded to acknowledge or make a visible profession of our subjection to God and in particular to Christ as our great Mediator. His name, interest, and glory should be most dear to us; and we are, on all occasions, to testify that we count it our glory to be His servants, and to make it appear that He is the supreme subject of desire and delight (Psalms 142:5; Psalms 73:25).

III. We are further obliged by this commandment to worship and glorify God, pursuant to what we know, and the profession we make of Him as the true God and our God.

1. We must make God the subject of our daily meditation.

2. We are to honour, adore, and fear Him for His greatness.

3. As God is the best good, and has promised that He will be a God to us, so He is to be desired, loved, rejoiced in, and chosen by us.

4. As He is a God of truth, we are to believe all that He has spoken, and in particular what He has revealed in His promises or threatenings, relating to mercies which He will bestow, or judgments which He will inflict.

5. He is able to save to the utmost, and faithful in fulfilling all His promises, we are to trust Him with all we have from Him, and for all those blessings which we hope to receive at His hands.

6. When the name, interest, and glory of God is opposed in the world we are to express an holy zeal for it.

7. Since He is a God hearing prayer, we are daily to call upon Him, “O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.”

8. As He is the God of all our mercies, we are to praise Him for them.

9. His sovereignty and dominion over us calls for subjection and obedience, and a constant care to please Him, and approve ourselves to Him in all things.

10. As He is a holy, jealous, and sin-hating God, we are to be filled with sorrow of heart when He is offended, either by ourselves or others.

11. A sense of our unworthiness and daily infirmities should excite us to walk humbly with God. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

The First Commandment

I. The most obvious lesson of this commandment is that it forbids polytheism, the worship of many gods. We are not to allow any god to share the throne of Jehovah. Although in former times idolatry was one of the chief perils of the Jews, and was the common religion of ancient Greece and Rome, polytheism is scarcely a peril for us.

II. There is manifestly contained in this commandment an implicit denial of all atheism. The command, “Thou shalt have none other gods before Me,” rests on the assumption that there is one true and living God. The law therefore forbids atheism as being a denial of God. Now, atheism is really of two very different kinds: one that is purely speculative or theoretical; and the other, and a far more common kind, practical atheism.

1. Of that purely speculative atheism which denies the existence of God there is very little in the present day. There may be exceptional thinkers, both in this country and in Germany, who would commit themselves to a definite denial of the existence of God, but men like Darwin and Huxley, or Tyndale and Herbert Spencer, are never found asserting there is no God. They are too wise and, let me add, too reverent to commit themselves to such an unprovable assertion. The speculative atheism of today calls itself agnosticism. It does not say that there is no God; all it affirms is, we cannot prove that there is one. We know nothing whatsoever about the hidden and mysterious cause which lies at the back of all phenomena; we know that there is something, and this something is the only reality of the universe, but what it is we cannot tell. “The power,” Mr. Herbert Spencer says, “which the universe manifests to us is utterly inscrutable.” “Such a power,” he goes on to say, “exists, but its nature transcends intuition and is beyond imagination.” Now, what I desire to say about this modified form of atheism, calling itself agnosticism, is that it is really as deadly a form of atheism as the coarser atheism which openly declared there was no God. The agnostic himself, such a man as Herbert Spencer, may be a man of all moral excellence, for men often live on the beliefs which they have denied, just as, to use Mr. Balfour’s striking illustration, parasites often live on the trees which they have destroyed. But agnosticism itself, the assertion that if there be a God we cannot know Him, is as fatal to all human goodness as the denial that there is a God. During the reign of terror the French were declared to be a nation of atheists by the National Assembly; but a brief experience convinced them that a nation of atheists could not long exist. Robespierre then proclaimed in the Convention that belief in the existence of a God was necessary to those principles of virtue and morality upon which the Republic was founded.

2. There is another kind of atheism that is most common, the atheism that we find in the streets, in the homes, in the hearts of a large number of people, and that I have called practical atheism; and this is as sternly forbidden by the First Commandment as the intellectual denial of God. And when I speak of practical atheism I mean the atheism of the heart and not of the head, the atheism of the life and not of the reason, the atheism, in one word, of that man to whose daily life it would make no kind of difference if there were no God.

III. This commandment forbids all idolatry. Coarse and material idolatry is impossible today; but there are other kinds of idolatry than the worship of idols.

1. Consider the idolatry of pleasure; and this may take one of two forms, either the pursuit of sensual pleasure or the passion for amusement. Now, the coarse degrading pursuit of sensual pleasure is not unknown even in the present day. There are those, St. Paul tells us, “whose god is their belly”; and I suppose there are such men to be found in England today, men who have little pleasure beyond the pleasures of the table, whose appetite and taste are as sensitive to the delights of eating and drinking as the ear of the musician or the eye of the artist is to what delights them; and then again, there is the lower form of sensual pleasure, the fulfilling of the lusts of the animal nature; but the common form of the idolatry of pleasure is found in the pursuit of amusement. It is one of the most pressing dangers of the present day. When I see the eager race for amusement today, when I find young men alert and excited if a sailing match or a football contest or a tennis tournament or a cricket match is taking place, willing to give up any engagement so as not to miss their favourite pleasure; and when I see these same young men indifferent to all higher aims--the pleasures of reading, of music, of art, and above all of religion; when I notice how easily excuses are found for absence on Sunday from worship, how readily the house of God is neglected for the cycle ride, or the river, or the seashore, I cannot help saying to myself, the idolatry of pleasure is one of the commonest of all the idolatries of modern life.

2. Another form of idolatry is seen in the love of money, and of all idolatries it is the most frequent in our modern world; for the one idol that never lacks worshippers is the idol of gold. I remember in this city a man dying many years ago who was one of these lovers of money. He had amassed a large fortune, no part of which ever came to any charity; and as he was lying upon his deathbed he sent for his minister, who naturally thought the dying man wished to speak to him of heavenly things, of his own soul, of religion, of God. The minister went to see him, and when he reached the bedside, and almost before he could speak, the poor miserable idolater of money said: “Oh, Mr.

, I am so glad you have come; I want to ask you if you can tell me the price of those shares today,” mentioning some company in which he was interested. I am not saying that the desire to grow rich is idolatry, or that a man who bends his energies to make money in the week is sinning against God. He may be sinless in all this, and he is sinless if he desires money, not for its own sake, not for self-enjoyment, but for the use and blessing it may be to others; if he puts God first, and money always second. None the less, there are many in peril of reversing this.

3. The last form of idolatry to which I shall allude is the idolatry of love. There is something so beautiful in human love that it seems hardly possible to speak of it as an idolatry; and yet none the less it may become so. There are those whom Satan could never tempt through the flesh, who have never felt a single sensual temptation, who have no interest, or little interest, in amusement, and very little care for money, and no desire to grow rich; but who, nevertheless, are tempted through the affections, tempted to make an idol of some human love, to put lover or husband or wife or child on the throne of the heart where God ought to be. “Love me,” said a wise and devout girl to her lover,--“love me as fervently as you will, but take care you love God better than you love me.” She knew too well the peril of this idolatry of the heart. Possibly the commonest form this idolatry takes today is seen in the worship of children. By a bedside a woman once knelt, praying with streaming eyes. On that little bed, cold and still in death, lay her only child. She had literally worshipped it, and now God had taken her child from her. Listen to what that kneeling, weeping, broken-hearted mother is saying, the words are only sobs: “Oh my God, it is hard, Thou only knowest how hard for me to bear it. I thank Thee Thou hast taken my darling to Thyself. I loved my boy too well--I loved him more than I loved Thee; I made him my idol; now Thou hast broken my idol, and I have only Thee to love. My God, forgive my sorrow. I will not love my boy any less. I will love Thee more, more than I ever loved him.” (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)

No excuse for idolatry now

There is but one excuse for idolatry, namely, ignorance; and there are cases in which even that fails to justify us. If a man does not know God he cannot worship Him; but if he lives in a place where God has revealed Himself perfectly, and where he may have the light if he will, then the, last excuse for idolatry is swept away. Take the commandment as applied to God’s ancient people. Have you ever thought how much there was which might have excused idolatry in those nays of old? Not only the coming of Jesus, but all the great discoveries of science during the last hundred years, have made idolatry more sinful than ever. In the days when the imagination of the superstitious peopled every windstorm with demons, when lightnings and thunders were mysteries unsolved and unsolvable, there was some excuse for the man who, in his ignorance of God, became a fire or devil worshipper; but in these days of analysis, when we get to the root of nature’s sights and sounds, finding them to be, after all, not inexplicable and mysterious, but processes and manifestations of a system of rigid law, the excuse for our idolatry is gone. Natural phenomena being accounted for within the realm of law, man must acknowledge a lawgiver; and every discovery of science, within the last fifty years, has made God more real to the hearts of men who are looking for Him and are willing to see Him. Every scientific explanation of the mysterious, and of that which savoured of witchcraft, makes the sin of worshipping anything in the place of God more heinous. The more brilliant the light of the Divine outshining, the more dark is the sin of idolatry. (G. Campbell Morgan.)

Sins forbidden in the First Commandment

The sins forbidden in this commandment may be reduced to two: atheism and idolatry.

I. The instances in which practical atheism discovers itself.

1. They are chargeable with it who are grossly ignorant of God, being utter strangers to those perfections whereby He makes Himself known to the world, or who entertain carnal conceptions of Him, as though He were altogether such an one as ourselves.

2. When persons, though they know, in some measure, what God is, yet never seriously exercise their thoughts about Him, which forgetfulness is a degree of atheism, and will be severely punished by Him.

3. When persons maintain corrupt doctrines and dangerous heresies, subversive of the fundamental articles of faith and contrary to the Divine perfections.

4. When we repine at His providence, or charge God foolishly, and go about to prescribe laws to Him, who is the Governor of the world and may do what He will with the work of His hands.

5. When we refuse to engage in those acts of religious worship which He has appointed, or to attend on His ordinances, in which we may hope for His presence and blessing.

6. When we behave ourselves, in the conduct of our lives, as though we were not accountable to Him and had no reason to be afraid of His judgments.

II. The aggravations and dreadful consequences of this sin. It is contrary to the light of nature and the dictates of conscience, a disregarding those impressions which God has made of His glory on the souls of men. And in those who have been favoured with the revelation of the grace of God in the Gospel, in which His perfections have been set forth to the utmost, it is a shutting our eyes against the light, and casting contempt on that which should raise and excite in us the highest esteem of Him whom we practically disown and deny. It is directly opposite to and entirely inconsistent with all religions, and opens a door to the greatest degree of licentiousness.

III. To consider this commandment as forbidding idolatry: which is either what is more gross, such as that which is found among the heathen, or that which is more secret, and may be found in the hearts of all.

1. As to idolatry in the former sense, together with the rise and progress thereof, in considering the first rise of it we may observe--

2. That idolatry which is sometimes found among Christians.

Having God

I. Our race must have a God. We cannot escape the sceptre and the supervision of the Creator.

II. Nations must have a God. The words of this law were addressed to the people of Israel. Neither kings nor senates nor majorities can avoid national responsibility. Constitutions may not recognise Him, but the Divine administration is not dependent upon human enactments.

III. The individual soul must have a God. The law of the universal holds the unit. I must have a God. Not one soul can drop out of the all-embracing government of God.

IV. There are two ways of having a God. First, by the necessity of His government, which will not surrender one soul to any other authority; and second, by the voluntary choice of the soul who takes the God who is king by right of creation, to his heart as Father and Redeemer, delighting in Him as his all-sufficient portion.

V. Man may have many gods.

1. Through the perversion of the religious faculty, as when the powers that must worship something, having lost the perception of the true, invisible God, are directed towards visible things, first as symbols and then as substance--sun, moon, stars, statues, stones, birds of the air, beasts of the field, and loathsome reptiles of the ground.

2. Through the prostitution of all the faculties, as when the powers given us by the Creator to be used exclusively for His glory (which invariably includes our highest good) are employed with selfish aims, God being forgotten. Then are the objects of our love and delight the “gods” we serve.

VI. Man should have but one God--the one Lord God--Jehovah.

1. Because of what this one God is: the Self-existent, the Almighty, the Eternal, the Unchangeable, whose throne is from everlasting, and whose power and glory are only equalled by His holiness and justice and love and mercy.

2. Because of what this one has done. He is our Creator, and has preserved us. But more than this, it is He who has redeemed us.

3. Because of what man needs. Honour, ease, friendship, wealth, power, are all insufficient to meet the wants of the immortal mind of man. In the midst of all their best benefactions man cries out for something better. Man, made for God, is in misery without God.

4. Because of the train of miseries which must follow in the service of many gods, or of any but the one God. In the Hebrew the expression “before Me” signifies “before, upon, or against My face.” He who has any other than the true God, thereby--

VII. Man in “having” God has all things. He has infinite resources of wisdom, power, and grace at command, according to the “exceeding great and precious promises” of God, who is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” He has peace, deep and abiding. He has joy, full and unfailing. He has hope, clear and unquestioning. He has love, fervent, abounding, and all-controlling. He has “all things” of this world, and the “better things” of the world to come.

VIII. Let us look at this “word” of the law--the first of the “ten words” in the light of the New Testament. First, there were “ten words,” or commandments. They were prohibitory, monitory, and minatory. “Thou shalt not” rings through the code of Sinai. In the New Testament these are reduced to “two.” “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Nay, we find them all in one. One law! One word! and this one word is Love.

IX. God led Israel out of bondage, but not out of the pains of discipline and trial. He brought them out of Egypt to learn this law, but led them to Sinai by way of the Red Sea and the desert of Sin, and the perils of Rephidim, and through the midst of the fierce Amalekites. Thus are God’s people led today to the heights where His law is revealed. The way is dark and desolate and full of danger, but He who leads us has lessons for us to learn: lessons about Himself; lessons which we are slow to receive and prone to forget; but He bears with us and brings us on our way--His way--sustaining and comforting and aiding us. (J. H. Vincent, D. D.)

Possessing God

If we are not to have other gods in His presence, then by every principle of logic we are to have Him. “I am the Lord thy God, and thou shalt have Me.” How? As the patriot has his country which is by birth or naturalisation the land he calls his own, wherein are the institutions in which he takes honest pride, and the principles for which he is willing to die; that is his country, so man is to have his God. As the woman has her husband, chosen from out all the sons of men, to whom she surrenders her all, a heart for a heart, a life for a life, a soul for a soul, and in whom she has placed implicit confidence, in the one who led her to the bridal altar and swore to be true to her in good report and evil report, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part,” to the exclusion of all other men, so is she to have her God, to the exclusion of all other divinities. “Thou shalt have Me.” (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

Lord, Thou alone art God

Every true head of a family lays down rules according to which the household is regulated. God, as the Father of all, here makes known the rules by which His great family are to regulate their lives. He introduces those rules with a brief but pregnant preface. “I am the Lord”--“a word of thunder,” says Luther: “thy God”--a word of blessing--“thou shalt have none other gods before Me.” It would seem as if the command must be self-evidently rational. But it means that we ought above all to fear, love, and trust God. God says: “Give Me thine heart”--thy whole heart. We keep this command when we--

I. Fear God supremely.

1. Each commandment is like a coin stamped on both sides. On the one side the image is forbidding, even terrible. It delineates the prohibition, “Thou shalt not.” The other is beautiful--it gives the precept. Look at the first commandment on its two sides--the one shows the idolater, the other the child of God.

2. When men fear aught else but God they are idolaters. They bow before images of terror, e.g. want, sickness, death, the judgment of men, etc.

3. But we ought to fear God because “He is a great God”; “He commands and it is done,” etc. He sends sickness and health, etc. In His hands are life and death. He is Judge. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Therefore “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

4. But to fear God for this reason only would be not to fear Him, but His rod. This is a slavish fear: such “fear has punishment.” But if children of God we must avoid what would offend Him. “How shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Let this fear ever be yours in every circumstance and condition in life. A proud sceptic wrote: “A poor miserable life it is to be constantly in fear! What will they ever accomplish who are always asking the question, ‘Is this right that I have undertaken what I am doing?’ How weakly and fearfully do such take their stand in a world where courage and quick decision are needed in order to achieve anything, who plague themselves with puerile scruples of conscience and stand ever in dread of an unseen Judge!” No, we say. The man who fears God is freed from every other fear. And true courage, endurance, etc., are to be found only among God-fearing men, e.g. the Swiss at Lempach praying. “They pray for mercy,” said an Austrian, “but from God, not from us, and what that means we shall soon experience.” The apostles: “We must fear God rather than men.”

II. Love God supremely.

1. When men love any person or thing more than God they are idolaters as much as those who serve idols, e.g. Mammon.

2. Others do not cherish mammon in their hearts. On the contrary, they squander what they possess to minister to their lusts and appetites. “Whose end is destruction.”

3. Others cry out, “I deserve to have honour among my fellows, their esteem,” etc. Ask yourself, do you esteem this more than the honour that comes from God?

4. Others cry, “My wife, child, etc., is the being most dear to me,” etc. Try your heart as to whether they have a higher place in your heart than God, and whether, therefore, you are an idolater.

5. If you would escape from this idolatry hear what God says: “My son, give Me thine heart.” Hear what David says of Him: “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength,” etc. (Psalms 17:1-2). If He is all this to us we must love Him.

III. Trust God supremely.

1. Manifold are the troubles and dangers we meet on the way through life; and in view of this not only heathens but Christians trust in dead idols. When men put their trust in aught but God they become idolaters.

2. When a poor man trusts in a rich friend alone; a sick man thinks only of the skilled physician, an embarrassed man trusts to his own unaided wisdom, or a dying man declares, “I have at all times lived righteously, I shall not be condemned,” they are idolaters. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” etc.

3. Rather give God your heart, and rest all your hope in Him. In trouble look to Him as the true helper and be confident. Though the last handful of meal and drop of oil be reached, etc., trust, and all will be well. Remember His word, “I am the Lord thy God.” This heavenly Father will feed, help, etc., in due time; and even when His ways seem dark, remember His wonders of old. (K. H. Caspari.)

The First Commandment

This commandment may be regarded as settling the first principle, the fundamental article of the Jewish creed, and as prescribing the first of Jewish duties. And the article is of universal obligation. The article of faith is the Divine unity; the article of duty, the exclusive worship and service of that one God. There can be no doubt that idolatry on the part of Israel was the primary and most offensive breach of the covenant.

1. What dishonour it did to Jehovah, the one God! What must have been the impression on the minds of the heathen when their idols were preferred by Israel to their own Jehovah!

2. Such conduct was strongly interdicted, as involving in it the foulest ingratitude.

3. Idolatry stood not alone. The worship given to these other gods was, in itself and in its accompaniments, made up of all that was otherwise odious in God’s sight. How just the designation of these idolatries by Peter, “abominable idolatries.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Renouncing idolatry

The first time I went to Nelson River I was troubled while on my journey with violent attacks of the cramp, which caused me to fall forward, completely doubled up. Then one of my Indians would take hold of me by the shoulders, and another by the feet, and pull me out straight, then sit on me to keep me so. On such occasions I would say, “Well, if I get back from this journey, I’ll never go to another. Neither the society, the Church, nor God demands it”; but as soon as I got all right I took back the cowardly words. When I got to the Nelson River I found that the people for miles around had gathered together, and there were hundreds awaiting my arrival. Poor people, they had never heard the name of Christ. I preached from John 3:16 as earnestly as I could, then asked the people what they thought of my sermon. Immediately all eyes were turned towards the chief. He rose, and coming to the front, gave one of the finest orations it has ever been my lot to hear. He was a natural orator, and every time I heard him I was always filled with admiration. His speech was to the effect that for years he had lost faith in the pagan gods. When he saw God in nature, how He provided for His people, he said, “Surely that God cannot be pleased with the idle beating of a drum or the rattling of a conjurer’s wand.” And pointing to the conjurers and medicine men who skulked on the outskirts of the crowd, the only ones who did not welcome me, he exclaimed, “These medicine men can tell you that for years I have had no god; but this God whom you speak of, shows by His grace and goodness that He is the only living and true God, and Him only will I serve. That chief was worthy of the words he spoke, forever after he was an earnest and consistent Christian, showing forth the power of the Gospel. (Egerton Young.)


Verses 8-10

Deuteronomy 5:8-10

Thou shalt not make thee any graven image.

The Second Commandment

The Second Commandment contains, like all the commandments, a great principle--the great principle that God can be sought and found, not by outward forms, but only by the clean hands and the pure heart. The First Commandment bids us to worship the one God exclusively; the Second Commandment bids us to worship Him spiritually. The First Commandment forbids us to worship false gods; the Second Commandment forbids us to worship the true God under false forms. What is the primary meaning of the Second Commandment? Did it forbid the arts of painting and sculpture? Probably to the Jews it did, as to this day it does to the Mohammedans, who adorn their mosques and temples only with patterns and arabesques. Among half-emancipated serfs it was necessary to discourage the plastic arts; they needed the teaching, not of painters and sculptors, but of prophets; nevertheless, the literal force of the words, “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image,” not made with the idea of paying to it any sort of religious reverence, is therefore not against the letter of the commandments. But why was it necessary to say to the Jews, amid the thunders of Sinai, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”; and why is it still necessary to republish that commandment to Christians? The answer to that question is, Because there is in the human mind a perilous tendency, to worship idols which needs to be incessantly resisted. Men are too carnal, too sensuous, too inherently superstitious to be content with a pure, simple, spiritual religion. It is so much easier to bow the head than to cleanse the heart; so much easier to multiply outward services than to be kind and truthful and humble. The advent of Christ, so far from abrogating this Second Commandment, has re-enacted it with tenfold emphasis. And has Christendom kept it? I think that in two ways Christians have dangerously infringed upon its prohibitions. They have done so by material images. In many of the niches of this abbey we see that the statues have been removed from them. Who did it? The Puritans. And why? Because lamps had been hung and incense had been burned before those stony idols. Were they not right? The almost invariable result of the use of inferior means for producing religious excitement is to mistake the excitement for the religion, it is to substitute ultimately the excitement for righteousness, it is to base our religion upon a lie, that the gilded thing of our idolatry is necessary to make God any nearer to us than before. The crucifix, for instance, is, it seems to me, both a dangerous and unwarrantable material symbol. In the first four centuries Christians shrank from representing Christ at all. In the year 402 the highly orthodox and universally respected Bishop of Salamis tore down a curtain in a church in Palestine because it had woven on it an image of Christ; he declared that a picture of Christ was contrary to the Christian religion, and bade the astonished priest use it for a shroud of some pauper. The early Christians for many centuries shrank as from an impiety from representing Christ as dead, or at the moment of His death. Even when they began to use the symbol of Christ they made it a triumphant not a morbid symbol. It has been truly said by a wise teacher that the prostration of the soul before the mere image of the dying Christ makes our worship and our prayer unreal; we are adoring a Christ who does not exist; He is not on the Gross now, but on the throne; His agonies are past forever; He is at the right hand of God. But without sinking into these errors, it is fatally possible for us to break the Second Commandment by making to ourselves a false ideal of Christ. The proper meaning of “idols” is that in which the great Lord Bacon uses the word--shadowy images, subjective phantoms, wilful illusions, cherished fallacies. There are idols, he says, inherent in the soul of man, which, like an unequal mirror, mingles its own nature with that which it distorts--idols of the market place, false conceptions of God, which spring from men’s intercourse with one another, and from the delusive glamour of words: idols of the school, false notions which come from the spirit of sect and system, and party and formal theology. And even the God-Man, Christ Jesus, may be monstrously misinterpreted to us. To Michael Angelo he was an avengeful, wrathful Hercules, hurling ten thousand thunders on the demon-tortured multitude for which He died. To many schoolmen His sole ideal was the self-absorption of the monkish cloister. Priests have offered us a dead Christ for the living Christ, an agonised Christ for the living Christ, an ecclesiastical Christ for the Divine Christ, a sectarian Christ for the universal Christ, a petty, formalising, pharisaical Christ for the Royal Lord of the great, true heart of manhood; a Christ far off in the centuries instead of a Christ ever nigh at hand; a Christ of an exclusive fold for the Christ of the one great flock; a Christ of Rome, or Geneva, or Clapham, or Oxford for the Christ of the eternal universe and of the heavens and all worlds. How then, in conclusion, are we to escape from these idols? When the Empress Constantina asked Eusebius, the most learned prelate of his day, to send her as a present a likeness of Christ, he replied, with hardly suppressed indignation, “What do you mean, Empress, by a likeness of Christ? Not, of course, an image of Him as unchangeable, not of His human nature glorified. Such images,” he said, “are forbidden by the Mosaic law, that we may not seem like idolaters to carry about our God in an image. Since we confess that the Saviour is God and Lord, we prefer to see Him as God, and if you set a value on images of the Saviour, what better artist can there be than the God-Word Himself?” Thus he referred the Empress to the Gospels to learn what Christ really was. If you will search and read those Gospels diligently for yourselves, with minds washed clean of prejudices, private interests, and partial affections; if you will read them with open eyes and souls cleansed from idols, you will then see what Christ was, and will need no image or false human conception of Him; you will see Him, stern, indeed, to the Pharisee and to the hypocrite, yet large-hearted, human, loving, tender to sorrow with an infinite tenderness, merciful and compassionate even to the guiltiest of the children who would come with tears to Him. (Dean Farrar.)

God is a Spirit

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” etc. (Exodus 20:4-6). The first word on Sinai declares that there is but one God; the second word teaches us that God is not to be worshipped under any visible representation or form. Isaiah asks, “To whom, then, will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?” In the early ages of history there were no images of the Deity known. Herodotus, when writing of the manners and customs of the Persians, says, “They have among them neither statues, temples, nor altars; the use of which they censure as impious, and a gross violation of reason, probably because, in opposition to the Greeks, they do not believe that the gods partake of our human nature. Their custom is to offer from the summits of the highest mountains sacrifices to Jove, distinguishing by that appellation all the expanse of the firmament.” The worship of the heavenly bodies was the earliest form of idolatry, and Moses warns against it: “Take good heed lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them.” The origin of idolatry may be traced to this fact, that men looked about for some visible representations of the invisible Deity, and that in course of time the image or the symbol became a substitute for the Deity Himself. Men looked for God everywhere, and they could not see Him; they could see the stars crowning the night with glory, they could see the sunlight flooding the universe, and they said, “The sun and the stars shall be to us an image of the all-glorious Deity, a symbol of His greatness, and power, and goodness.” But, as time advanced, the symbols themselves were deified, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, were worshipped and served. The Israelites, then, were forbidden to set up an image of the true God; not only forbidden to worship false gods, but also forbidden to make any image of the true God. When Aaron made the golden calf, and Jeroboam the son of Nebat made similar images, in both instances it was the worship of Jehovah as represented by the image that was intended; and in both instances a connecting link with Egypt is afforded us in the sacred narrative. In the case of Aaron we have the fact of Egypt having been the birthland of the sinning people; while in the case of Jeroboam we have the fact that it was after a long residence in Egypt, in the court of Shishak, that he devised this worship. The prophets of Jehovah denounced it; and in the Second Book of Kings the fall of the kingdom is expressly attributed to the gods of Jeroboam. Animal worship was common among the Egyptians; a multitude of beasts, birds, and fishes were regarded and served as representatives of their deities; the hawk, and the crocodile, and the serpent, and the lion, and the wolf, and other creatures, were the forms under which the gods were worshipped. We believe that the masterpieces of art, whether in painting or sculpture, have a refining and elevating influence on those who admire and study them. But art is not necessarily religious, and some of the ages in which art has flourished were not remarkable for their purity or refinement. Painting and sculpture were not forbidden by this second word of the law--and we read of the forms of the cherubim in the temple--but no image was to be set up as an object of worship; and the influence of this prohibition upon the history of the Jews is perceived in the fact that no painters or sculptors have ever risen among them. They have had poets and musicians, but no painters; and while among the Greeks Phidias and Praxiteles were carving the statues that became the wonders of the world, on the roll of Hebrew worthies we find the name of no painter or sculptor. It is remarkable that in the four Gospels we have no description of the person of our Lord, no hint as to His stature, or His face. Art has embodied its loftiest conceptions of that Divine face on the canvas, but, Raphael’s “Transfiguration,” Holman Hunts “Light of the World,” Dore’s “Christ leaving the Praetorium,” Munkacsy’s “Christ before Pilate,” marvellous as they all are as works of genius, do not satisfy the soul that has entered into fellowship with the Perfect life, and who feels that there is an unspeakable, infinite beauty in Him. It is one of the strangest things in the history of the world that a rational, intelligent being should take a piece of metal, or of wood, and mould it into a certain shape, and then, investing it with the attributes of divinity, fall down before it, and pray to it, and worship it. Well might the inspired prophet wield the lash of satire when speaking of it. He says, “The carpenter stretcheth out his rule (Isaiah 44:13), falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, deliver me, for thou art my god.” This is done, not by a little child who nurses and talks to the doll as if it were a living creature; but by an intelligent man, who can conduct business, frame wise laws for a nation, discuss great moral problems, or speak eloquently in the forum or the school; this man falls down before the idol, the toy, the nonentity, and saith, “Deliver me, for thou art my god.” Idolatry robs Jehovah of His honour, and it is therefore denounced as a crime, an injustice, an offence against the Majesty on high. “Ye shall bear the sins of your idols, and ye shall know that I am the Lord God.” Would not a true patriot look with indignation upon a foeman’s flag planted On England’s shore? Would not his desire be to trample that flag in the mire, or tear it to ribbons, and unfurl the old English standard that “has braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze”? And the apostle looked upon idol worship in Athens as the flag of an enemy on the territory of God, as the occupation by an enemy of the palace that belonged to God. Idolatry was the sin to which the Jews were most prone. Surrounded by heathen nations, and forgetful of the mercies they had received from Jehovah, they were often contaminated with idol worship; and even Solomon forsook the temple of Jehovah for an idol grove. This image worship is prohibited by this second word of the law; how, then, did Rome deal with this prohibition? With the cunning craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive, it omitted this word from the Decalogue, and divided the last commandment into two, in order to make up the number ten. The idolatry practised in the Romish Church is one of the signs of its apostasy, and of the certainty of its doom; for, as Max Muller says, “One of the lessons which the history of religions certainly teaches is this, that the curse pronounced against those who would change the invisible into the visible, the spiritual into the material, the Divine into the human, the infinite into the finite, has come true in every nation on earth.” Consider, then, the reasons by which this prohibition is enforced.

1. He is a jealous God. Our character will receive its form and impress very much from the notions we entertain of God. If we regard Him as an impassive, emotionless, heartless Being, who is too high to take any interest in this world, who is not affected by our sorrows, by our circumstances, by our entreaties who requires, not our worship, then the effect will be that we shall meet indifference with indifference, we shall lead careless lives, we shall not be watchful in the formation of a character that will never be inspected by the eyes of Divinity. “How doth God know? Can He judge through the dark cloud?” But if we regard Him as the righteous and merciful Father, who is looking with pity on His rebellious children, the effect will be seen in our penitential return to Him, and in our desire to please Him and serve Him. Now, this verse reveals to us something of the nature and character of God. He is a personal Being, not an abstraction, not a mere force; not a tendency or (as Matthew Arnold puts it) “a power not ourselves that works for righteousness,” whatever such a phrase may mean. To worship a God who is nothing more than that would be like paying homage to a sum in algebra, or praying to a theorem in Euclid, or worshipping the Gulf Stream. He is a personal Being, who loves, who may be offended, who is jealous; not jealous lest He should suffer any diminution of His glory and blessedness through man’s sin, but jealous lest sin should deface and destroy the nature He accounts so precious. His jealousy is His love on fire, love wounded, love insulted, love incensed. If your son were led astray by evil companions, if your daughter became the prey of the tempter, and fell from the fair Eden of purity to the hell of an abandoned life, would you not be jealous and angry? Man is God’s child; and when the child is led astray, and becomes an Absalom, with the fire of defiance in his eye and the weapon of hostility in his hand, it is no wonder that God is jealous.

2. He punishes His enemies. “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation,” etc. Right across the brightness of the world lies the dark shadow of suffering. It is there, whether you believe the Bible or not. We see everywhere that moral characteristics and physical infirmities and sufferings are transmitted from one generation to another. And this principle of hereditary transmission is recognised in the Bible. The Jews said, “Our fathers have sinned, and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.” And these words of doom were pronounced by Christ, “That the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zecharias, who perished between the altar and the temple; verily I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation.” Do you not see this principle illustrated in daily life? Children inherit the physical constitution, the propensities, the diseases, the wealth or penury, the glory or disgrace of their parents. Sometimes men are proud of their ancestors, and they “borrow merit from the dead,” and if a baronet or lord has ever appeared in their family, they forget not to proclaim the fact. Good and evil are transmitted from one generation to another. But though a man may suffer on account of the sins of his ancestors, yet the suffering is never in the nature of retribution, unless the man’s own guilt has called for it. If the penalty goes down to the third and fourth generation, then they are, God says, “the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” And although innocent children may suffer the consequences of the sins of their parents, yet those consequences are temporal; in another world, and in the coming day of account, everyone will be judged personally and separately; the son will not be punished for the sins of his parents, nor will he be excused on the ground of the righteousness of his parents. A man feels, and rightly, that he is not responsible for his grandfather’s sins; but he may be in some measure responsible for the conduct of his children, and even grandchildren. And men are entreated to act wisely for the sake of their descendants--to be good and to do good for the sake of others. The Israelites gathered round the base of Sinai were the founders of a new nation, a nation that was to play an important part, that would have a name in history to the end of time, and if the fountainhead were defiled, the streams would be muddy also.

3. And He blesses His friends. “And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments”--unto thousands of generations. “Where sin hath abounded, grace hath much more abounded.” “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” There is mercy shining even in the law. In the midst of the storms of Sinai mercy is appearing like a quenchless star. I have said that moral qualities are transmitted, as well as physical features. Lying had become so characteristic of the inhabitants of Crete that the apostle quoted the proverb, “The Cretans are always liars.” And habits of industry and temperance and truthfulness may go down like healthy blood from one generation to another, even to thousands of generations. But do not think that the renewing grace of God in the heart may be transmitted from sire to son, or that the spiritual life will flow down with the natural life from fathers and mothers to their children. Inherited dispositions backed by education, and example may do much to secure this result, but every child must seek for himself “the good part that shall never be taken away from him.” It is not the godliness of the parents, but the mercy of God, that goes down unto thousands of generations, and converts them into generations that love Him and keep His commandments. (James Owen.)

The Second Commandment

I. What is strictly and properly prohibited in this commandment? It is quite manifest that the prohibitory statute relates exclusively to religion--to such images as were made to be “worshipped and bowed down to” - nothing else and nothing more. They were not only to have no other gods besides Jehovah, but were not to worship Jehovah Himself under any similitudes.

1. Such representations of the true God as are here interdicted were probably the origin of the whole idolatrous system. The Second Commandment, I apprehend, ought to be regarded both as a prohibition of what in itself was wrong; and, at the same time as a guard to the first, that they might not only be kept from embracing directly the idolatries of the surrounding countries, but also from introducing a practice in the worship of their own Jehovah which tended to lead them ultimately into the same errors.

2. The commandment was evidently designed to cherish just conceptions of the spiritual nature of Jehovah, and of the corresponding spirituality of the worship He required.

3. Spiritual conceptions of God’s nature are connected with spiritual conceptions of His worship. The awfulness of felt incomprehensibility is an impression, in regard to the Infinite Spirit--the great object of our worship, incomparably more desirable and beneficial, than one of gross material familiarity. There is sublimity in it. And there is in it the impression of constant nearness. Whereas when the worship is associated with material emblems, the mind, from the force of habit, becomes incapable of realising the presence of the Deity when the emblem with which that presence is associated is absent.

II. The reason annexed to this commandment.

1. What is meant by Jehovah when He designates Himself “a jealous God”?

2. The manner in which this Divine jealousy operates, or manifests itself. “Visiting the iniquities.”

III. The idolatry, or rather the image worship, of the so-called Christian Church. It is very strange, and shows the inconsistency of error, and how “hard bestead” it sometimes is for something to say for itself, that the setting up of the brazen serpent has been cited as an instance of reverence due to images, as if the command to the Israelites to look to it had been a command of worship to the object looked at. The best reply to this is simply to point to what became of the brazen serpent; what was done to it for the very reason of its having become an object of idolatrous reverence and superstitious reliance. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The Second Commandment

I. What it forbids.

II. The reason for the prohibition. To ascertain this let us inquire why man makes an image or a picture to help him in his worship. The answer may be briefly stated--the spiritual sense in man, that which realises God, is dead. None who know what it is to live and walk with God amid the work of the week would derive help from an image placed in front of them when they worship. By the new birth of the Spirit they have had the spiritual consciousness restored: so that they know God, and are able to commune directly with Him. If a man crave help, it is thereby proven that he lacks spiritual consciousness. This very lack renders him incapable of creating anything which gives a proper representation of God. God knew that if men who had lost their sense of Him and His presence made something to represent Him, it would be a false representation, and men would thereby get false notions of Him, even as they sought to worship. Look at the matter from another point of view. In the instant that man sets up a representation of any description to help him to realise God he denies that which is essential in God. Limitlessness lies at the heart and centre of the thought of God, and the moment a man makes an image he denies the essence of God. The thought of God produced by a false representation of God will produce character that is false. In effect God says to man, “Thou shalt not attempt to liken Me to anything: because every effort of that kind must result in failure, and must re-act upon man to his abiding injury.”

III. Ways in which the commandment is broken today. What is the priest? An attempt to reveal God to my heart, in order that I may worship Him. Wherever a man gives his soul away to the priest, because he imagines that he is getting to know God through the priest, the latter become to the man an image and an idol. In every case where this has been done man’s conception of God has suffered, and the result has been the degradation of the worshipper. The same danger is seen with regard to ritual. An ornate service, beautiful and aesthetic surroundings, are supposed to create the conditions of true worship. We ask what is the result of all this upon the spiritual nature of man? Are the men and women who go over to ritualism in any corm becoming more spiritual? When ornate service is put in the place of the rights of individual souls we are as great idolaters as were the men of olden days, who made graven images or painted pictures, and fell down to worship them. Turning from that higher level, we remember how much is said today about worshipping God through nature. I love the flowers, the valleys, the hills, the sunshine, the birds; but I say to you, that no man ever reaches God through nature. Men do get to nature through the God who made it. Let a man be right with God, and he will find the mystic key that unlocks all nature for him; but the men who try to climb to God through nature never succeed. The new cult of humanitarianism is really an attempt to worship God through human nature; but it is a sorry business. If this new idea of God is expressed in the individual or in the sum total of the race, let it be remembered that God Himself becomes guilty of all the awful things which have blotted the page of human history--a terrible thought!

IV. The solemn warning and the gracious promise linked to the commandment. If in your worship you put something in the place of God, if you come under the influence of worship which is an attempt to put something between God and man then you are not only harming yourself but your child. The probability is that your idea of worship will be transmitted to your child, and your child’s idea of worship will be transmitted to his child, so that the wrong that you do yourself when you misrepresent God is a wrong which you are doing to your child likewise. That, I believe, is the first and simple meaning of the words used in connection with this commandment. But we proceed to notice the gracious promise standing side by side with the warning: “Showing mercy unto thousands.” That is to say, if a man sweeps the idols away, and gets into living connection with God, worshipping Him without anything between, the result will be that his child will thus worship, and his child’s child will most likely so worship. (G. Campbell Morgan.)

The idolatry of civilised men

We sometimes wonder what to us instructed Christians, who cannot conceive ourselves, even in imagination, bowing down to a graven image, what can be any longer the lesson of the Second Commandment. What is the use of repeating it? Can we even imagine the temptation to do so? But are there no other things, the idols of refined and civilised men, no other “likenesses” than were known in old time, “of things that are in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth,” to which worship is done, subtle, profound, and absorbing,--idols which occupy the place of God, or perhaps profess to represent Him,--idols which meet us at every turn, and which need and justify the reiterated command, “Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them”?

1. For instance, God is all-powerful, almighty, and we worship Him who is the Maker and Ruler of all things. But the world, as we know it and have to do with it, is full of forces and necessities, whose origin and law is lost in darkness, which we cannot trace beyond a little way back, which seem self-originated and self-acting. They are awful, tremendous, irresistible, irreversible. They seem blind and aimless. We are powerless in their grasp if we oppose them; if we can use and direct them, it is still as blind and deaf and unchangeable and senseless forces. They bind us fast in their chain; they cut across the field of human will and feeling and purpose, reckless of the havoc they make, of the hopes they disappoint. In the onward roll and tide of what seems a boundless ocean, comprehending all things, from the hypothetic atom or the microscopic cell and germ to the farthest sun, the moral world, as we know it, seems swamped and lost. They care neither for good nor bad. They bind us with bonds which oppress and crush us. This tremendous side of nature is an idea which enlarging knowledge has brought home to our generation with a sharpness and definiteness never recognised before. It fills and occupies minds, till even the consciousness of will becomes overshadowed and cast into the background, a phenomenon or a doubt. And with this dread linage before men’s minds there grows up a terrible religion of despair. Nature, in its garb of fate and necessity, has shut out God.

2. There is a religion of literature. Literature, the record and image of the thoughts, impressions, and feelings of men, in the most diversified conditions and in the most diversified expression, is one of the gifts which have been made to our time: a gift, a real and inestimable gift it is; a strange and new one, distributing without stint to the many what used to be the prerogative and treasure of the few; opening more and more the inexhaustible wonders of the intellect and the character of man; placing within increasing range access to all that is loftiest and wisest, most perfect and noblest in what men now and before us have thought and said; leaving us utterly without excuse if, with the very highest placed within our reach, we choose the refuse and the vile. But it is a dazzling gift, a gift which makes men think that there can he nothing to match it, nothing beyond it. Is not this enough for the heart and soul of man, of man at least, cultivated, civilised, instructed, enlightened! Is it not enough for his meditations, his aspirations, his secret acts of devout homage and devout uplifting of the spirit? Will not the religion of great books and great thinkers, the religion of genius and poetic truth, be a sufficient religion!

3. There is a mysterious power in the world, a mysterious endowment given to man, one of the most wonderful and lofty of all his prerogatives--the sense of beauty. Is it surprising that art should almost become a religion--a worship and an enthusiasm in which the wondrous shadows of God’s glory take the place of God Himself, in His holiness, His righteousness, His awful love? It is not surprising; but alas for us, if we yield to the temptation! The love of beauty, in work and speech and person, was the master passion of the reviving intelligence of Italy: it attracted, it dominated all who wrote, all who sang, all who painted and moulded form. Out of it arose, austere and magnificent indeed, yet alive with all instincts of beauty, the Divina Commedia, the mighty thought of Leonardo and Michael Angelo, the pathetic devotion and deep peace of the Lombard, Tuscan, Umbrian schools; but to whole generations of that wonderful people--from the fresh sonnet writers and story tellers of the closing middle-age, Guido Cavalcanti and Boccaccio, to the completed refinement of the days of the great Venetian masters and Ariosto--the worship of the beautiful, as the noblest, worthiest devotion, stood in the place of truth, of morality, of goodness, of Christian life. This idolatry of beauty brought its own punishment, the degeneracy and deep degradation both of art and character.

4. Yes; the world in which we now pass our days is full of great powers. Nature is great in its bounty, in its sternness, in its unbroken uniformity; literature, art, are great in what they have created for us; beauty is great in its infinite expressions: but these are not the powers for man--man, the responsible, man, the sinner and the penitent, who may be the saint--to fall down and worship. They are to pass with the world in which we have known them, the world of which they are part; but man remains, remains what he is in soul and character and affections. They at least feel this who are drawing near to the unseen and unknown beyond; they to whom, it may be, these great gifts of God, the spell and wonder of art and of literature, the glory and sweet tenderness of nature, have been the brightness and joy of days that are now fast ending--they feel that there is yet an utter want of what these things cannot give: that soul and heart want something yet deeper, something more lovely, something more Divine, that which will realise man’s ideals, that which will complete and fulfil his incompleteness and his helplessness,--yes; the real likeness in thought and will and character to the goodness of Jesus Christ. “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” Man has that within him which tells him in presage and parable of greater and more awful, things than anything he can admire and delight in yet: he has that without him which certifies him that his hopes and aspirations are justified; that when these precious things of the present must pass with the world to which they belong there is laid up for him what “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him,”--sinlessness, strength, peace, the vision of God. (Dean Church.)

For I the Lord thy God am a Jealous God.

The Lord is a jealous God

1. First, He is so in respect of idolatry. “They moved Him to jealousy with images” (Psalms 78:58). “Behold at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy” (Ezekiel 8:5)--a more provoking place than if it had been in a less holy spot. Take Mohammedanism, where the idol of a false prophet stands in the place of the Lord’s Anointed; or Socinianism, where the idol of human reason usurps the place of Divine Revelation; and these two are neither better nor worse than the idolatry of the pagan or papal falsehood: they are equally the erection of man against God, and of human reason as opposed to the Word of God.

2. God is a jealous God in respect of all the self-righteousness, worldly-mindedness, creature dependences, pride, formality, or whatever other carnal principle would exclude spiritual humility, and in fact set up idols in the heart, under the Reformed religion we profess, although in itself a purer form of Christianity than any other.

3. God is a jealous God in respect more especially of His honour among His peculiarly professing people. “What do ye more than others?” “Are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God?” The Lord looks here for proportionate fruit, which yet He finds not. An unsanctified carriage dishonours our heavenly Father, and provokes His jealousy. A barren and unfruitful walk does this also. A discontented and repining spirit has the same effect. (Christian Observer.)

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

The sins of the fathers visited on the children

Among the several motives used by God to discourage men from breaking His most holy laws is the fear of punishment He is often pleased to inflict in this life. Let us offer some vindication of this way of God’s dealing with mankind in visiting, upon some extraordinary occasions, the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, or the sins of one generation on succeeding ages.

1. Then it will be of some use to us, in order to free the doctrine of the text from the difficulties that may seem to accompany it, to consider the more than ordinary malignity of those sins which God is provoked to visit upon the offspring of wicked parents. The sin more particularly pointed at in the text is that of idolatry, which is a sin of a heinous nature.

2. Again, whereas it is said in the text that God will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, this visitation must be understood to imply no more than the infliction of temporal evils only. For as the virtues of parents, how eminent soever, will not be imputed for righteousness to a degenerate posterity, so neither will their vices.

3. And to proceed yet further, even the temporal evils denounced by God in the text against the offspring of notoriously wicked parents are there supposed (ordinarily, at least) to extend no further than to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him; which period of time is therefore conceived to be mentioned to satisfy us that God primarily and more especially designs to punish sin in the immediate authors of it, since it may be presumed and is often true, in fact--that wicked parents may live to see themselves thus punished in those that come out of their loins; whereas, on the contrary, the goodness of Almighty God is such an overbalance to His vindictive justice that He has likewise declared that He will show mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments.

4. Add to this, that the temporal curse pronounced in the text must ordinarily be allowed to be conditional only--that is, to take place no otherwise than as wicked parents shall continue obstinate in the practice or defence of those sins by which they had provoked the Divine vengeance--which condition, it must be confessed, may be superseded by a thorough repentance; and when it is so, it may please God to respite the execution of His sentence, or to mitigate, as there shall be sufficient reason, the severity of it.

5. Lastly, for a more clear and full vindication of the justice of God’s proceeding visiting, upon some special occasions, the sins of the fathers upon the children, it will be necessary that we consider further the character and qualifications of those persons upon whom He determines to visit, in the manner above mentioned, the sins of their forefathers. For we must not imagine that He punishes, even with temporal evils (according to the usual methods of His providence), the sins of guilty parents on a guiltless offspring. On the other hand, there are several ways by which the descendants from a wicked stock may make the guilt originally contracted by their fathers in some measure their own, either by treading in the steps of their ancestors--which is not unusual, considering the powerful influence of their bad principles and examples, strongly inclining them to such an imitation, by which and other means family vices, as well as diseases, become hereditary--or by presuming to justify or to palliate the malignity of the transgressions committed by them; or yet further, by not humbling their souls, under a just and lively sense of the heinousness of them; or lastly, by some personal crimes of their own, no less notorious, which may justly provoke God to take occasion from thence to visit both their own and the iniquity Of their parents upon them. In which several cases we have no reason to arraign the justice of God’s dealings with mankind. Also those judgments of God, how severe soever, may always be improved to the spiritual and often temporal advantage of those on whom they light, if they are not wanting to themselves in making a proper use of them; which is so evidently true, in fact, that temporal evils are sometimes the only means, under God, of reclaiming societies of men, as well as private persons, from the guilt of the most daring and presumptuous sins. (John Pelling, D. D.)

A jealous God

In this glorious description three points are misunderstood, and therefore demand explanation. He says, “I am a jealous God.” In his learned book on the Study of Words, Dean Trench has given us a chapter on the “mutation of language,” showing how a word may change its meaning through the lapse of years. Perhaps no word in our language has been more abused than the word “jealous.” In the Scriptures it has a double significance. Primarily it implies, “I am sensitive of My rights and honour.” And who is not? He who is indifferent to his rights and honour is unworthy of manhood; for underlying this sensitiveness is the appreciation of highborn character, out of which come those forces that make men good, powerful, and dignified. This is the meaning of Elijah, when he said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts”--that is, “I have been very sensitive as to Thine honour; I have proclaimed Thy majesty and declared Thy law on the plains of Esdraelon, on the summit of Gilboa, and on the heights of Mount Carmel; I have risked everything because I knew that Thou hadst Thy rights and honour, and that I was set for their defence.” St. Paul uses the term in another signification, implying a solicitude and deep concern for the welfare of others. “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy”--that is, “I am deeply solicitous for your happiness; my concern is profound.” It is in this endearing sense, as if the Almighty had said, “I cannot allow My creatures to place themselves in a position wherein I cannot love and bless them.” Could we ask more of the Infinite Father than to be solicitous for His children, that they may not place themselves in the position of idolaters and thereby forfeit His gracious blessing? As a patriot, true and ardent, might say, “I cannot allow my country to be placed in a position, by a false administration, by the enactment of unrighteous laws, by the adoption of a foreign policy, whereby it would be excluded from the favour of Jehovah and the prosperity which springs from its principles and history.” And so a true husband would say, “I cannot permit my wife to place herself in such a state wherein I cannot love and cherish her.” No true man is indifferent to the welfare of the woman he has wedded, nor would he expose her love and person to companionship fraught with temptations and dangers; to do so would prove his unworthiness of husbandry and of honourable manhood. A husband is the eternal guardian of the wife of his bosom. He is to protect her to the last degree; to preserve her honour he is to sacrifice everything, even life itself. In this loftier sense Jehovah says, “I am a jealous God; do not worship idols, and thereby place yourselves beyond the limitations of My love and benediction.” There is another declaration in this ancient law capable of an explanation reflective of a better and truer view of our sovereign Creator: “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” The old interpretation is both false and cruel, that “the Lord of heaven holds the children responsible for the sins of their parents.” How monstrous this conception of the Creator! To vindicate Himself against such a degrading charge He has left on record this answer: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” What, then, is the meaning of this extraordinary expression? The term “iniquity” is not equivalent of punishment. He does not say that He visits the punishments due the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation, but simply declares a great truth, brought out distinctly by the most eminent scientists of our day, that the law of transmission is a fact, that the past is handed down, that virtuous and vicious tendencies are transmitted from generation to generation. The whole history of the world is in proof of this; every man is a living illustration of a fact which cannot be denied. Our physical, intellectual, and moral characteristics are an inheritance. Men are born liars, thieves, murderers, as others are born truth-loving, the soul of honour, and tender of the life of every living thing. Gibbs, the pirate, was a pirate from his mother’s womb; the elder Booth, the famous tragedian, who could personate murder on the stage with such apparent actuality that his auditors cried “Murder, murder!” yet, from his birth to his death, was tender of everything that had life. It is one of the proverbs in all literature that men are born poets, orators, warriors. Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Columbus, Voltaire, and David Hurtle represent this great law of transmission, whose characteristics were inherited, and were as conspicuous in childhood as in their riper years. In these words of His law God only proclaims what He had already written on the whole order and constitution of nature, Herein He applies this law, in its operations, to the transmission of idolatrous tendencies to the third and fourth generation. The “third and fourth” may here be proverbial, as the terms “seventh” and “tenth” are proverbial; and it is a significant and historical fact that, in the history of the Jews, it requires three or four generations for the taint of idolatry to run its course and become extinct. The Hebrew captives, on their return from Babylon, were no longer idolaters. Whatever their offence may have been, charged against them prior to their exile, the generation who came from the banks of the Tigris and of the Euphrates, and who were of the third and fourth generations, were free from the sin which led to the captivity of their ancestors. Here, then, is simply a declaration of the operation of a law which we recognise in the dog that caresses us, in the horse which carries us, in the flowers that cheer us, in almost everything that lives. We have seen the son inherit the evil tendencies of his father, and have witnessed the results of a vicious, prodigal life of a father through succeeding generations. If fault is found with the teachings of the Bible in this regard, fault must be found with the order of nature. And it is as remarkable as true, that what, can be affirmed of individuals may be of nations; for this law of transmission binds national life as it does the life of individuality. What we are today we are under the operation of this fearful law, and what American generations may be, through unnumbered centuries, will be under the operation of this same marvellous law of heritage. It is in this light that when Jehovah speaks of visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations He speaks of the taint of idolatry, and utters a fact for which all history stands in proof. There is a third point in this wonderful picture worthy a moment’s consideration--God declares Himself a discriminating judge, “that will by no means clear the guilty.” And who would have Him clear the guilty? Out of this question grows the deeper one, Shall we have government or no government? A government without justice is unworthy the name thereof. Law that can be infracted with impunity, where no penalties are executed for the violation thereof, is unworthy the honourable designation of law. If the right to punish inheres in the family and in organised society, why may we not assume that it is in accord with the government of the Infinite Sovereign of the universe? A system of pains and penalties is everywhere prevalent. We may make a distinction between penalties and consequences, yet the issue is the same--pain attends transgression of law. The whole universe moves in orderly procession. The uniformities of nature declare that order is the first law of heaven. Man is no exception to this rule of administration. He is a living, walking code of law, and, whatever his religious faith or his purpose, he suffers if he sins. There is more beneficence in the prohibitions of law than in the permissions and mandates. Doubtless the Almighty had a choice, in the creation of man, whether His noble creature should be a machine, whose every act should be automatic and subject to another’s touch, or whether he should be dignified with the sovereignty of liberty, to stand or fall for himself, to obey or disobey, to live in harmony or in dissonance with his Creator. Man’s crown of glory is liberty. Liberty means free will, free will means government, government means law, law implies penalty, penalty implies pain. The Almighty could have been simply our Creator, and been indifferent to our acts and the results of our actions; but in the boundlessness of His beneficence He has placed us under the rule of justice, and in keeping thereof there is great reward. (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

Our two-fold heritage

Let a man, righteous or unrighteous, be punished for a crime he has not committed, how his sense of justice is outraged!--what burning resentment springs up within him against those who inflict it upon him! His quarrel is with his fellow men, with all the world, if it condemn him, innocent, to suffer with the guilty. There is nothing in the nature of things which decrees that that law shall be so, and not otherwise. Of all the laws framed by man, one thing only may be safely predicted, that by man they will be changed. The laws which are framed by any nation may be good, but they cannot stand forever. They are the embodiment of that nation’s conception of justice. But that conception must become larger as the nation’s mind and heart grow greater. If we knew justice in the abstract, then the work of our law makers would be comparatively easy; all their task would be to apply their knowledge to the concrete. But we cannot know absolute justice, therefore we should be content if our changing laws are steps ever leading upwards to our ideal of perfectly just relationship. But there are other greater laws than these--laws which do not denote the progress of time, but stand through time the representatives of the eternal; remain, amid a world of change, the symbols of the unchangeable, working themselves out unerringly and unpityingly. Surely to rebel against such laws is only to invoke despair. We are all proud to call ourselves the heirs of past ages. But to be the victims of them--does that not seem hard? The old theological dogma of predestination, the doctrine which taught that mankind was divided into elect and non-elect, that ere a man was his doom was, and he might not pass it, seems to us peculiarly revolting. The injustice of it could not but arouse and inflame the worst passions in a strong nature. It was the death knell of striving and aspiration. That it was an evil doctrine few will be found to deny. Why, then, did it live so long and die so hard? Simply because there was a measure of truth in it. But the truth in it was pushed to an extreme and became falsehood. Science restated the law in her own terms. She does not pursue the unhappy individual beyond the grave and through all eternity with her doom of predestined and unalterable evil. She simply delivers him up to the law she has discovered, and repeats in language, and with proofs that cannot be gainsaid, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.” The law of heredity is one which is filling a larger and larger place in the science and thought of our day. Its influence is traced in a physical organism, in our mental endowments, and in our moral power. Men who have made mental diseases their special study tell us that our work, worry, violent grief or pain, all these and the many kindred ills which tend to induce madness, are not to be reckoned for number against the cases in which the influence of heredity can be clearly traced. And putting aside these cases of what we may call accidental insanity, and considering only the hereditary, we find that always the progenitor of it was sin. But not only do the sins of our fathers descend upon us in suffering of body, or in varying peculiarities of mind; they find us out in our moral nature as well, in a predisposition to like sins as our forefathers sinned, in a weakness of our will before certain temptations. It is an appalling thing. It wakes within us a new fear of our fellows and a new dread of ourselves. Is there a grown-up man or woman who cannot furnish an analogy from iris own experience? After we have striven and agonised and prayed, and by sore trial and long strife have built up habits of virtue to ourselves, have we never seen them all fall off from us, and known ourselves stripped and naked of our virtue and our strength, one with the weakness and sin that beset us, knowing, even in the midst of our frenzied cry to be kept back from that sin, that we shall have surrendered our will to it? And so our sin-convicted souls let go their much-prized doctrines of free will, and own their will fettered by low desires, in bondage to the sins of the past; and in our misery we grasp at the truth in the doctrine of heredity that in the dogma of predestination we scoffed at and denied. But there is another side to the law. The second part of our text proclaims it to us--“showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.” The phraseology of the position of the two clauses leads us into an error which only thought on the subject can correct. The entire text calls up before our mental vision two distinct classes of people. On the one hand we see the suffering descendants of sinful progenitors working out the law unto the third and fourth generations; on the other hand we see the happy thousands who love God and keep His commandments, delighting themselves in His mercy, or, as the marginal note of the Revised Version permits us to put it, we see the mercy of God upon those who keep His commandments, descending through a thousand Generations. But when we look at it more closely we see that we have been deceived into making such a division. In real life such a division is not possible. These are the two extremes between which all men are comprehended. Further, as there is not one, nor ever has been, who is wholly evil or wholly good, it follows that while there is not one of us who does not suffer in some degree from the sins of those now dead, also there is not one of us who is so poor as not to have the heritage of God’s mercy bequeathed to us from some progenitor who has won it for us by loving God and keeping His commandments. Science tells us the selfsame tale. It is not only evil that persists, but good also. We do not hear so much about it. We all know and think too much of the evil that is in the world, and too little of the good. And so we turn towards pessimism, and call our dark imaginings truths. The sins are visited unto the third and fourth generation. God’s mercy extends unto a thousand generations. What a wealth of meaning and truth is hidden there! Think of the numbers merely. Three or four, even generations, we have no difficulty in figuring to ourselves. They exist at one time among us. But a thousand generations! The imagination exults in the comparison between three and four and a thousand. But let us consider the truth of it as attested by our reason and experience. Evil has two ends, and two only, which are possible to it. The one is tsar it shall be overcome of good, and by being so its history becomes merged in that of good, and its existence as evil is ended; the other is that it shall persist until it die. The inevitable tendency of evil is toward self-destruction. Evil repeated and repeated does not gain strength and power by every repetition. For a time it does, but by and by at every repetition it becomes weaker; each reproduction of itself means a fresh drain upon a vital power that has no perennial fount of life to draw upon, so that it becomes exhausted. The imagination even cannot conceive of a thing growing ever increasingly evil, till it is wholly so, and yet continuing to live. But we, who know good and evil struggling together within ourselves, are tempted to think the one as great as the other because it is as close to us. “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation”--that is truth! Yes, the surface of truth. The mercy of God is unto a thousand generations--that is truth!--yes, fundamental truth, the secret of our nature, the source of our undying hope. And that truth we find everywhere. If we examine our store of experience and observation we find it written there. And if we bid our intellect pronounce upon it, she divorces good from evil that we may see the nature of each. She shows us evil, cut off from the good to which it clings, hurling itself in headlong flight down to everlasting nothingness. She shows us good, following the law of its nature, climbing with slow, sure step the heights of heaven. (A. H. Moncur Sime.)

The law of heredity

Even moral qualities are often inherited, for the spring is poisoned at the fountain head, and the water is never pure again. Uncleanness, untruthfulness, passion,--how often we can too sadly trace in them the evil likeness of the sin of the parents. Let us not, however, exaggerate the truth. God never charges a child with the guilt of its parents’ sin. The most awful result of sin, its guilt in God’s sight, is never transmitted. It was on this point, amongst others, that the older Calvinism made shipwreck of itself. It taught that children were guilty before God because of the sin of their first parents; that we were chargeable with the guilt of Adam’s sin, and were liable to eternal death for it; and in saying this Calvinism outraged the conscience of humanity, and it fell because of the outrage. God does make a child to suffer for the sin of his parents, but He never imputes guilt without personal transgression. Everything else that results from sin, its physical degradation, mental incapacity, moral infirmity of will, depraved tastes and appetites, inward bias to evil, all these are the evil legacy that sin hands down from father to child; and all are included in this solemn law: “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children,” etc. It may be said that this does not relieve the difficulty of this command. Why, it may be asked, does a righteous and loving God ever allow an innocent child to suffer for the sins of his parents? I answer that it may be impossible for us to give a complete reply to this question, but there are some considerations which serve materially to alleviate the difficulty.

1. Let us not forget that, however we may explain it, the facts remain. If there were no Bible, no revelation of God in Christ, the tragic effects of heredity would remain.

2. And still more let us bear in mind--and this seems to me profoundly important--that the law of heredity is not a law meant to curse, but rather intended to bless man. In other words, the fact that the iniquity of the fathers is visited on the children is only part of a wider law, that moral and physical qualities are transmitted, a law that was meant to secure an entail of blessing on posterity, and not a heritage of woe. A “godly seed,” what a wealth of untold blessing there is in these words! If we read the Old Testament, nothing is more significant than to notice how this law of the inheritance of blessing is repeated again and again. (Genesis 18:19.) (Psalms 102:28.) (Proverbs 20:7.) (Psalms 45:16.) May we not see this law in operation before our eyes today? Are there not homes we know which have been blessed for their parents’ sake?

3. And thirdly, we may see that even in the solemn sanction to this law there is a larger inheritance of blessing promised than of evil. If we look at the margin of Revised Version we shall find the true rendering, not “thousands,” but “unto a thousand generations.” (Compare Deuteronomy 7:9.) We stand now in the full sunshine of this beneficent law. One question remains. Why is this sanction to this law introduced here? I think the reply is two-fold. First, there was in the solemn sanction to the law a special warning to the Jews against the peril of image or idol worship. It would descend to their children, and would involve them as well as their forefathers in its punishment. Unhappily, they found this only too true. Generation after generation of Israelites suffered from the idolatry of their parents. It was not until the fierce fires of the dispersion and the exile in Babylon had burned out the last remnants of idolatry from the heart of the nation that they obeyed this law. Then there was another and more general reason for this warning, and one that applies to all nations as well as the Jews. The worship of false gods, and the false worship of the true God are crimes against the holiness and majesty of the Eternal God, and as such are visited therefore with the most tremendous penalties. False religion vitiates the family and the nation as well as the individual. There are nations in Europe, for instance, which are suffering today because this law of God has been wickedly broken. (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)

Incitements to keeping God’s commands

The “ten words” are prefaced with the declaration, “I am the Lord thy God”; now He declares, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God--showing mercy.” Our fathers declared that these words of God are “terrible to His foes, gracious to His friends.” Consider--

I. How this zeal of His wrath is manifested toward those who hate Him.

1. This is shown in various examples in the New Testament. Punishment follows, like a dark shadow, the footsteps of the criminal. Indeed, one has merely to look around on the world to see how true this is. What is the meaning of the proverb, “As men live so it fares with them”? It means that men had observed and noticed that when a man sinned by excess against a sound body and against reason, it fared ill with him! The body became sickly, the mind weak; that when a man is discontented with an honest calling, or manages carelessly the goods entrusted to him, it fares ill with him. His trade does not support him, his possessions vanish, his end is want, beggary, or crime. To the unfaithful, etc., will come home the proverb, “God punishes one rogue through another,” etc.

2. Does this mean that sin is punished naturally? Yes. “Sin is the destruction of a people.” God has so formed the world that this is the result.

3. But God’s zeal against those who hate Him is manifested in ways which we cannot understand; e.g., how often examples proving the proverbs, “Ill-gotten gain never prospers,” “It does not come to the third generation,” come before men! So, too, the saying, “The pitcher goes to the well until it is broken.” Many begin a godless course apparently with success, until at some moment the word comes, “Thus far and no farther,” and in a moment the fabric formed by evil deeds is shivered in fragments. “The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.” “They who drink deep must finish with the lees.”

4. But God’s hand often is seen, as it were, visibly in this terrible work. Duke Rudolph of Swabia, who rebelled against the emperor, over eight hundred years ago, when his hand was cut off in battle he cursed the bleeding stump, and said with a sigh, “This was the hand with which I swore fealty to the Emperor Henry.” So with people, the Canaanites--the Romans under the late empire.

5. This word is terrible to God’s enemies, and although many an evil-doer seems to prosper, yet could we see his heart! The evil man carries a tormenter within him. “An evil conscience is as a fire in the bosom”--it is a mirror that reflects every sin. With pleasure the prodigal leaves the father’s house--with pain he must return, if ever he does. And to the evil man the thought of death is like the thought of the executioner to the criminal.

6. But suppose that punishment does not come here, that the sinner’s conscience is hardened, and that he meets death suddenly without a thought of past or future--what then? Let who will call him happy. Not even the heathen did that, but considered that the reward would follow. And thus, too, Scripture declares that the reward of unrepented evil-doing shall follow the sinner into the invisible. Them that hate Me--and there are many who may not be classed with murderers, thieves, etc., who do so: mockers of religion, etc., despisers of God’s revealed Word and law.

7. And that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children is a fact of actual experience. The enemy of the faith, who brings up his children to despise religion, etc., is taking the moral foundation from his child’s life. The children of prodigals may be beggars; the children of the debauchee inherit a weak and feeble frame, it may be, etc. This is the order of the world. Yet to the children this is intended to be a salutary cross teaching them to avoid the sins of their parents, for God has also said, “The son shall not bear the iniquity,” etc. (Ezekiel 18:20).

II. Consider how the zeal of God’s love is shown towards those who love Him.

1. He shows mercy unto thousands--unto many generations--of those who love, and show their love in keeping His commandments. Not that we can gain or purchase the Divine mercy by keeping perfectly the Divine law. No man can do this.

2. But God shows mercy to them that love Him. It is well-pleasing to Him when men seek to keep His commandments out of love to Him--not from amiability of character merely, or from fear of punishment, or with a view to present or future reward, but from love to God.

3. If we love God because He has first loved us, and sent His Son, etc., because we know Christ and the riches of His grace, and seek to show our gratitude to Him by doing His will--these God sees in upright hearts which love Him, and because of this goodwill He spurns not our imperfect efforts to serve Him. “Thou Lord dost bless the righteous,” etc. Psalms 5:12). Many a pious man may be poor and of little account in the world--his life seems poor in joy, etc. Yet ask him how it fares with him, and you will find that amid his poverty he can rejoice in this blessedness of the righteous.

4. “Say to the righteous that it shall be well with” him,” etc. (Isaiah 3:10). It is not their lot to sow and not reap, to labour and yet lack bread, to build and yet be roofless, etc. A blessing shall rest on their labour, etc.; their children shall rise up and call them blessed; whilst the godless shall not see when good comes, and in the end shall be like chaff which the wind drives away (Psalms 1:1-6).

5. It is they who believe that “the blessing of the Lord maketh rich” who shall stand fast in evil days. They trust in God’s friendship and fear not the world’s enmity; they go not with the multitude to do evil, but walk in the ways of God. The Lord may prove and try them, but it is that they may stand more firmly in His strength; but He will make the crooked straight before them. The morning may be dark, but the day will brighten. “If I must choose,” said a good man, “I had liefer sow in rainy weather, and reap in fair weather, than sow in fair weather and reap in rain” (Psalms 126:1-6.).

6. And the blessing of the Lord shall continue on the house of the righteous--to a thousand generations. Of the tree planted by watercourses it is said “his leaf shall not wither.” The righteous children of the righteous shall inherit the blessing. Well said the apostle, “Godliness is profitable unto all things,” etc. (1 Timothy 4:8). (K. H. Caspari.)


Verse 11

Deuteronomy 5:11

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

The Third Commandment

I. What is required in it. This supposes that it is an indispensable duty for us to make mention of the name of God.

II. The sins forbidden in this commandment; and accordingly we violate it by not using the name of God in such a way as it is required. This includes in it--

1. The not making any profession of religion, as being afraid or ashamed to own that in which the name of God is so much concerned.

2. Persons take the name of God in vain, when, though they make a profession of religion, yet it is not in such a way as God has required, and this is done by using His attributes, ordinances, or works, in which He makes Himself known, in an unbecoming manner.

3. The name of God is taken in vain by blasphemy, which is a thinking or speaking reproachfully of Him, as though He had no right to the glory that belongs to His name.

4. This commandment is broken by not using religious oaths in a right manner, or by violating them; and, on the other hand, by all sinful and profane oaths and cursing.

5. This commandment is also broken by murmuring, curiously prying into, and misapplying God’s decrees or providences, or perverting what He has revealed in His Word, i.e. when we apply things sacred to profane uses, and have not a due regard to the glory of God, which is contained therein.

6. This commandment is further broken by making use of God’s name as a charm; as when the writing or pronouncing some name of God is pretended to be an expedient to heal diseases or drive away evil spirits.

7. This commandment is further broken by reviling or opposing God’s truth, grace, and ways; whereby we cast contempt on that which is most sacred, and lightly esteem that which He sets such a value on and makes Himself known by.

III. The reasons annexed to the third commandment. And these are taken--

1. From the consideration of what God is in Himself, as He is the Lord, whose name alone is Jehovah; whereby He puts us in mind of His sovereignty over us, and His undoubted right to obedience from us, and hereby intimates that His excellency should fill us with the greatest reverence and humility, when we think or speak of anything by which He makes Himself known. Moreover, He reveals Himself to His people as their God, that so His greatness should not confound us, or His dread, as an absolute God, whom we have offended, make us despair of being accepted in His sight. Therefore we are to look upon Him as our reconciled God and Father in Christ, which is the highest motive to obedience.

2. The observation of this commandment is further enforced by a threatening denounced against those that break it. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

On taking God’s name in vain

The “Name of God” meant much more than the mere breathing of an articulate word by which men spoke of Him. It meant God in His reality, in His immanence, in His eternity. To take His name in vain--that is, to no purpose--is to trifle with Omnipotence; it is to treat Him as though He were not. Thou takest His name in vain when thou triest to forget or ignore Him, to live without Him, more defiant than the very devils, to believe yet not to tremble. Observe, there is no menace here. It is the awful statement of an eternal fact. If by godlessness, and disobedience, and hypocrisy thou art taking God’s name in vain, thou art guilty; and if responsible, thou must bear the consequences whatever they should be. Being guilty, how can He hold thee guiltless who seeth through all shams and is the very God of truth? But it is too sadly possible to make life itself one long act of taking God’s name in vain. Take, by way of illustration, the great world of business with which so many of us are in one way or another connected. Is there a man whose work is scamped work? Is there a man who is engaged in the accursed branch of trade, which sells spirits to drunkards or savages, or the owning of low gin shops, or tenements unfit for human habitation and often let for immoral purposes, or anything which gravitates to the misery of mankind? Is there a man who sweats his workers, defrauds them of their wages, grinds the faces of the poor, excusing himself by custom, treating human beings as though they were mere chattels and implements of trade? Is there a man who has made large sums of money by plausible astute bargains, palmed off under the form of honourable agreement upon the unsophisticated ignorance of non-business men? Well, all such men spend their lives in taking God’s name in vain, for they spend their whole lives in conditions which defy the fundamental laws of that Being whom they profess to serve. The Third Commandment is far more searching than this. A man may be utterly respectable, a woman may be perfectly moral, yet both of them guilty of this sin, and what one has called the great slugs of commonplace and cant may be leaving their slimy trails all over their lives. The human being who is rendering no single true and self-denying service to his fellow men, the life that ignores God’s essential requirement that we should love our neighbour as ourselves, is a life that He will not hold guiltless--a life that takes His name in vain. Nor does it matter in the least if in the man or in the priest this selfishness turns into the form of some religionism. Not only is that religion no religion which, loving its party more than the Church, goes on to love the Church more than God, and ends by loving itself more than all. Surely then, in conclusion, this is an intensely searching commandment. If we examine it, every one of us may well be afraid lest we, in not any slight or venial manner, but most guiltily, take God’s name in yam. Let us search ourselves with candles and see whether by profanity, falsity, malice, sloth, self-indulgence, lust, worldliness, greed, or merely nominal profession, we in our whole lives have hitherto been taking God’s name in vain; let us seek forgiveness where alone it can be found. (Dean Farrar.)

The Third Commandment

I. Has our conversation been always such, as that there was never anything dishonourable to His glory, and always everything suited to do Him honour?

1. Has there been nothing dishonourable to God upon our lips? Have we profaned God’s name, taking it in our mouths lightly, irreverently, and without design of doing Him honour? Have you never treated irreligiously God’s Word, and the truths it contains? And this, whether by disputing against what it saith, or by indecently using the expressions of it? Have you never spoken lightly of God’s ordinances, His day, sacraments, His worship, and especially the preaching of the Word, wherein we are most apt to offend because it comes to us through the hands of men? Have you never spoken rashly of God’s people; too hastily judging and censuring them; too readily receiving and propagating evil reports concerning them; running them down for their infirmities, and giving a malicious turn to their graces; and so miscalling the profession of Christ? Have you never spoken disrespectfully of God’s providence and grace? (Deuteronomy 8:17; Deuteronomy 9:4.) Have you never spoken dishonourably of God’s promises?

2. Has our conversation been always not only not dishonourable, but such as in everything was suited to glorify God? Have we always in circumstances required spoken for God? (Psalms 119:46.) Also, when we have been speaking of God, have we always done it with all that reverence which became us towards Him, so as to exalt Him, and express a lively sense upon our hearts of His being that glorious God we say He is?

II. In conduct have you not been guilty of taking God’s name in vain?

1. Negatively: has there been nothing in your conduct dishonourable to that Jehovah whose servant you profess yourself to be?

2. The positive side. Have we so conducted ourselves always in our general and special calling as might most tend to glorify God’s name? The Scripture is express (Matthew 5:16).

The Third Commandment

I. The nature of this sin may be advantageously unfolded by considering it as it respects the name and the works of God. The name of God is profaned, that is, treated with irreverence--

1. In perjury or false swearing.

2. When the name of God is used in any light, irreverent manner, the same sin is committed.

3. We are guilty of this sin also when we invoke the name of God lightly and irreverently in prayer, or without that seriousness, humility, and religious awe which are indispensable to the acceptable performance of this duty.

4. A still more heinous transgression of the same nature is using the name of God irreverently in the solemn act of dedicating the soul to Him in the covenant of grace.

5. As this sin respects the works of God, or, in other words, whatever He has done, declared, or instituted, the profaneness, whenever it exists, is exactly the same in its nature, but different in the mode of its existence. In all instances included under that head, it is directed against God immediately; but mediately in those now referred to; the irreverence being pointed immediately against the works themselves, and through them against their author. God is often treated with irreverence--

II. The guilt of this sin is evident--

1. From the tenour of the command.

2. This sin is an immediate attack on God Himself, and is therefore peculiarly guilty.

3. Profaneness is in most instances a violation of peculiarly clear and peculiarly solemn inducements to our duty.

4. Profaneness is a sin to which there is scarcely any temptation.

5. Profaneness is among the most distinguished means of corrupting our fellow men.

6. Profaneness prevents or destroys all reverence towards God, together with all those religious exercises, and their happy consequences, of which it is the source.

III. The danger of this sin.

1. Profaneness is eminently the source of corruption to the whole character. Almost all moral attributes and employments operate mutually as causes and effects. Thus irreverence of thought generates profaneness of expression, and profaneness of expression, in its turn, generates irreverence of thoughts. Thus, universally, the mind moves the tongue, and the tongue, again, in its turn, moves the mind. The person who speaks evil will always think evil.

2. Profaneness is a sin which is rapidly progressive. Every act of profaning the name, perfections, works, words, and worship of God, is obviously a presumptuous attack upon this glorious Being. The sinner, having once dared so far, becomes easily more daring; and passes rapidly from one state of wickedness to another, until he becomes finally hardened in rebellion against his Maker. That most necessary fear of God, which is the great restraint upon sinful men, is speedily lost. The sinner is then left without a check upon his wickedness. At the same time the tongue is a most convenient instrument of iniquity, always ready for easy use. We cannot always sin with the hands, and are not always sufficiently gratified by mere sins of thought. The sins of the tongue are perpetrated alike with ease and delight every day, and in every place, where even a solitary individual can be found to listen. Hence transgressions of this kind are multiplied wonderfully.

3. Profaneness, particularly that of the tongue, naturally introduces men to evil companions, and shuts them out from the enjoyment of those who are virtuous.

4. Profaneness exposes men to the terrible denunciation of the text.

1. These observations exhibit in a strong light the depravity of the human heart.

2. These observations teach us the goodness of God in alarming mankind concerning this sin in so solemn a manner.

3. Let me warn all those who hear me to shun profaneness.

4. Let me solemnly admonish the profane persons in this assembly of their guilt and danger. (T. Dwight, D. D.)

The Third Commandment

I. The nature of the sin forbidden.

1. The abuse and violation of oaths. The command is clearly violated when we--

2. Profanity of speech.

3. Hypocrisy in worship. And this hypocrisy may be either deliberate or thoughtless. All careless, heartless, irreverent worship of God, involves a taking of His name in vain. Is not the Lord’s name profaned and taken in vain by every man who calls himself by it and belies his profession by his character--professing that he knows God, while in works he denies Him?

4. Irreverence of heart. The man who can laugh at another taking God’s name in vain, virtually takes that name in vain himself.

II. The guilt and danger of the prohibited sin. “The Lord will not hold him guiltless,” etc. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The Third Commandment

I begin with the precept itself, and there first it will be necessary to show what is meant by the name of God. By this we are to understand--

1. God Himself, His Divine being and essence; for in the holy writings name is put for the person or thing that is named.

2. That which is more strictly and properly called His name, i.e. the title of God or Lord which is given to Him.

3. The properties and attributes of God.

4. His works and actions.

5. His ordinances and worship.

6. His words, i.e. the Holy Scriptures. And in brief, all things appertaining to God. To take (or as the original word more properly signifies), to take up a name, is to mention or rehearse it. Thus the Psalmist saith with relation to false gods and idols, and the sacrifices and oblations which were offered to them, he will not take up their names into his lips (Psalms 16:4, and so in Psalms 50:16).

And a name is then said to be taken in vain when it is used in an undue, Unfit, and unlawful manner.

1. This commandment condemns those who question the being and essence of God.

2. By virtue of this commandment all irreverent mentioning of the very title or name of God is vicious. The common using of the name of God or Lord, as is done by most people, the asking of alms in God’s name, or Christ’s name, as is done by beggars generally, is a profanation of those holy names.

3. Then, this precept of the moral law lets us know that we must not by any irreligious manner of speaking profane the Divine attributes, for these also are meant by the name of God. A near approach to this blasphemy is the common deportment of men; they excessively fear them that can kill the body, but they disregard what the Almighty is able to execute; they do in effect say that the Divine power is inferior to that which is bodily and finite. God’s purity and holiness are also blasphemed by those who assert Him to be the author of sin; or who lay their faults upon God Himself, or who maintain that He takes no notice of the sinful miscarriages of the faithful, and is never displeased with them. God’s justice is profaned either by men’s questioning it, or disputing about the equity of it, or by not expressing a sufficient fear of so terrible an attribute. God’s mercy is abused on the one hand by presumptuous boastings of the benefits of it, and on the other hand by words of despondency and despair. God’s infinite knowledge and wisdom whereby He directs all things to the best ends, are blasphemously dishonoured, not only by an atheistical disowning of them, but by preferring our own shallow conceits. God’s truth and faithfulness are reproached by us, when we doubt of the reality of them, or when we speak unbecomingly of them, as if we gave no credit to the Divine word and promises.

4. The unlawfulness of speaking irreverently concerning God’s works and actions (for they likewise are included in His name) is here discovered. First, it is a great sin to disparage the works of God’s creation. It is related of Alphonsus, the tenth king of Castile (he that was called the wise, because of his skill in philosophy and astronomy), that he blasphemously bragged that he could have ordered things better in the heavenly bodies than God had. And Plempius, a physician of no mean account, seems to find fault with the structure of the eye, and pretends it might have been amended. Some have lately been so audacious as to blemish the make of the earth, and to represent it in several respects unworthy of its Creator. Others are heard to complain that there are a great number of creatures in the world that are made for no use. But certainly this is a great degree of profanation, because whatsoever God made is the product of His wisdom. Therefore on that very account we ought to believe that it is some ways worthy of Him. Far be it from us then to disparage it. Secondly, it is an equal crime to speak ill of God’s work of providence, to find fault with His conduct in the world. And yet this is a very common miscarriage, and sometimes the very best men are incident to it. Job cursed the day of his birth, and impatiently wished for death, and was very much dissatisfied with the afflictive circumstances he was under. David, Jeremiah, Jonah, and some others who have a good character in Scripture, are sometimes heard to murmur at the Divine dispensation; but these were but transient fits, and soon vanished. Those of a profane, spirit retain this temper a long time, yea, indeed, upon all occasions (i.e. whenever their condition is dangerous or calamitous)
their speeches discover the inward rancour of their minds, and their hellish disgust of God’s dealings with them. But nothing can be more irrational, for as we are creatures we are dependent beings, and subsist by our Creator’s bounty, and therefore we are to be wholly at His disposal.

5. So do they likewise who irreverently make their addresses to God in His worship and ordinances, for these are included in His name. How frequently is this commandment broken in men’s prayers, whilst they profane this holy duty by rash and impertinent multiplying of words, by using vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7) unbecoming this solemn exercise of devotion! In hearing, likewise as well as praying, men take God’s name in vain when they receive the Divine message in a negligent manner, when they do it without attention and reverence, but especially when they take no care to practise what they hear. This is done in fasting and all other external acts of humiliation where there is not a real intention of glorifying God by abandoning their sins and reforming their lives. Then for the sacraments; how many take God’s name in vain whilst they celebrate them without a right understanding of what they do, and without a sense of the great work they undertake, and without a desire to reap some spiritual benefit by them.

6. The Word of God, the holy writings of the Old and New Testament, whereby He makes Himself and His will known to mankind, are comprehended under His name, and the profaning of these are taking His name in vain. Again, God’s Word is abused by perverting the meaning of it, and wresting it to wrong purposes This is done by all heretics and false teachers. They constantly quote the Bible, but at the same time distort it and make it speak what they please. Lastly, seeing all that is sacred and religious and hath reference to God is expressed by His name, it follows that taking God’s name in vain includes actions as well as words, and therefore takes in everything that is done whereby God’s name is profaned. In this commandment, then, are forbidden all those actions whereby a dishonour is brought upon our religion, and the name of God is evil spoken of. Thus we see what sins are forbidden in this commandment, you see what vast numbers of men in the world take God’s name in vain. And yet the chief transgression of this commandment is yet behind, which I will in the next place distinctly consider; and I purposely defer it till now, that I may discourse of it by itself and give a full account of it. The unlawful using of Gods name in swearing is the more particular, special, and direct breach of this precept of the moral law.

This in a more signal manner is taking God’s name in vain. First, I will inquire into the true nature of an oath. Secondly, I will inquire what an unlawful oath is, or what that swearing is which is taking God’s name in vain.

1. That it is unlawful to swear by any feigned deity or idol; for we must swear by the true God only. But if you ask, how is this properly an oath, seeing here is no swearing by the true God? I answer, there is an invocation of God even in the swearing by idols, for those that swear by these take them to be true gods, or they place them in the room of the true God.

2. To swear by any creature must needs be unlawful, because this part of worship is due only to God.

3. To swear by any gifts and endowments of the body or mind, or by the life and soul of ourselves or others, is utterly unlawful.

4. Seeing an oath is to be used only in some weighty matter, it follows that swearing in common discourse, or upon a trifling account, or rashly and unadvisedly, is unlawful. First, I say, it is highly wicked to swear in our ordinary conversation and discourse, which yet is the reigning vice of this age; for there are great numbers of men everywhere that can scarcely open their mouths without an oath. The only proof of these men’s acknowledging such a being as a God, is their swearing by Him. And yet this swearing is a proof that they own no God; for if they did, certainly they would not be customary swearers, and unhallow so sacred a thing as an oath. Secondly, therefore, it cannot but be very criminal to swear upon every trifling account, on every trivial occasion, in every ludicrous matter. In the most foolish occurrences God’s name is made use of. Whilst they are at their recreations, in the midst of their jesting, they will not forbear to do this. Thirdly, to swear, though it be in a weighty matter, rashly and unadvisedly, is a great crime. For this being a religious act, it requires deliberation.

Fourthly, seeing oaths must be in a lawful matter only, it follows that such oaths as these are absolutely unlawful.

1. To swear things that we know to be false. And accordingly you will find that the Hebrew word “shua” (which with a preposition before it is here rendered “in vain”) is the same with “false” (Ezekiel 12:24; Hosea 12:9).

2. To oblige ourselves by oath to do that which is not in our choice and power, is unlawful.

3. An oath which is prejudicial to our neighbour’s right is unlawful, because the matter of it is so; for it is against the law of God and man to bind ourselves to anything that we know will prove injurious to another. “Thou shalt swear in judgment” (or justice) “and in righteousness” (Jeremiah 4:2). Therefore to swear to do unjustly cannot be lawful. Lastly, to sum up all, you may conclude that to be an unlawful oath which engages you to commit any sin, anything that is derogatory to God’s glory and honour. I proceed now to the third thing I undertook under the negative consideration of this commandment, namely, to endeavour to dissuade from the practice of unlawful swearing, by showing the heinousness of it. And here I will distinctly refer to both the kinds of oaths before mentioned: those used in common conversation, and those that are false and injurious to our neighbours. First, as to those which are used in ordinary discourse, think of it, how high a profanation they are of God’s name, which ought to be used with all reverence. It has been well observed that there is no temptation to this vile sin. The corrupt nature of man can allege something for other vices, but the irreverent abusing of God’s name hath nothing to tempt men to it. It satisfies no appetite, no vicious affection or inclination, as covetousness, lust, pride, ambition, revenge, etc. Which shows that it is an inexcusable crime, and that nothing can be pleaded for it. To this purpose consider further, that he that swears falsely injures God, his brethren and himself. He is injurious to the first, and that in general, because he profanes that name which ought to be sanctified; and more particularly, because when he appeals to God, and yet swears to a lie, he either imagines that the Divine Being knows not the truth, and so imputes ignorance unto Him to whose eyes all things are naked and open; or he persuades himself that He is not displeased with falsehood, and so he denies His holiness; or else he derogates from His power, and implies that He is not able to be avenged on the liar. Secondly, he is injurious to his neighbours, because hereby all converse is spoilt, or society ruined. Thirdly, a false swearer injures himself, he apparently hazards his own soul; for he binds himself over to the just judgment of the Almighty, yea, he solemnly calls upon God to execute this vengeance upon him. Thus having done with the negative part of this commandment, wherein hath been showed what the sins are which we are to abstain from, I proceed to the affirmative, where I am to show what is enjoined us. And what is it but this? namely, to perform the contrary virtues and duties. That is, we must vigorously assert the being and essence of God; we must reverence His holy name, and more especially when we have occasion to make use of it in lawful and necessary oaths. We must mention God’s titles with seriousness and awe. His glorious attributes and perfections are to be discoursed of with reverence; and so are all His actions and works, whether of creation or providence, or redemption. In this commandment is required that we worship God with a due sense of His transcendent majesty, that we decently and solemnly behave ourselves in all parts of Divine adoration, that we celebrate the ordinances and institutions of Christ in a becoming manner, that we be reverent, hearty, and fervent in all our religious addresses, and that we worship God in spirit and in truth.

But the main things which are more immediately contained in it are these two--

1. Invocating of God’s name by solemn oaths when we are called to it.

2. Performing the oaths we make. First, by virtue of this part of the Decalogue we may, and we ought to, swear on lawful occasions. It requires us to invoke God’s name in the way of religious oaths. For these were always a part of religion; whence swearing is sometimes put for God’s service and worship, and the open profession of it (Ecclesiastes 9:2; Jeremiah 12:16). In an oath praise and honour are given to God; to His infinite knowledge and wisdom, that He knows what we say; to His holiness, that He loves truth and abhors falsehood; to His power and justice, that He can and will avenge the latter. Thus swearing is a great act of piety and worship, if it be performed as it ought to be. Further to evince the lawfulness of this practice, I will appeal both to Scripture and reason. As to the former, it is evident that swearing is commanded as a duty. In Deuteronomy 6:18 it is not only said, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him”; but “thou shalt swear by His name.” If you think yourselves obliged by this text to fear and serve God, you are equally engaged by it to swear by His name, namely, when you are lawfully called to it. This duty likewise is implied in the law (Exodus 22:27-28). Again, this is grounded not only on positive commands in Scripture, but on the examples and practice of holy men recorded in those sacred writings. They swore themselves, and they caused others to swear. There are abundant instances of the former (Genesis 21:31; Genesis 26:31; Genesis 31:53; Joshua 14:9; 1 Samuel 20:3; 1 Samuel 24:22). The latter is confirmed by several examples, as that in Genesis 24:3. Secondly, not only Scripture but reason obliges us to make use of oaths in a pious and religious way. There are laudable ends of swearing which render it a reasonable service. I have already showed that it is an act of worship towards God, and it is as certain an act of charity and righteousness towards men. For it is sometimes absolutely necessary for discovering the truth, for the detecting of wicked actions, for helping men to recover their rights, and to be instated in what is their own. Oaths are (as the apostle observes, Hebrews 6:16) to be a remedy against disputes, and therefore are of great use in litigious cases. They are sometimes requisite as a badge of loyalty and subjection, and to express our obedience to princes.

But notwithstanding this, I am clearly of opinion that these two things are included in the words of our Saviour and the Apostle James--

1. That Christians should as much as possible abstain from swearing.

2. That these professors of the purest religion should attain to such an integrity, such faithfulness and sincerity, that an oath should be altogether unnecessary, and that Christians should be believed and trusted upon their bare words. Thus I have finished the first grand thing contained in the affirmative part of this commandment, namely, using God’s holy name in solemn swearing. We are authorised by this precept to have recourse unto religious oaths on lawful occasions. The second great thing enjoined us is this, to perform our oaths, to do according to what we swear. Both the negative and affirmative branches of this commandment are thus represented to us by our Saviour, “Thou shalt not forswear thyself: thou shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths” (Matthew 5:33). This latter is that which I now urge, namely, that we take care, after we have sworn, to act according to that solemn obligation. Let us remember that there is no dallying here. An oath is an engagement of the highest nature imaginable, and therefore it must be a very heinous offence to neglect it, much more to violate it.

Whatever we have by this sacred tie bound ourselves to we must punctually observe, unless it be these following cases--

1. Unless it be in a matter that is unlawful in itself.

2. Unless it be of such persons who at the time of their swearing were not sensible of what they did.

3. In some cases an oath is not to be looked upon as obligatory, if it was imposed by mere violence and compulsion, and the party was not left at all to his freedom and choice; for then it is not a voluntary act, and consequently not a moral one, and therefore is of no force.

4. We must faithfully perform what we have sworn, unless the person or persons to whom the oath was made will remit the performance of it. We cannot release ourselves; but if he or they will recede from their right which they have in our engagement, then we are no further engaged.

5. Our oath binds us, unless there was a condition tacitly implied in it. The last thing I undertook to treat of, is the reason of this commandment, “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”

Which contains in it these two things--

1. That God will not clear such a one of the fault; He will not look upon him as a pure, innocent person; He will reckon him a guilty person, one that is a great sinner. This being added to this commandment, and none of the rest, marks out this sin of taking God’s name in vain as very heinous.

2. It is more plainly comprehended in this clause that God will not clear such an offender from punishment; He will be avenged on all that are thus guilty. There is a flying roll against swearers in Zechariah 5:4 which is very frightful, for a dreadful curse is written in it: “I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of him that sweareth falsely by My name; and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof.” Goods gotten by swearing falsely and by breach of faith are like the leprosy spoken of in the law that infected even the walls of the house; they are the ruin of the family, they are a curse upon whatever is enjoyed or possessed. God will not be mocked, He will take notice of the profanation of His name, and He will not always let impunity be the attendant of it. Which is the purport of St. James’s words (James 5:12). (J. Edwards, D. D.)

Against swearing

Now consider some of the reasons given for swearing, and some of the arguments alleged in its defence.

1. One of the most usual excuses of the common swearer is, that he has got such a habit of it, that he does not know when he offends. This may be said perhaps with equal truth of many other ill habits, but is in fact not the least extenuation of their guilt; it is, indeed, rather an aggravation of it, for to what a degree must we have offended before we become so hardened as not to be sensible whether we offend or not.

2. Another excuse of the common swearer is, that he really means no harm--this is a curious plea; he is daily perhaps insulting his God to His face, and he thinks to atone for it by saying that he means no harm!

3. A third set of swearers are those who profess that they are obliged to it; they say that their oaths are merely intended to procure belief to their assertions, or give importance to their commands, reproofs, and menaces. To say nothing of the reflection which, by such a defence, these persons throw on their own veracity and dignity, it is much to be suspected that the end, which they propose to themselves by the violation of a plain precept of their religion, is not attained. As to the plea--that the orders, the reproofs, or the threats of a person in authority, are more efficacious from being attended with imprecations, it is liable to the same objection which I have just made; when oaths and curses are used on every occasion, they are no more regarded than other words, they are looked on as coming of course, and those to whom they are directed are not influenced by them in any additional degree.

4. I shall conclude with observing that there are many to be met with who would be shocked at the idea of plain, downright swearing, with whom it is yet grown into a custom to approach very near to it; they dare not take the name of their Creator in vain in a direct manner, but show the badness of their intentions by disguising solemn words, till they are less disgusting to the ear, though equally offensive to the judgment. These half-bred reprobates prove that they would be wicked, if they durst; and I know not whether the consciousness of being wrong, which their caution declares, does not augment their criminality. (G. Haggitt, M. A.)

The law of reverence

This command is susceptible of a threefold violation--by sacrilege, by blasphemy, by profanity. Sacrilege is the desecration of things sacred to the Almighty. Blasphemy is the ill-treatment of the person of God. It is the aspersion of His glorious character, it is the denial of His existence, it is the attempt to alienate the affections of His friends from His person and His throne. Blasphemy is committed when His providence is held in contempt, His attributes depreciated, His creation set at nought, His wisdom ridiculed, and His claims treated with scorn. In the exaltation of His glorious person He is far beyond the insults of His creatures. He does not demand our reverence because it would add to HIS glory, but because of the reflex influence on the reverential mind and upon His intelligent creation. To reverence His glorious person is to exalt our own condition. How profound the reverence of Christ for the person of His Divine Father! What feelings of obedience, what entireness of consecration, what unfailing loyalty He displayed! There are three ways in which men profane the name of God--by false oaths, by useless oaths, and by profane oaths. And how many are the evils of this prevalent social vice! It destroys good taste, which naturally belongs to an accomplished gentleman; it is subversive of self-control. He is a slave to his passions who is a slave to his voice. How vast are the motives against this social vice! God has said, “I will not hold him guiltless that taketh My name in vain.” This prohibition is benevolence acting by law; it is for man’s sake. When the last profane tongue is silent in the grave, and the soul that used it is with the lost, then the glorious God will live surrounded by the highest hierarchy of angels; cherubim will fold their wings in reverence to cover their faces in His presence, and will banquet His ear with songs of praise. While He cannot be personally affected by the language of the profane, yet profanity traduces the soul, wrecks the stamina of oar moral being, corrupts the fountain of life. (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

Hallowed be Thy Name

The name of an object is that by which we distinguish it from every other object. The name of a person is that by which we distinguish him from any other person. The name may be chosen without any thought of adaptation or fitness. It may be chosen arbitrarily, or it may be descriptive of the person or object. We read that, “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” The names of persons in the Bible are always significant. Abram, “the lofty father, became Abraham, the father of a great multitude. Jacob, the supplanter,” became Israel, “the prince of God.” There is unutterable importance attached, then, to the greatest, the Highest Name. Poor savages in their ignorance and superstition have been groaning, “Tell me Thy name.” The Greeks and Romans, with their civilisation and culture and learning, were repeating the entreaty, “Tell me Thy name.” And today, in Hindooism, with its unnumbered gods, in Buddhism with its dreams, and in other false systems of religion, there is the same sad undertone to be heard, “Tell me Thy name.” In agony, in uncertainty, often in despair, the cry is uttered; and what more important question can come from the human heart than this, “What is the name of God?” There is very much, then, said in the Bible about the name of God. His name means His revealed character; it is not a mere title. The word “Highness” may be associated with great moral debasement The word “Majesty” may be associated with meanness. The word “Grace” may be associated with conduct that is ungracious. The title may be a sign of dignity and honour when there is no dignity or honour in the person wearing it. The name of God is not a mere title of honour. Nor does it mean the entire character of God; for there is no name that can reveal it fully. Language is insufficient to reveal man’s being fully; after all that is written and spoken, there is much still lying unrevealed. The channels of language are too narrow to hold the overflowing river of human thought and feeling. We may form some conceptions of God, but we cannot call the idea we have of Him, His name, except so far as that idea is in harmony with the revelation. Jehovah is the great name in the Old Testament; Father is the great name in the New. Eternal Being is Eternal Love. “I have declared unto them Thy name.” “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me.”

1. To take God’s name in vain is to use it in confirmation of a falsehood. To take an oath is to declare solemnly that we are in the presence of God, and that He hears our words, and that in our testimony we appeal to Him as the searcher of hearts, and the judge of character. And to make this appeal in confirmation of a falsehood is a terrible crime against God and against society. To think lightly of an oath is to think lightly of God. Lying lips are an abomination unto Him.

2. This is also a warning against all profanity. This sin is not so common now as in olden times. Then a gentleman could hardly speak without uttering an oath; now a profane swearer is excluded from all decent society. It is said that this vice was so prevalent in the days of Chrysostom that he delivered no less than twenty sermons against it, and yet found it too hard for all his reason and rhetoric, till at length he entreated and begged his hearers to leave off that sin, if for no other reason, yet that he might choose another subject.

3. This word also forbids any unmeaning, thoughtless use of the Divine name. “The fear of the Lord” is the common Old Testament expression for true piety. I would rather have the reverence that borders on superstition than the boldness which glides into profaneness or blasphemy. Give me the reverence of Samuel Johnson, who never passed a church without uncovering, rather than the inconsistency of the man who says that all places are equally sacred, and acts as if there were no sacred spot on earth. Give me the solemn awe with which the Puritan spoke of the authority and righteousness of God, rather than the liberty which the religious demagogue takes with the great and holy name. God is jealous of the honour of His name. Every man’s good name is dear to him; it is worth more than his property, worth more than his exalted position. And God’s name is dear to Him. It was a frequent plea with ancient saints in their supplications for help, “And what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” Let us “exalt His name together.” “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men. God be thanked for the promise, “From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.” (James Owen.)

Profanity

Now, we have five reasons why the name of God should not be taken in vain.

1. It is useless. Did curses ever start a heavy load? Did they ever unravel a tangled skein? Did they ever collect a bad debt? Did they ever accomplish anything? Verily, the swearer is the silliest of all dealers in sin. He sins gratis. He sells his soul for nothing.

2. It is cowardly to swear.

3. To swear is impolite. Can he who leads every sentence with an oath or a curse, wear the name and garb of a gentleman? This reminds me of that incident of Abraham Lincoln, who said to a person sent to him by one of the Senators, and who in conversation uttered an oath: “I thought the Senator had sent me a gentleman. I see I was mistaken. There is the door, and I bid you good day.” Profanity indicates low breeding. It detracts from the grace of conversation. It is an evidence of a weak brain and limited ideas.

4. Swearing is wicked. It springs from a mere malignancy of spirit in man against God, because He has forbidden it. As far as the violation of the command of God is concerned, the swearer is equally guilty with the murderer, the unchaste person, the robber, and the liar. Whose is this name which men roll off the lips of blasphemy as though they were speaking of some low vagabond? God! In whose presence the highest and purest seraphim veil their faces, and cry in notes responsive to each other. “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of Hosts!” Every star in the heavens flashes rebuke into your face; every quivering leaf, every lurid shaft of lightning, every shock of thunder, all the voices of the tempest, the harping angels, and the very scoffing devils rebuke you.

5. Swearing is a dangerous sin. The Third Commandment is the only one in the Decalogue to which is affixed the certainty of punishment. It was a capital offence under the Levitical law (Leviticus 20:10). Profane swearer, whether you think so or not, your oath is a prayer--an appeal to God. Be thankful that your prayer has not been answered. The oaths that you utter may die on the air, but God hears them, and they have an eternal echo. (M. C. Peters.)

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

With what the heart is full the mouth runs over. If in men’s hearts there is the spirit of the idolator, etc. “Mouth and heart,” says the proverb, “are but a span apart.” “The heart is the spring, the tongue is the stream.”

I. The transgression.

1. The name of the Lord. There are terms by which we speak of God--the Lord, Almighty, the Son, etc., etc.; terms, also, which remind us of Him, and tell of His power, etc.

the Gospel, etc., the sacrament, Cross, heaven, etc. All such terms we are not to misuse.

2. The command is against swearing. Swearers are to be found everywhere, of every age and condition. The young boy, the old man, grey headed and feeble, etc., who curse about nothing and about everything--in wrath, at work or play, everywhere and in every position. Every street and lane witnesses the transgression of this commandment. How can it go well with any who curse more than they pray?

3. The command is against false swearing--against false oaths. Ill every oath conscience should speak. And it matters not whether the perjury is committed for self or for others, or in company with many, or whether it be in regard to a promise, to allegiance, etc.

4. The command is against needless oaths--men are not to swear about trifles. In common life the rule is “swear not at all.” Will none believe you unless your words are clinched by an oath? Shame upon you, then!

5. The command forbids lying or deceiving in God’s name; it is against hypocrisy. Every preacher of the Gospel should be penetrated with the spirit of the apostle (Galatians 1:8). Yet there are many who are false prophets (Jeremiah 5:31). They appeal to Scripture against Scripture, and destroy those weak in the faith. Those break this command who misuse the Bible and Bible phrases; who, e.g., mock at the sin of a David and leave his repentance unnoticed; who read the Bible to oppose it--making the Word of Life to become a word of death; who, in common conversation, use as exclamations the name of God, Christ, etc.; who mock among themselves at the Christian faith, and yet in the presence of men approach the table of the Lord. To all such the command says, “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”

II. The fulfilling of the command.

1. Whilst we are not to misuse God’s name, at the same time we must not neglect it. What kind of friendship would that be with one whose name is never on our lips? So with the name of God. It must not be used in cursing, etc., but in time of need we must call upon Him.

2. Not only in time of need, however. It were a poor friendship that would lead as to think of our friend only in hours of need. We must “call upon the name of the Lord” in all conditions and circumstances--in joy as in sorrow, in our outgoing and incoming, in our work as in our worship, etc.

3. But we must not only be led to call on God in prayer--at the memory of His goodness and grace, His might and majesty, we should “praise His great and holy name.” And whilst those who break this command have their favourite oaths, etc., we shall have our favourite expressions in prayer and praise.

4. It is also oftentimes a sacred duty to praise God, as Polycarp saw it” to be before his judges when he was asked to curse Christ. “How could I curse my King who has saved me? So for thirty, forty, or fifty years He has followed us with blessing. Is it not our duty openly to praise His name?

5. We should remember also God’s name with thankful gratitude. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” In the world, in heaven and earth, in the history of humanity and of His Church, His praise is written--and in our individual lives. The centuries and millennia proclaim His praise; but so also do yesterday and today--the morning on which you awoke refreshed, and the night which brought you and yours peace and rest (Psalms 92:1-2).

6. We must thank God for everything, even for the Cross He sends. Thus thanksgiving is often harder than supplication. When we can render both we have learned a noble art. If our life pass in prayer and thanksgiving, then it will follow a true courser and men will see therein how true it is.

“With thy God to begin--with Him to end,

This is the fairest way thy life can tend.”

(K. H. Caspari.)

Connection of this commandment with what precedes

It is apparent how closely connected this third Word is with what has gone before. As if it were said, Jehovah alone is God: this one God Jehovah is to be suitably worshipped; nay, in the use of His name, and in all our transactions with Him, this God Jehovah is to be regarded most reverently. Surely all the knowledge we have of God, supplied to us by His names and titles, His Word and works, is calculated to convince us of His greatness and majesty, and how very worthy He is of fear and reverence from every one of us. This third Word is connected with the preceding also in the reason here assigned. For the shadow of God’s jealousy is thrown over this command, as we read that God will not hold guiltless the breakers of it, or that He will not let such pass unpunished. Then, again, the fact that God is in covenant with Israel, and Israel in covenant with God--“Jehovah thy God”--does not make it at all the more becoming that they should take undue liberties with anything connected with Him. Even in this loving fellowship He is ever God, Jehovah thy God, and as such to be reverently regarded. We must make no use of our covenant standing to drag Him down, as it were; or in any way injure, or cause to be injured, His glory, and do Him gross irreverence. That is not how we do with even the friendships and the fellowships of earth. And if anyone, especially a greater than ourselves, have made us his friends, we do not thus abuse the friendship or the fellowship. If we have due regard for our friend we never take advantage of the friendship to do him injury, to treat him with disrespect, or bring him dishonour. In Parliament it is esteemed extremely unbecoming to drag in the name of the king unnecessarily into party debate. Even if no misrepresentation be made it is an unbecoming and irreverent thing to do, and to be rebuked. If that be so as regards the great ones of this world, how much more is it to be the case in the relation of men to the mighty God! How unpardonable is irreverence towards Him, the wanton disregarding of His high and holy position, the tampering with the sacredness of His name, or of anything of His! (James Matthew, B. D.)

The sin of profane swearing

1. It is a sin that points more directly than almost any other against the Supreme Lord of all, the Majesty of the universe. It is a direct affront put upon Him. Would men but think whose name it is they are abusing, by associating His purity with all that is vile, His truth with all that is false, and His greatness with all that is mean, there should no further argument be needed to impress the guilt of the practice upon their minds, and to make “their hearts meditate terror” at the thought of committing the trespass.

2. It is a sin eminently prejudicial to men. The swearer may think otherwise. His words, he may allege, are his own; and the guilt of it, be it what it may, lies with himself. On himself comes all the evil. But no mistake can be more palpable. The example is eminently pernicious, and especially to the young and inexperienced. And such language reduces in society the tone of that first and highest of principles, reverence of God.

3. It may be added further, that of all sins it is the most profitless, that to which, therefore, there is the least of tangible and appreciable temptation--the most “unfruitful” of all the “unfruitful works of darkness.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Swearing a costly habit

The Rev. Professor Lawson, minister of Selkirk, had a medical attendant who used oaths. Dr. Lawson sent for the physician to consult him about his health. Having learned what his symptoms were, the M.D. exclaimed (with an oath), “You give up that vile habit of snuffing; unless you give it up (oath), you’ll never recover.” “It’s rather a costly habit,” replied Dr. Lawson, “and if it is injuring me, I must abandon it. But you, too, my dear doctor, cherish a bad habit--that of swearing--and it would comfort your friends much were you to give it up.” “It’s not a costly habit like yours,” rejoined the physician. “Very costly, indeed, you’ll find it,” said the professor, “when you receive the account.”

Profanity a mean vice

Profaneness is a mean vice. According to general estimation he who repays kindness with contumely, he who abuses his friend and benefactor, is deemed pitiful and wretched. And yet, oh profane man! whose name is it you handle so lightly? It is that of your best Benefactor! (J. Chapin.)

Profanity a silly vice

Profaneness is an unmanly and silly vice. It certainly is not a grace in conversation, and it adds no strength to it. There is no organic symmetry in the narrative that is ingrained with oaths; and the blasphemy that bolsters an opinion does not make it any more correct. Our mother English has variety enough to make a story sparkle, and to give point to wit; it has toughness enough and vehemence enough to furnish sinews for a debate and to drive home conviction, without degrading the holy epithets of Jehovah. Nay, the use of those expletives argues a limited range of ideas, and a consciousness of being on the wrong side. And, if we can find no other phrases through which to vent our choking passion, we had better repress that passion. (J. Chapin.)


Verses 12-15

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Keep the Sabbath day.

The Fourth Commandment

I. Here is resting from ordinary employments. When a man does his work, his thoughts and tongue and hands are engaged in it. Consequently, on this day of rest, there must be not only a ceasing frown the actual labour of the hands, but neither the tongue nor thoughts may be engaged upon our worldly matters and affairs. Examine what your Sunday thoughts have been. Have you always in thought and mind been in heaven that day, having left your worldly cares and affairs out of sight behind you? Then again, have you not spoken your own words on this day? Look back and see if there be no records against you in the book of God of worldly affairs negotiated on the Sabbath day.

II. I go on to help you in the farther inquiry whether, supposing you have rested from worldly affairs, you have also sanctified that rest. According to the interpretation which common practice puts on this commandment, the words might run thus, “Remember the Sabbath day to take thy pleasure therein.” In general, the Sabbath is sanctified when it is spent with God in humble and thankful acknowledgments of His love in creating us, and of His infinite mercy in redeeming us by Jesus Christ, who is gone into heaven to prepare a place for us. Then we should be examining our hearts and lives, humbling ourselves for our sins, stirring up the grace that is in us, exercising repentance, faith, hope, and charity; above all looking forward to the rest that remaineth for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). And think you, is not one such day better than a thousand? Oh, what do they lose who make the Sabbath a day of carnal pleasure? But more particularly the sanctification of this rest lies within the compass of those three things.

1. Public exercises.

2. Private exercises.

3. Religious communication.

III. The third thing contained in a due observance of the Lord’s day is a right aim in ceasing from worldly labours, and in exercising the religious observances just mentioned. Now the righteousness of the aim is when there is a correspondence between our design in keeping and God’s design in instituting the Sabbath.

1. Has, then, our design in the observance we have paid to the Sabbath principally been to glorify God?

2. Has your aim in sanctifying the Lord’s day been the sanctification of your own soul? (S. Walker, B. A.)

The Sabbath was made for man

Herbert Spencer says, “Ask how it happens that men in England do not work every seventh day, and you have to seek through thousands of past years to find the initial cause. Ask why in England, and especially in Scotland, there is not only a cessation from work, which the creed interdicts, but also a cessation from amusement, which it does not interdict; and for an explanation you must go back to successive waves of ascetic fanaticism in generations long dead.” Let us consider this “initial cause,” and inquire whether this great thinker is correct in his statement in regard to what he calls “the creed,” and its relation to amusement. There are some who say that the Jewish Sabbath, or the Puritan Sabbath, ought to be observed now. There are others who affirm that all distinctions of days have passed away; that all days should be spent in the fear of God. What would a friend think of your treatment of him if, when he visited you, you gave him one room in your house, and promised to see him an hour or two in the week, but would not let him come to your shop, to your office, to your family? It is thus many men treat God. The Sunday is one room in the house of life, into which they come professedly to commune with God for an hour or two; and then they leave Him for the whole week. All days are to be spent in His service. Ellicott says, “The Sabbath of the Jews, as involving other than mere national reminiscences, was a shadow of the Lord’s day; that a weekly seventh part of our time should be specially devoted to God rests on considerations as old as the creation; that that seventh portion of the week should be the first day rests on apostolical, or perhaps, inferentially (as the Lord’s appearances on that day seem to show) Divine usage and appointment.” Whether this is, as Alford says, “transparent special pleading,” or not, and whether it is right to call the Jewish Sabbath the shadow of the Lord’s day, I stay not to inquire; but there is nothing in the apostle’s language that is inconsistent with the Divine institution of the day of rest. The law was a shadow, Christ is the substance: He has fulfilled the law. We obtained salvation, not by obeying the law, but by receiving Christ; and then the law that was written on tables of stone is written on our hearts, and “love is the fulfilling of the law.” A seventh portion of time for rest and worship is a right thing not merely because we find it commanded in the law, but because our nature demands it. Idolatry was sinful before the lightnings of Sinai played around its granite cliffs; profanity was sinful, perjury was sinful, theft was sinful, before the voice of God was heard from that tabernacle of darkness. If no law had been written it would have been wrong to worship images, or bear false witness against a neighbour. And Christians observe the Lord’s day, not simply or chiefly because this law of the Sabbath was given on Sinai, but because the law of love is written in their hearts; and they know they honour Christ and benefit themselves by such religious observance. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The word “remember” must, I think, imply the previous existence of the institution. We have, however, no account of a Sabbath in the times of the patriarchs: the name is not mentioned; and the only reference to it, if we may take it as such, was in the special sacredness attached to the number seven, and in the custom of dividing time into weeks of seven days. But the name appears before the delivery of the law, and in a connection that makes it probable that the observance of the seventh day was already practised by the Israelites. In the account of the gathering of the manna, Moses speaks of “the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord.” “And Moses said, Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath unto the Lord; today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none.” The reasons assigned for the institution were--

1. To commemorate the rest of God after His work of creation. This rest does not, of course, imply anything like fatigue or exhaustion; but it denotes that God’s purpose was fulfilled, that His work in creating the universe was finished.

2. It was intended, also, to remind them of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt,” etc.

3. And the Sabbath was also given as a pledge of the covenant between God and His people. “‘I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifieth them.” Such was the Jewish Sabbath: its object and the manner in which it was to be kept were distinctly stated; and through many centuries, despite the periods of apostasy and judgment, it was “a delight, holy to the Lord, honourable.” But before the advent of Christ the scribes had added to the law innumerable explanations and enactments, which were deemed as binding as the original; and we find that the Pharisees again and again submitted to Christ the question of Sabbath keeping. They would not for much travel beyond the limit of a Sabbath day’s journey, and yet their feet were swift to shed blood; they kept the Sabbath, but they passed over the judgment and the love of God, and they persecuted the Holy One and the Just. What did Christ say in regard to the Sabbath? He said that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath day; He said also, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Man was made to serve and glorify God; and all institutions that help him in the pursuit of this end are his servants. Man, with his two hands for labour, with his mind that can think of God, and his heart that can love God, is greater than all material nature, greater than forms of government, greater than religious ordinances. They are good, as they minister to him. The laws of the family are intended for the welfare of the family; the laws of the school for the welfare of the school: they are important as such. But the child is greater than the rules; they are meant to serve him, and are appointed for his sake. “The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath day.” The Representative Man, the Head of humanity, the King of the race, is Lord also of the Sabbath day. He does not say anything about the repeal of the Sabbath. His followers should meet on the first day of the week, to contemplate a greater work than creation, to celebrate a more glorious redemption than that of Israel from Egyptian slavery. On the first day of the week He rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures. On that day tie manifested Himself to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to Peter alone, to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, and to the assembled apostles in the upper room; and, a week later, to the apostles again, when the doubting Thomas was present, was convinced, and constrained to say, “My Lord and my God.” Then the day of Pentecost in that year fell on the first day of the week, when the promise of the Father was fulfilled. Here, then, is the authority, the only authority, we have for the observance of the first day of the week.

First, that the assemblies of Christians in the days of the apostles took place on this day. Secondly, the confirmation afforded by tradition and usage ever since. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

1. It is to be observed, then, as a day of rest from all unnecessary labour. The seventh day may be exchanged for the first; the minute details relating to its observance may pass away with the Mosaic economy; but it will remain forever true that a seventh portion of time is to be employed as a Sabbath. Man the worker needs one day in the week for rest. Life is like a lamp; keep the light low, do not burn all the oil too soon.

2. It is also to be observed as a day of spiritual refreshment. The Sabbath was made for man, for the whole man; not only for bones and muscles, but also for mind, and heart, and soul. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day”; there are many who could say, “I was in bed on the Lord’s day.” But the soul cannot sleep, and provision should be made for its necessities. There is a religious instinct in man: it is not the result of education, it is not the creation of priestcraft, for the very existence of the priest proves that there was beforehand a religious element in the minds of the people. Our spiritual nature cries out for God, and God gives us a Sabbath to save us from becoming slaves of toil, and from burying our noblest thoughts and aspirations in a grave of materialism and lust.

3. And it is to be a day of gladness. It is to be a Sun-day, a bright day, and a day of holy gladness and rejoicing. What signal triumphs of the Gospel have been won on this day. It has often brought healing to the wounded heart, and joy to the sorrowful spirit, and succour to the tempted and timid. Its light has been as the light of seven days, and it has always come with healing in its wings. (James Owen.)

Observance of the Lord’s day instead of the Sabbath

1. That it does not in the least derogate from the honour of God to change the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week. It would, indeed, derogate from the glory of God, if He should take away one Sabbath and not institute another; for then He would lose the honour of that public worship, which He has appointed to be performed to Him, on that day. Moreover, if there be a greater work than that of creation, to be remembered and celebrated, it tends much more to the advancing the glory of God to appoint a day for the solemn remembrance thereof, than if it should be wholly neglected. And to this we may add that if all men must honour the Son, even as they honour the Father, then it is expedient that a day should be set apart for His honour, namely, the day on which He rested from the work of redemption, or, as the apostle says, “ceased from it, as God did from His.”

2. It was expedient that God should alter the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week; for--

3. All the ordinances of Gospel worship have a peculiar relation to Christ; therefore it is expedient that the time in which they are to be performed, under this present Gospel dispensation, should likewise have relation to Him; therefore that day must be set apart in commemoration of His work of redemption, in which He finished it, and that was the first day of the week. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

How the Lord’s day is to be sanctified

I. That we are to prepare our hearts and, with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably to dispatch our worldly business, that we may be more free and fit for the business of that day. That leads us to consider the duties to be performed preparatory to the right observing the Lord’s day; and, in order hereunto, we ought, the evening before, to lay aside our care and worldly business, that our thoughts may not be diverted or taken up with unseasonable concerns about it. This is a duty very much neglected. Thus many keep their shops open till midnight, and by this means make encroachments on part of the morning of the Lord’s day. And to this we may add that all envyings, contentions, evil surmising against our neighbour are to be laid aside, since these will tend to defile our souls when they ought to be wholly taken up about Divine things. Moreover, we are to endeavour to bring our souls into a prepared frame for the duties of the Lord’s day the evening before, by having our thoughts engaged in those meditations that are suitable thereto.

II. We are now to consider what we are to rest and abstain from on the Lord’s day, namely, not only from things sinful, but what is in itself lawful on other days.

1. As for those things which are sinful on other days, they are much more so on the Sabbath.

2. We break the Sabbath by engaging in things that would be lawful on other days, and that in two particular instances here mentioned.

III. When it is said, in this Fourth Commandment, that thou shalt do no manner of work on the Sabbath day, there is an exception hereunto in works of necessity and mercy.

1. Let the necessity be real, not pretended; of which God and our own consciences are the judges.

2. If we think that we have a necessary call to omit our attendance on the ordinances of God on the Sabbath day, let us take heed that this necessity be not brought on us by some sin committed.

3. If necessity obliges us to engage in secular employments on the Lord’s day, as in the instances of those whose business is to provide physic for the sick, let us, nevertheless, labour after a spiritual frame, becoming the holiness of the day.

4. As we ought to see that the work we are engaged in is necessary, so we must not spend more time therein than what is needful.

5. If we have a necessary call to engage in worldly matters, whereby we are detained from public ordinances, we must endeavour to satisfy others, that the providence of God obliges us hereunto; that so we may not give offence to them, or they take occasion, without just reason, to follow their own employments, which would be a sin in them.

IV. We are to sanctify the Sabbath by spending the whole day in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, and herein to maintain a becoming holy frame of spirit from the beginning of the day to the end thereof. Therefore--

1. In the beginning thereof, let not too much sleep make intrenchments on more of the morning of the day than what is needful, particularly more than what we allow ourselves before we begin our employments on other days. And let us be earnest with God in prayer, that He would prepare our hearts for the solemn duties we are to engage in. Let us consider the Sabbath as a very great talent that we are entrusted with; and that it is of the greatest importance for us to improve it, to the glory of God and our spiritual advantage.

2. While we are engaged in holy duties, especially in the public ordinances of God’s worship, let us endeavour to maintain a becoming reverence and filial fear of God, in whose presence we are, and a love to His holy institutions, which are instamped with His authority. Let us, moreover, watch and strive against the first motions and suggestions of Satan, and our corrupt hearts, endeavouring to divert us from or disturb us in holy duties. Let us also cherish, improve, and bless God for all the influences of His Holy Spirit which He is pleased at any time to grant to us; or lament the want thereof when they are withheld.

3. In the intervals between our attendances on the ordinances of God’s public worship we are to engage in private duties, and worship God in and with our families.

4. The Sabbath is to be sanctified in the evening thereof, when the public ordinances are over; at which time we are to call to mind what we have received from God, with thankfulness, and how we have behaved ourselves in all the parts of Divine worship in which we have been engaged. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

Sanctify the Sabbath

I. The sins forbidden.

1. The omission of the duties required. This is a casting away a great prize put into our hands.

2. The careless performance of holy duties; that is, when our hearts are not engaged in them, or we content ourselves with a form of godliness, denying the power there of.

3. When we profane the day by idleness.

II. The reasons annexed.

1. It is highly reasonable that we should sanctify the Lord’s day, since He is pleased to allow us six days out of seven for the attending to our worldly affairs, and reserves but one to Himself.

2. Another reason annexed to enforce our observation of the Sabbath day is taken from God’s challenging a special propriety in it: thus it is called the Sabbath day of the Lord thy God, a day which He has consecrated or separated to Himself, and so lays claim to it. Therefore it is no less than sacrilege, or a robbing of Him, to employ it in anything but what He requires to be done therein.

3. God sets His own example before us for our imitation therein.

4. The last reason assigned for our sanctifying the Sabbath is taken from God’s blessing and sanctifying it, or setting it apart for a holy use. To bless a day is to give it to us as a particular blessing and privilege; accordingly we ought to reckon the Sabbath as a great instance of God’s care and compassion to men, and a very great privilege, which ought to be highly esteemed by them. Again, for God to sanctify a day is to set it apart from a common to a holy use; and thus we ought to reckon the Sabbath as a day signalised above all others with the character of God’s holy day; and as such, it is to be employed by us in holy exercises, answerable to the end for which it was instituted. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

Remember the Sabbath

The word “remember” is set in the beginning of the Fourth Commandment, from whence we may observe the great proneness, through worldly business and Satan’s temptations, to forget the Sabbath. We may also learn from hence the importance of our observing it, without which irreligion and profaneness would universally abound in the world. And to induce us hereunto let it be considered--

1. That the profanation of the Sabbath is generally the first step to all manner of wickedness, and a making great advances to a total apostasy from God.

2. The observing of it is reckoned as a sign between God and His people. It is, with respect to Him, a sign of His favour; and with respect to men it is a sign of their subjection to God, as their King and Lawgiver, in all His holy appointments.

3. We cannot reasonably expect that God should bless us in what we undertake on other days if we neglect to own Him on His day, or to devote ourselves to Him, and thereby discover our preferring Him and the affairs of His worship before all things in the world. (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

The Fourth Commandment

Now you will observe that the Fourth Commandment is a two-fold commandment of labour and of rest. There is nothing Judaic about it; it is a command for the whole race of man. “Six days shalt thou labour,” but that thy labour may not be degradingly and exhaustively wearisome; that the man may not become a mere machine, worn by the dust of its own grinding; that the thread of sorrow, which runs through all labour, may never wholly blacken into despair; that the thread of joy entwined with it may be brightened into spiritual intensity and permanence--therefore, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt do no manner of work.” I need scarcely touch on the change from the seventh to the first day of the week; but whether we keep the Sabbath or Sunday, the Fourth Commandment, in its eternal and moral aspect, bids us to keep one day in the seven holy. And how are we to keep it holy? Let us look, first, at the Old Testament. Search it through, and you will find two rules, and two only, of Sabbath observance--rest and gladness. “In it thou shalt do no manner of work,” and “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The Christian Sunday, then, like the Jewish Sabbath, is primarily God’s gift to us of rest and joy. We need both. Blessed is drudgery; but blessed, too, is rest when work is done. The man that works seven days a week instead of six will pay the penalty in peevishness and enfeeblement, and will break down sooner and enjoy life less. Many a brain worker has sunk into a premature grave or died wretchedly by his own hands because he despised God’s law of rest. But, if we are agreed that Sunday should be a day of rest, it is still most necessary for us to understand that it must be a holy rest and not an ignoble rest. Let not ours be the Puritanic Sunday of gloomy strictness, for “This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it”; let not ours be the foreign Sunday of frivolity and pleasure seeking; let not ours be the pharisaic Sunday, with petty rules and restrictions, for God has bidden us to stand fast in the liberty wherewith He has made us free. Bishop Hackett was content with this wise, beautiful, and only rule: “Serve God, and be cheerful,” Yet, if you ask for further principles, not details, I will offer four plain and simple ones which yet include everything--three negative and one positive. Negatively: Let not your Sunday be slothful. If to many Sunday only means a heavier sleep and a more gluttonous dinner than usual, it is not only wasted but desecrated; it becomes less holy than even continuous labour, clogging instead of expanding the wings of the soul, and strengthening instead of controlling the lower passions of the body. Next: Let not our Sunday be merely frivolous. In Liverpool the result of a religious census, taken very recently, showed that out of 600,000 of the population scarcely more than one in a hundred attended the service of any Christian religion. And among the more educated classes, if novels be any indication of modern society, as I suppose they are, I find in a recent novel no less than three Sundays described, and they are all spent in indolent pleasure, without a hint that any one of the characters, whether the hero or heroine, so much as thought of entering a place of Christian worship. Is it the Sunday of God’s children and fellow labourers, or the Sunday of worldlings in a decadent civilisation? Is it the Sunday of Christian men and women, holy to the Lord and honourable, or of creatures who have no duties to perform, no souls to save? Thirdly: Let not our Sunday be purely selfish. We come then to the positive principle. Let our Sunday rest be gladly spiritual, a day of Christian worship and Christian thought, a day not only to rest us but also to ennoble, a day to remind us whence we come and whither we go, and who we are. Beside us and around is the world with its pomps and vanities; before us is virtue, is duty, is eternity. The Sabbath is to be a bridge thrown across life’s troubled waters, over which we may pass to reach the opposite shore. For, as the Sunday calls on the worldly to give place to the spiritual, to lay aside the cares and labours of earth for the repose and holiness of heaven, so it is but a type of the eternal day when the freed spirit, if true to itself and to God, shall put on forever its robe of immortal holiness and joy. (Dean Farrar.)

Sunday aids moral vision

“One day,” writes a traveller, “as I was passing a Pennsylvania coal mine, I saw a small field full of mules. The boy who was with me said, ‘Those are the mules that work all the week down in the mine, but on Sunday they have to come up into the light, or else in a little while they go blind.’ It seems to me that what is necessary for mules is no less necessary for men. Keep men buried in this world’s business for the whole seven days, and they would soon lose the very faculty of spiritual vision, having no eye, ear, or heart for Divine things. Make Sunday a working day, and you degrade man into a mill horse, and that a blind one. (J. Halsey.)

Brought up to keep the Sabbath

About thirty years ago a Girvan shoemaker emigrated to British Columbia, on the Western shores of North America, to try his fortune on the Caribou diggings, then attracting many people. After passing through his own share of hardships, he arrived at the diggings, and wrought hard though unsuccessfully till he had spent his money, and became, in miners’ phraseology, “broke.” Being a Scotchman, however, he had provided for this eventuality, by bringing with him a few tools with which he resolved to start shoemaking at the diggings. Next day, being Sunday, he was lying in his tent despondent enough, when a tall miner entered with a pair of long boots slung over his shoulder. “Is the shoemaker here?” asked the new arrival. The reply was that he would be hero on Monday. “If I am not mistaken you are the shoemaker yourself.” “Well,” said our friend, “what though I be?” “Now, look here,” said the miner with an oath, “I have travelled five miles to come here, and I won’t leave this tent till you mend my boots.” The cobbler looked up for a moment, and thought of turning him out by force, but all at once the recollection of the Sabbath day came to him, and so, dropping his eyes, he replied: “You see, sir, I come from Scotland, where the Sabbath is respected; and I have never wrought on the Sabbath yet, and please God I don’t mean to begin new.” The miner made no answer, and the cobbler looked up, when, to his amazement, he saw the big tears dropping over his cheeks. All at once the man flung the boots on the ground with these words: “God help. Me! I was brought up to respect the Sabbath too, but nobody respects anything in this God-forsaken country. Take the boots, and mend them when you can”; whereupon he left the tent. The shoemaker ultimately started a store in Victoria, British Columbia, called the “Scotch House,” where he prospered exceedingly. He is now dead, but the business is still carried on by his son, who was in that district not many years ago.

The Sabbath as a spring tide

Coleridge looked forward with great delight to the return of the Sabbath, the sacredness of which produced a wonderful effect on the temperament of that Christian poet. To a friend he said, one Sunday morning, “I feel as if God had, by giving the Sabbath, given fifty-two springs in every year.”

A worthy example

We have all heard of Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish singer. Here is a good story, which shows her faithfulness to God. On one occasion, when she was in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, the king was going to have a musical festival at his palace on the Sabbath day. He sent an invitation to this great singer to come and take part in these exercises. But she declined the invitation. Then the king waited on her in person, and commanded her to come to his entertainment. This was a very high honour for a king to show to one of his subjects. Most persons would have gone under these circumstances. But Jenny Lind still begged to be excused. And when the king asked for her objections she said, “Please, your majesty, I have a greater King in heaven to whom I must be faithful. I cannot do what your majesty desires without breaking the commandment of my heavenly King, and offending Him. So please excuse me for declining to do what your majesty wishes.” That was noble. Few persons would have had the courage to show their faithfulness under such circumstances as Jenny Lind did.

“I can’t afford it”

“Just come and work awhile in my garden on Sunday mornings, will you, Jim?” said a working man, with his pick-axe over his shoulder, to an old hedger, who was working by the side of the road. Jim took off his cap and made a bow to the speaker, and then said, “No, master, I can’t afford it.” “Oh! I don’t want you to do it for nothing. I’ll pay you well for the work.” “Thank you, master, but I can’t afford it.” “Why, man, it will put something in your pocket, and I don’t think you are too well off.” “That’s true; and that’s the reason why I say I can’t afford it.” “Can’t afford it! Why, surely, you don’t understand me.” “Yes, I do; but I’m not quick of speech. Please don’t snap me up, and I’ll tell you what I mean. It’s very true, as you say, that I’m not well off in this world. But I’ve a blessed hope of being better off in the world to come. My Lord and Saviour has said, ‘I go to prepare a place for yon, that where I am there ye may be also.’ I learned that text more than twenty years ago, and it has been a great comfort to me.” “Well, but what’s that got to do with your saying in answer to my offer--‘I can’t afford it’?” “Why, no offence to you, sir, but it’s got all to do with it. If I lose my hope in that better land, I lose everything. My Saviour says I must keep the Sabbath day holy. If I break His command I shall not be prepared for the place He is preparing for me. And then all my hope is gone. And this is what I mean by saying, ‘I can’t afford it.’”

The Sabbath before Moses

Does the law of gravitation depend upon the tradition that Newton saw an apple fall to the ground? Does the law of electricity depend upon the tradition that Franklin drew the lightning from the clouds with a Kite? as little does the law of rest and refreshment for one day in seven depend upon anything that was said by Moses or to Moses three thousand years ago. The Sabbath law of rest and refreshment is written in the needs of the human race. God did not first command it then; is still commanding it now. All human experience points to this law. All life interprets it. The body cries out for it, the mind cries out for it, the soul cries out for it, the very physical organisation of the animals cries out for it. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)

Six days shalt thou labour.

Labour: its dignities and problems

How often has this Fourth Commandment been misinterpreted as dealing only with the question of rest, as inculcating the sanctity of worship and the beauty of Sabbatic peace! Does it not also lay down the universal law of labour? Does it not set forth the sanctity of toil and the beauty of holy activity?

I. First, let us think of the great fact of the universal necessity of labour. “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work”: that is the one supreme, inexorable law for all the sons of men. “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread,” said God to Adam, and He has been saying it ever since to all the generations of men. There is no method by which life can be sustained, developed, ennobled except by the method of toil--either by hand, or foot, or brain. There is no endowment of Nature which ever brings anything to fruitfulness in human life without labour. Nature works; but when she works for man she only works with man. She will only minister to him when he, through constant toil, seeks to minister to himself. The general good of humanity--as well as the meeting of the wants of humanity--is effected by the labour of each individual. This necessitates at once not only division of labour, but degrees and diversities of labour. There is, first of all, the labour which is termed bodily labour, which tends to provide and then to distribute the resources of the world we live in. But we must add to this another sort of work--the work of the mind--ingenuity, thought, mental exertion, invention, before the organisation and progress of society can be effected. To ascertain and interpret the great vital and spiritual forces which this world half discloses and half conceals, is the work of the mental powers of men. The world of today, as we see it, and enjoy it, and use it, is the fruit of the labours of those who have lived in it in the past; and its beauties, its utilities, its wonderful ministrations to man’s varied and increasing wants will only be maintained by the labours of those who live in it now, and who shall succeed us when we pass out of it and are no more.

II. I would speak now of the dignity of labour. And I base the term “dignity of labour” upon the fact that all labour is of Divine appointment. Not only has God laid upon us the necessity of labour, but He has so constructed us that without labour we fail to find any satisfaction in life. Like the strings of the harp and the lute, our capacities and powers only make music when they vibrate. The active man is not only the useful man, but if he is working on right lines and by right methods he is the happy man. We hear a great deal in low-class newspapers about the degradation of toil and the hard lot of the working man. No toil is of itself degrading; no work ought to be the producer of hardships. Nothing is low; nothing is mean if it be useful. Talk of degrading toil--there is no such thing. If there is one man more degraded than another it is the man who does nothing for the world but stare at it and suck the sweetness out of it. There is a common impression abroad that a gentleman is a man who has sufficient means to live without working. A gentleman is the man who does his duty in that sphere into which natural fitness has led him, or circumstances drawn him, honestly, purely, devotedly, and in the fear of God. It is a case of character, not of possession; of attainment, not of inheritance; of qualities of soul, not of a luxurious environment. Character is the crown of life. Deeds are the pulse of time. The sweat of honest toil is a jewelled crown on the brow of the toiler.

III. I pass now to consider, in the light of what I have been stating, some of the problems connected with the lower phases of labour in our modern life. I say lower phases of labour, because, fortunately, the higher phases tend more and more to settle their own problems. In the law, in medicine, in art, in the great world of science, labour is not harassed, circumscribed, and hindered by the thousand and one questions that are keeping the labouring classes in the lower phases of labour in perpetual turmoil. There are three problems affecting the labour market at the present moment, on which I will endeavour to throw some light.

1. There is first the great problem of how to keep the labour market full at the bottom. Every man has a right to choose the calling in which he thinks he can best minister to his own and others’ good; but the false notions as to the qualifications of elementary education, and the imaginary stigma which is attached to rough labour, are ruinous alike to the towns which they are filling, and to the country which they are emptying. There is no stigma attached to honest and useful labour; there is necessarily no disqualification for society, or for enjoyment in any occupation that is a source of benefit to the world. An honest, enlightened, educated farmer is equal to a man of the same qualities in any of the professions. These facts, if apprehended by the so-called “lower classes,” would go far to solve one of the great problems of the labour question of today.

2. The second problem is that connected with the hours of labour. You know that there is a loud cry for an eight hours’ day; and mere are some who think that Parliament ought to pass a Bill forbidding employers of labour in collieries, mines, and certain manufactories to work their employees more than eight hours out of every twenty-four. I do not so think. The remedy is to be found in fair combination and honest cooperation on the part of the men, and in a just and equitable temper on the part of employers. If you once employ, legislation in this matter, where are you to stop? Will you give an eight hours day to the clergyman--who oftentimes has to work (at least, I speak for myself) twelve and fifteen hours? Will you forbid the doctor to visit his patients, and to give medical advice for more than eight hours? Legislation, moreover, implies a certain amount of equality. But, as a matter of fact, there is nothing more unequal than men’s capabilities for labour. What positively wearies one man to work at for six hours, another can stand cheerfully and unweariedly for twelve hours. An Act of Parliament compelling the lazy in all classes of the community to do some useful work every day would he of far greater benefit to humanity than any Government restrictions on the hours of labour.

3. There is one other problem which I will mention--the subject of livery; the badge of servitude. There is a strong feeling possessing certain classes of the community that humble labour ought not to he stamped with the regalia of its character; that a domestic servant, e.g., ought not to be compelled to dress in a manner which proclaims her a domestic servant. What does it mean? Just this. If it is a disgrace to be a servant no honest man or decent woman ought to engage themselves as such. If it is right, if it is honest, if it is consistent with one’s freedom and all those things that pertain to manhood and womanhood, why object to be known as what you are--a servant There is nothing more degrading in a servant’s cap than in a judge’s wig. A respectable servant is as worthy of respect as her mistress. Service is no disgrace. (W. J. Hocking.)

The healthful tendency of work

Physical work promotes the circulation of the blood, opens the pores of the skin, gives tone to the respiratory organs, helps the functions of digestion, strengthens the muscles, adds suppleness to the joints, enlivens the senses, quickens the nerves, regulates the passions, and benevolently tends to build up the general constitution. Mental and moral work clears the understanding, empowers the will, keens the perception, awakens the conscience, informs the judgment, enlarges the memory, rectifies the affections. In one word, the tendency of work is to promote and sustain the mental and physical organisation in an uninterrupted action of health, until by the fiat of nature, or as the result of accident, or by the ravages of disease, it shall be broken up and dissolved in death. Man is kept in life by work, and dies either because he will not or because he cannot work.

Work, a law of nature

The law of nature is, that a certain quantity of work is necessary to produce a certain quantity of good of any kind whatever. If you want knowledge you must toil for it; if food you must toil for it; and if pleasure you must toil for it. (J. Ruskin.)

The Lord thy God brought thee out thence.--

The moral exodus

Look at this change as an emblem of that great moral revolution which has taken place in the soul of every genuine Christian, and which is essential to the spiritual well-being of every man.

I. It is a blessed change.

1. A wonderful emancipation.

2. Wrought by the Almighty.

3. Through human instrumentality.

II. It is a memorable change. “Remember.”

1. To inspire with gratitude to Deliverer.

2. To promote spirit of contentment.

3. To establish confidence in God. (Homilist.)

Remember Egypt

We are prone to remember the palaces and pleasures of Egypt; God admonishes us to remember its slavery. The memory of our former state should be--

I. An antidote to discontent. Though the labours and trials of the Wilderness were many, yet in Egypt we had more. If we labour, it is not to make bricks without straw--not for another, but for our own profit.

II. A stimulant to zeal. Remembering Egypt, let us press on toward Canaan; give no advantage to our enemies.

III. A reason for obedience. He who graciously delivered us has right to our service. If we made bricks for Pharaoh, “what shall we render unto the Lord?” If fear produced activity, how much more should love!

IV. Wings for faith and hope. Remember that the God who could deliver from Egypt can bring to Canaan. He who has begun the work will complete it.

V. A call to humility. I was but a servant, a slave; I owe all to my Deliverer. Without Him I were a slave again. (R. A. Griffin.)


Verse 16

Deuteronomy 5:16

Honour thy father and thy mother.

The Fifth Commandment

I. The duties of children are, in the language of the Decalogue, summed up in one word, “honour”--“Honour thy father and thy mother.” No word could well have been more happily chosen. The duties required by it seem to be reducible under three general heads:

1. Reverence. There may occur cases in which the parental character is as far as possible from all that could inspire either reverence or love. But still, how much soever this may be the case, there is a respect due to the person of a parent, for the very relation’s sake; just as there is an official respect due to the person of a magistrate on account of the station he occupies, independently of the claims of personal character. This respect is not the dictate of any servile fear. It is associated with love, and is proportional to it. It might be defined a reverential familiarity.

2. Obedience.

3. Maintenance. This, of course, comes into application only in certain circumstances, but the obligation is universal.

II. The motives to the fulfilment of this duty are necessarily very much the same as the motives to other duties.

1. The express command of God. Notice the extraordinary energy of the Word of God on this subject (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 27:16; Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 30:17). And such declarations of the Old Testament have their confirmatory counterparts in the New (Colossians 3:20; 2 Timothy 3:2-3; Romans 1:30). Observe with what characters the disobedient to parents are classed.

2. The manner in which God has made the paternal and filial relation the image of that which subsists reciprocally between Himself and His people. We are taught to cry unto Him--“Abba, Father!” And this is ever felt by the renewed soul to be the most delightful and endearing view of the Divine Being.

3. The obvious propriety and equity of the precept. “This is right.” Nature itself teaches this. The very use of the phrase “natural affection” implies this lesson. The instinct is strong on the part of both parent and child. Yet the affection of the child is not solely instinctive, but in no small degree springs from the early experience of affection and care and kindness on the part of parents. I might show you also how right it is on the two-fold ground of the law of equity and the law of gratitude.

4. The special promise annexed. How is it to be understood as to Israel? How as to us?

The Fifth Commandment

Those who consider the circumstances of the case, and the large share which symmetry always played in the mind of the Jews, will readily believe that on those two tables which lay enshrined in the Ark, the Ten Words were carved in their briefest form, each occupying a line, and that there were five on the first and five on the second table. It may be objected that then this Fifth Commandment, the law of reverence to parents, which is a duty to man, will stand with the first four commandments, which are duties to God. But it is the special dignity of this commandment that it is a direct part of our duty to God. Our parents are not merely our neighbours; they stand to us in a special and in a Divine relation. During our early years they stand to us in the place of God. “Honour thy father and thy mother.” We are hidden to honour because love is instinctive and spontaneous. If honour towards our parents is love combined with reverence, the love must be honour touched with emotion. The word “honour includes love. There can be no true honour without love. Of course a reciprocal duty is implied. The obliteration of this instinct on either side is one of the worst signs, on the one hand, of savage dishumanisation, on the other of civilised degeneracy. Filial affection, however, though instinctive, may depend on education. The Jews, from whose wisdom we may learn so much, insisted upon it with intense earnestness. It lay at the basis of the first sweet patriarchal life. The modern canaille of the world care nothing for their parents, but only for themselves; but the deepest feelings of the best men have been always mingled with their love to their parents. The sacredness, or shipwreck, of this love has furnished to literature some of its most impassioned themes. Nor is it otherwise in history. Many of the most pathetic scenes in the records of human life turn on parental and filial love. Think of Aaron’s stricken silence when his two eldest-born, Nadab and Abihu, died by the fire of God, and Aaron held his peace. Think of Jacob’s wail over his lost Joseph. Think of the hero David’s outburst of weeping over Absalom. Think of the noble Pericles placing the wreath on the brow of his dead boy, turning aside to hide the tears, the strong heart at last broken, which amid all the calamities of war and pestilence and the murmurs of the people had continued unsubdued. Think of Titus, so moved by the false accusation of intriguing against his father that he hurried back from Jerusalem with headlong speed and burst into Vespasian’s presence with tears, “Veni, pater; Veni, pater--I have come, my father; I have come.” Think of our proud Norman King Henry I:

“Before him passed the young and fair,

In pleasure’s reckless train;

The seas dashed o’er his son’s bright hair;

He never smiled again.”

Or of Henry II, when among the signatures of his other rebellious children he saw the name of his youngest and best-loved John. Or the great Frederick Barbarossa crying out bitterly on his son’s death, “I am not the first who have suffered from disobedient sons, and yet have wept over their graves.” Think of the wretched Henry IV of Germany, treacherously arrested by his own son, falling on his knees before him with the cry, “Oh, do not sully thy honour and thy name; no law of God obliges a son to be the instrument of Divine vengeance against a father!” Again, how often has the thought of a mother been present even at the closing moments of life! When the young and gallant boy, Prince Conradin of Hohenstauffen, last of his race, was dragged to the scaffold at the age of sixteen, undaunted to the last he flung the gage of defiance among the multitude, but as he bowed his fair young face over the block he murmured, “Oh, my mother, how deep will be thy sorrow at the news of this day!” And when Sir John Moore lay dying on that disastrous field of Corunna, the name of his mother was the last upon his lips. The truest men have never blushed to give public proof of this filial devotion. No record of the late James Garfield, the murdered President of the United States, won him warmer sympathy than the manly kiss which he gave to his aged mother before the assembled multitudes on the day of his supremest elevation. I can but glance at a difficulty. “Are we to honour those who are dishonourable? Are we to reverence those to whom no reverence is due?” I answer that we must not be like those Jews whom Christ so bitterly rebuked because they tried to shift off one duty by another. Our parents have loved us, their children, in spite of all our intractableness, our waywardness, our indifference. Are the children to show no forbearance to the sins of their parents? Alas, for earth if unworthiness is to sever the bonds of love and of duty! The bonds of nature which unite us to every member of our families are indissoluble bonds. I knew a mother once whose boy was convicted of stealing at school. She lived in the outskirts of a little town, and so deeply did her boy’s shame weigh on her spirits that for years afterwards it was only in the deep twilight that she would ever enter the streets of the town by which she lived. St. Paul calls this Fifth Commandment “the first commandment with promise,” and at that promise I must now glance. But perhaps you will be troubled with a doubt whether this promise holds true. Good sons, alas! die, cut off in the flower of their youth, who dearly loved their parents and truly honoured them. Yes, but that death may be in God’s sight the reward--longer days in the better land. Oh, is it not true that, as a rule, the promise literally holds good, both to nations and individuals? Individually, even the boy who loves and honours his parents will, as a rule, be more prosperous, be longer lived, be more happy, be more blessed, than the bad son. It is so in the nature of things. A distinguished officer in the army told me that, in the experience of a long life, he had found that, and exactly the same had been said to him by an old admiral, who said of all the midshipmen who had passed under his rule he had never known one fail to turn out well who wrote weekly his loving letter to his home. “Show me a boy who loves his mother,” says a recent writer, “and I will show you one who will make a faithful friend, a noble lover, and a tender husband: show me a boy to whom home life has no attraction, because it is too slow, and I will show you, never to trust that man with anything which constitutes the happiness of others.” But the main intention of the promise was not individual, it was national; and all history has contributed its national fulfilment. “The cornerstone of the national life,” it has been said, “is the hearthstone.” Why was one Spartan worth ten other Greeks upon a battlefield? It was because Spartan boys were trained in parental obedience. Nor was it otherwise with Rome in her noblest days. The irresistible grandeur which arrayed her warriors to conquer was founded on the paternal authority. Coriolanus spared Rome only at the tears of his mother, Volumnia; and when Virgil wrote the great epic of the Republic he could find no greater name for his hero than Pater--father, and Filius--faithful. When Greece produced perfumed dandies like Alcibiades, and when Rome produced a jewelled debauchee like Otho, God began to wipe out their glory as when one wipeth a dish and turneth it upside down. And when Napoleon, who knew something of the glory of nations, was asked what, was the chief want of the French nation, he replied in the one word, “Mothers.” “Oh, thou who hast yet a mother,” said Richter, “thank God for it.” Do not burden long years by remorse for unthankfulness to parents, for though you may show tenderness to the living, it is too late for kindness to the dead. When King James IV, of Scotland, was a boy he stood against his father in arms. He made his manhood one long penance for that sin. In remembrance of it he wore under his robe an iron belt, and to that iron belt every year he added a new link an ounce in weight that the penance might be heavier every year. And we have all one father to whom we are unthankful and rebellious children; God’s prodigals, to whom His only begotten Son on earth gave such loving obedience. God’s prodigals are we all. By seeking the aid of His Holy Spirit to obey His commandments, we become more and more His true children, “accepted in the Beloved.” (Dean Farrar.)

The Fifth Commandment

Observe it is not said, bear a natural affection toward thy father and mother, but honour and reverence them. Natural affection there will be till children grow altogether reprobate; but there may be much of this where there is little or nothing of the reverence commanded. A child who is very wicked toward God may have much natural affection for his parents. But to honour and reverence them as bearing God’s authority and from a sense of duty to God, this is the main point and the only mark Of a truly dutiful child. First, there must be an inward acknowledgment of their dignity and authority upon the heart. Secondly, there must be an outward expression thereof in a becoming behaviour.

1. From hence it is evident that the first duty of children to parents, and that also without which they can do no part of their duty to them upon a right principle, is to reverence them as immediately appointed by God to direct their education, Honour them; have regard to their authority over you. Respect that authority as God’s appointment.

2. The second duty of children is cheerfully and humbly to attend unto their parents’ instructions. When parents are teaching their children the ways of God, examining into their conduct, showing them the sinfulness of their nature and the danger of such and such wrong courses; when they are warning them of the evil of certain sins they are most liable to, as self-will, idleness, pride; when they are giving their children directions on these heads, and requiring their careful observance of them, they are acting in the character of parents; and it is the duty of children humbly to hearken and carefully to observe such instructions.

3. The third duty of children is cheerfully to submit to the parents’ discipline. By this I mean the religious discipline or government of the family.

4. It is the duty of children cheerfully to submit to the corrections of their parents and humbly to profit by them. By correction I mean any method the parent uses for restraining the vices of his children.

5. Have you cheerfully submitted to the disposals of your parents? Children of the one sex must not affect any other schools or callings than their parents provide for them, nor those of the other such dress or pleasure as their parents do not see fit for them.

6. It is the duty of children to submit reverently to the directions of their parents in all lawful things. (S. Walker,. B. A.)

The First Commandment with promise

Maurice says, “Many writers begin with considering mankind as a multitude of units. They ask, How did any number of these units form themselves into a society? I cannot adopt that method. At my birth I am already in a society. I am related, at all events, to a father and mother. This relation is the primary fact of my existence. I can contemplate no other facts apart from it.” This commandment, then, has respect to the home life. Home is one of the sweetest words in our language; it speaks to us of heaven. It has been “childhood’s temple and manhood’s shrine”; it has been the safeguard of purity, the shield against temptation, the bulwark of all that is true and holy. Many a young man has been checked in his career of wickedness, and awakened to thoughtfulness and penitence by the remembrance of his early home. Here is the place where domestic virtues are cultivated, where the seeds of character are dropped into the mind and heart, where the holiest affections are kindled, and around which undying memories and associations gather. The mariner, as he treads the deck in the night watches, the missionary and the emigrant remember with gratitude and affection the old home; and the Australian settler sends up a cheer for the old land, and still calls it by the sweet name of “Home.” It does not require a palace to make a home. There may be no architectural beauty, or abounding wealth, or costly furniture, or more costly paintings, or great luxuries; the dwelling may be a humble one. While children are commanded to honour their parents, the parents are to see to it that they deserve honour. Cowper said--

“My boast is not that I derive my birth,

From loins enthroned, or nobles of the earth

But higher far my proud pretensions rise,

The son of parents passed into the skies.”

It is a blessed thing to be able to say truly, My father was an upright man, a truthful, conscientious man, a Christian man; my mother taught me to pray, she prayed for me. As Thomas Fuller says, the good parent “showeth them, in his own practice, what to follow and imitate; and in others what to shun and avoid. For though ‘the words of the wise be as nails fastened by the masters of the assemblies,’ yet, sure, their examples are the hammer to drive them in, to take the deeper hold. A father that whipped his son for swearing, and swore himself while he whipped him, did more harm by his example than good by his correction.” Let the parents be worthy of honour; and let the children learn to “honour their father and mother.” This is God’s command; and it is enforced by the obligations under which we are laid to our parents. And there is a promise annexed to this command. Paul speaks of it as “the first commandment with promise”--the first that has a specific promise attached to it. And the promise is, “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” The penalty of disobedience to this command was death. “He that revileth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken to them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of the city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” And when the people stood on Mount Gerizim and on Mount Ebal, one of the maledictions that came from the summit of the latter was this, “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother”--and all the people responded “Amen.” The curse fell on Ham and his descendants for dishonouring his father. And whenever you see a family or a people, among whom these filial and parental ties are lax, you see the beginning of the curse that will surely fall. But here is a promise to the obedient, “That thy days may be long upon the land,” etc. This was not only true to the Jews, but it is true now. Blessings rest on the heads of obedient, as contrasted with disobedient children. The Jews were about to possess Canaan; and as the Canaanites would be cast out because of their sins, so the Israelites would keep the land only by their obedience. Sin in their case, as in the case of the Canaanites, would produce bitter fruit; but obedience would be blessed. And this was the greatest earthly blessing they could obtain, long life in the promised land. It is also true now that obedience to God’s laws, a holy character, tends to the preservation of physical life and vigour. (James Owen.)

The foundation commandment

I. The keeping of this commandment produces a certain temper of mind which we call meekness. So far as anything like peace can be obtained in this world it can only be obtained by obedience to God; and this cannot be shown but by obedience to those whom He has set over us.

II. The temper of obedience being therefore the very foundation of all true piety, God has so appointed it that men should be all their lives in conditions of life to exercise and practise this habit of mind, first of all as children under parents, then as servants under masters, as subjects under kings, as all under spiritual pastors, and spiritual pastors under their superiors.

III. It is in this temper of meekness, above all, that Christ has set Himself before us as our Pattern. Christ was willingly subject to a poor carpenter in an obscure village, so much so as even to have worked with him at his trade. He, alone without sin, was subject to sinful parents.

IV. The more difficult it is for children to pay this honour and obedience to parents who may be unworthy, the more sure they may be that it is the narrow way to life and the strait and difficult gate by which they must enter. True love will cover and turn away its eyes from sins and infirmities. For this reason there is a blessing unto this day on the children of Shem and Japheth, and a curse on the descendants of Ham. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to Tracts for the Times. ”)

Reverence due to parents

Honour your parents, i.e.

1. Obey them.

2. Respect them.

3. Treat their opinions with regard.

4. Treat their habits with respect.

5. Provide for them when sick, weary, old, and infirm. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

Duty of children

I. Children are bound to regard their parents with respect and reverence at all times. Particularly these exercises of filial piety are--

1. To exist in the thoughts. Here the whole course of filial piety begins; and if not commenced here will never be pursued with any success. Thoughts are the soul of all duty. His affections towards them ought ever to be reverential, grateful, warm, and full of kindness.

2. The same exercises of filial piety are to be manifested in the words of children.

3. The same spirit ought to appear in all the deportment of children.

II. Children are bound to obey the commands of their parents. This obedience ought to be--

1. Uniform and faithful.

2. Ready and cheerful.

III. Children are bound to do whatever will reasonably contribute to the happiness of their parents, whether commanded or not.

1. Every considerate child will feel his filial duty strongly urged by the excellence of this conduct, and the odiousness of filial impiety.

2. Considerate children will find another powerful reason for filial duty in the pleasure which it gives their parents.

3. The demands of gratitude present a combination of such reasons to every such child for the same conduct.

4. The great advantages of filial piety present strong reasons for the practice of it to children of every character.

5. The declarations of God concerning this important subject furnish reasons at once alluring and awful for the exercise of filial piety.

6. The example of Christ is a reason of the highest import to compel the exercise of filial piety. (T. Dwight, D. D.)

The duty which children owe their parents

The duty which children owe to their parents arises so naturally out of the relation between them that the Lord Himself makes His appeal on this very ground, in pleading His own cause with His people and His own rights over them. “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is Mine honour? and if I be a master, where is My fear? saith the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:6). A son honoureth his father. It is natural, it is right and fitting that he should do so.

I. The motive of this duty must be a regard to the will of God (Ephesians 6:1). “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). Honour, then, and obey your parents in the Lord, from a desire to please Him, and a regard to His commandments.

1. These directions show on what foundation a parent should study to have his authority placed: the sure foundation of the authority of God. It is a delegated authority. As such from the very first he should use it. As such he should seek as much as possible to have it from the very first recognised. Let the child very soon learn that it is God who has committed him to your care and subjected him to your control; and as he grows to maturity, be you content to have not the first, but the second place in his respect and love. It may be very gratifying to your parental pride to see how much he will do, and how much he will sacrifice, for the sake of pleasing you. But it is far more important to perceive that he does all and sacrifices all in obedience to you, for the sake of pleasing, not you, but that God who has commanded him to honour you.

2. It is on the commandment of God, then, that this duty of honouring father and mother must rest. Do not trust your discharge of this duty to natural affection, or natural conscience, or reason, or gratitude, or honour. Alas! these are all frail supports of any human virtue. You may think that you are treating your parents with all the reverence which the highest notions of the parental character could require. But you do not honour them at all in any real religious spirit, except in so far as you honour them for the sake of that great God who first of all subdues you to Himself and then subjects you to them.

3. It may be remarked that the view now given of the duty which children owe to their parents is altogether independent of the character and qualifications of parents and the opinion which children may have of them.

II. The extent of the duty which as children you owe to your parents may be gathered partly from a review of some of the particular precepts and instances in Holy Scripture on this subject, and partly from the application of the general principle of this direction, “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.”

1. On the subject of filial duty the Word of God is very full and explicit in its precepts and examples. Thus--

2. The general principle of this direction confirms the view of its extent which these particular precepts and instances give. “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.” The ground or reason of this duty is the commandment of God. The duty therefore must be as extensive as the commandment, which is altogether unlimited. No exception is allowed; no room left for any reservation. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Honour thy father and thy mother

This command begins the second “table” of the law, which is occupied with our duties toward our fellow men. We are to fear and love God; but in that fear and love lies the ground of our reverence for His representatives. This commandment does not concern children alone. Every man has his part in it--in youth, manhood, and age. Order is to reign in all conditions of life--a Divine order. Rulers in home, state, and church rule according to this order, and are to be obeyed according to the will of God.

I. The Divine order in the home.

1. Parents who spend toilsome days and sometimes sleepless nights in order to provide for their children, hope that in old age they will be eared for by these children. How often, alas! is it otherwise, and the parents are regarded as a burden by undutiful children! They blame the evil times, etc., whilst the real cause lies in their own forgetfulness of God’s Word, their own careless lives, and lax fulfilment of their parental duties.

2. Why ought children not to despise their parents? Because in them they honour the Divine order. They have a holy office. God has given them a part of His power, His right, His majesty. Serve them, children. Be helpful to them in labour, in sickness, in age; help them from your superfluity, and even in your poverty as you may. Comfort them, pray for them, obey them. Do what they require, even when it is hard to do so; and when they depart, let it he said to their honour that they have left God-fearing children. Love and esteem them. Give them a chief place in your heart. Remember how they eared for you in youth, etc., and think that neglect of them can never lead to blessing (Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 30:17, etc.). And if father and mother are gone from earth, or if you have left your home, remember you are still servants and children of the heavenly King and Father.

II. The Divine order in the state.

1. Princes and governors must also be held in honour as appointed by God. But, say some, all rulers are not the fathers of their people; many of them seem to live for themselves rather than for the people, etc. There is a cheap kind of popularity to be earned by the propagation of such ideas at the present day. Think of what would be the result if any man of honour subjected to the same criticism as those in high places--every word noticed and every action, every hasty exclamation, everything misconstrued, and added thereto lies, etc.--how would the life of many even good men appear after such an ordeal?

2. Princes and rulers also are men like ourselves, neither better nor worse. They are like the parents we are commanded to honour; and like them, they are to be honoured because ordained by God. And if children hear their parents lightly slandering “the powers that be, those children may be expected to become rebellious.

3. Then we must remember that even a bad government is better than none at all. A slave is he who obeys those in authority simply from fear of the sword, h freeman obeys according to the will of God.

III. The Divine order in Church and school.

1. These also are of the Lord. They are appointed to instruct the Church and the youth of the nation, to exhort, warn, etc. For this they shall give an account.

2. The young ought to honour them. Those who despise them despise those whom God has appointed to this honourable office. It is no glory to make a man’s office hard and bitter to exercise.

3. Those set over the community as pastors should receive this honour. “To pass by the church and school is the shortest way to Bridewell,” says the proverb. And who are sometimes to blame for this? Careless parents, as the thief asserted when he said, “My father built the gallows--and he wasn’t a carpenter.” On the parents’ attitude toward the Church and her pastors will depend the children’s, very likely, in later years.

4. And if young people are taught to despise those whom God has appointed ministers of His word, what will be their attitude to the Word itself? Men should honour in those appointed to the office of teachers and preachers the Divine order by which men are trained intellectually and spiritually. (K. H. Caspari.)

Filial reverence

The Emperor Decimus intending and desiring to place the crown on the head of Decius his son, the young prince refused it in the most strenuous manner, saying, “I am afraid lest, being made an emperor, I should forget that I am a son. I had rather be no emperor and a dutiful son, than an emperor and such a son as hath forsaken his due obedience. Let then my father bear the rule; and let this only be my empire--to obey with all humility, and to fulfil whatsoever he shall command me.” Thus the solemnity was waived, and the young man was not crowned--unless mankind shall say that this signal piety towards an indulgent parent was a more glorious diadem to the son than that which consisted merely of gold and jewels. That thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee.--

The promise of long life and prosperity

1. That the lives of some good men have been short, need not be proved.

2. How such dispensations of Providence may be accounted for, consistently with this promise.

3. We shall now inquire how far, or in what respects, we are to hope for and desire the accomplishment of the promises of temporal good things.

4. We shall now inquire with what frame of spirit we ought to bear the loss of temporal good things, which we have been encouraged by God’s promise to hope for. In answer to this, let it be considered that if God does not fulfil His promise in the way and manner which we expect in granting us temporal good things, yet--

5. It may farther be inquired, What are those things that tend to make a long life happy, for which alone it is to be desired? And it may be observed that though in the promise annexed to the Fifth Commandment we have no mention of anything but long life, yet the apostle, when explaining it, adds, that they shall have a prosperous life, without which long life would not be so great a blessing. Thus he says, “That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long upon the earth.” Now there are three things which tend to make a long life happy.

Confide in your parents

Make them, above all others, your confidants. They are the best and most disinterested friends you will ever have in this world. Cultivate the habit of consultation with them. On things great and small seek their advice. A daughter will never come to shame, a son never to dishonour, that does so. Especially consult them in relation to your reading and your companions. There is to me something very beautiful in the intimacy of the father and a son, to see them walking side by side, perhaps arm in arm, in familiar converse in the street, the old man and the young in all the confidence of a hallowed friendship! It gives a satisfaction like a fair broad landscape at sunset. I know stalwart sons who today consult their mothers as in the days of yore, when they stood little higher than her knee--they are not low in my esteem, and I deem those mothers very happy in them. Nor need we confine these thoughts wholly to sons. The beauty of intimacy between parent and child is not theirs alone. When does a daughter appear so attractive as when showing her love to father or mother--as when employed in some way lightening their cares or relieving their burdens? It would not be far from wrong were I to say to a young man who is looking with some degree of interest for a life companion:--Would you know what kind of a wife she will make upon whom now you have your eye? Ask what kind of a daughter she is now. If she be indolently selfish, leaving care and work to her mother; especially if she be unloving or undutiful, beware of her; she is not likely to make you happy. If she be an affectionate and self-denying daughter, if she is intimate and confidential with her parents, you have in that the best promise of happiness in the future. The eye of mother or father, beaming with delight as it rests upon a daughter’s form, moving lightly in their presence, is an unspoken recommendation of untold value. But, whether the eye of friend or admirer is observing her or not, a daughter should cultivate this feeling of confidential intimacy with her parents; there is safety in it for her and unbounded happiness for them.

The secret of success

A Christian merchant, who, from being a very poor boy, had risen to wealth and renown, was once asked by an intimate friend to what, under God, he attributed his success in life. “To prompt and steady obedience to my parents,” was his reply. “In the midst of many bad examples of youths of my own age, I was always able to yield a ready submission to the will of my father and mother, and I firmly believe that a blessing has, in consequence, rested upon me and upon all my efforts.”


Verse 17

Deuteronomy 5:17

Thou shalt not kill.

The Sixth Commandment

First, we are here forbidden to injure our own flesh; to desire our own death out of impatience and passion, or in any way to hasten our end, and bereave ourselves of life.

1. It is a sin against ourselves, and against that natural principle of self-love and self-preservation which is implanted in us, and which is the rule of our love to ethers, which renders the sin more heinous, because it is a plain contradiction to the law of nature.

2. This is a crime against others, as well as against ourselves. For the community hath a share in us, and therefore when we destroy ourselves we injure the public. And then more especially we wrong the family which hath an interest in us, and of whom we are a part.

3. This is a crime against God as well as against ourselves and our brethren. He is a self-slayer, and an enemy of the workmanship of God. And this workmanship is no less than the image of God, for in the image of God made He man (Genesis 9:6). Further, this is an offence against God because it is a distrust of His providence and His management of future events. Vibius Virius, a Roman senator, prevailed with twenty-four senators to drink poison with him, before Hannibal entered the city of Capua, and so they died unanimously with resentments of their country’s deplorable condition, but were not so religious as to confide in the Divine Providence. Cato fell on his sword and slew himself, that he might not fall into the hands of Julius Caesar. Demosthenes drank poison and ended his life that he might be sure not to be apprehended. Cleopatra killed herself that she might not be taken by Augustus. And others have despatched themselves on like grounds, namely, because they were uncertain of the future event of things, and they had not faith enough to rely on Him who governs the world.

4. This must be voted to be a very heinous offence if we respect the source and principles from whence it is derived. As generally, from fear and cowardice, which, possessing the minds of some men, have caused them to make all the haste they could out of the world, lest they should be overtaken with the miseries that attend it. Even the ancient Roman courage was stained with this pusillanimity. This argues a poor impotent spirit. But on the contrary, it is truly brave to bear calamity contentedly. Another ill principle from whence self-murder proceeds is pride. Cowardice and pride are often coupled together. A haughty and a dastardly spirit meet in the same persons. Hannibal, beaten by Scipio, scorned to see himself in disgrace, and poisoned himself, Mark Antony and Cleopatra being conquered by Augustus, scorned to survive their greatness, and to submit to the conqueror. Yea, it is probable that Care slew himself in an arrogant humour, being loth to truckle to him who had vanquished Pompey. Another source of this wicked practice is impatience and discontent. When these are deeply rooted in men’s minds they sometimes put them upon this fatal enterprise. Thus Pilate, turned out of his place, and fallen under the emperor’s displeasure, abandoned the world. Themistocles, the famous and renowned captain of the Athenians, being banished by them, and brought into disgrace and poverty, sought for a redress of his melancholy by poison. Porcia, when she heard of the untimely death of her husband Brutus, like Cato’s own daughter, put an end to her life by swallowing burning coals. And discontent is the general and most common spring of this evil I am speaking of. Lastly, when discontent and impatience ripen into despair, the persons thus possessed do often fling themselves out of the world, and will not be persuaded to stay here any longer. Which was the case with Saul, Ahithophel, and Judas. And now, after all these brief hints, I question not but it will be freely granted that self-murder is a very heinous crime, and therefore deservedly forbidden. If you ask whether we must wholly despair of the salvation of those that kill themselves, I answer, If this violence done to themselves proceed merely from any of the causes before mentioned, I conceive we cannot entertain any hope of such persons. And my reason is, because this is their voluntary act, and in itself vicious, and they have not time to repent of it when it is done. But we must not judge so severely concerning those whose violent laying hands on themselves is the immediate effect of a distempered body and a disordered mind. It is most probable that no man shall answer for any miscarriage that is wholly caused by the violence of a disease or the distraction of the brain. The reason of my assertion is this, because whatever fault may be committed in such a case, it is not a man’s free and voluntary act, and consequently is not his own, and therefore shall not be charged upon him. But, secondly, this commandment respects not only ourselves, but others, and those chiefly; wherein not only the gross act, but all inclinations towards it, are forbidden; as hatred: for “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). That is, he is a murderer in his heart, which God chiefly looks after. And all envy; for this passion lies not idle, but will, if possible, procure mischief to those that it is fixed upon: whence envy and murder are joined together in Romans 1:29. And all undue anger and wrath are here forbidden, as Christ Himself hath interpreted this commandment (Matthew 5:21-22). Anger is a degree of murder in the interpretation of the Gospel. And in itself it is a disposition to it, for wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous (Proverbs 27:4). Here also might be mentioned the wishing of other men’s death, or the contriving of it, which, without doubt, are condemned by this commandment Joseph’s brethren intended his death, for “they conspired against him to slay him” (Genesis 37:18). There is not only the murder of the heart, but of the tongue. For we find that reproachful words are referred by our Saviour Himself to this commandment of not killing (Matthew 5:21-22). He that takes away his brother’s good name is in the next capacity to rob him of his life. He that maliciously uses his tongue against his neighbour is disposed to use a weapon against him when he finds opportunity. Aristophanes, who scoffed at Socrates in his plays, was one of the conspirators against his life. Next, I am to mention those actions which are disallowed by this commandment. As, first, the hurting of the bodies of others, though their life be not concerned. The impairing of the bodily strength and health of any person is here forbid. So is all oppression, extortion, and persecution. “Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves, ravening the prey, to shed blood, to get dishonest gains” (Ezekiel 22:27); where it is evident that tyranny and oppression in rulers are shedding of blood, and are a kind of murder. We are forbid also to countenance any persons in their attempts of taking away a man’s life. He that any way abets this action, he that connives at it, is guilty of it. Too much severity in taking away a man’s life is disallowed by this commandment. So we read of a French soldier, who was the first man that mounted the bulwark of a besieged fort, whereupon ensued the gaining of it. But the general first knighted him, and then hanged him within an hour after because he did it without command. Judges and jurors, and persons concerned in courts of judicature, where capital causes are tried, may soon be found offenders if they be not very cautious here. For if they be any ways assisting towards the condemning of the innocent, they incur the imputation of bloodshed. The like do physicians if they carelessly administer their medicines, and value not the lives of men; if they rashly make experiments on their patients, and are perfidious in their art. This I will add, in the next place, that to engage in an unjust war is forbidden in this commandment, for it is unlawful killing. For here men are hired to make a slaughter of others; killing is a trade and an art. Fighting of duels falls under the prohibition of killing. Lastly, here is forbidden the actual taking away of another’s life, and that unlawfully. For every taking away another man’s life is not unlawful, and therefore is not murder. Here, then, it is necessary that I distinctly show in what cases the actual taking away of a man’s life is unlawful, and in what cases it is lawful. First, then, under the old dispensation, when God was pleased in an immediate way to stir persons up to effect what He intended should be brought to pass, it was lawful for a man to take away another’s life, if he had an extraordinary impulse from God to do it. Thus Moses killed the Egyptian, Phineas slew Zimri and Coshi, Samson destroyed the Philistines, Elias put to death Baal’s priests, Ehud stabbed Eglon, Jehoiada killed the she-tyrant Athaliah. These are rare and extraordinary examples, and were founded on the Jus Zelotarum, whereby it was lawful for private men immediately stirred up by God to punish open wickedness even with death., This right of zealots is not now allowable; nor was it lawfully practised always by the Jews, and it grew at last to notorious villainy, as in the Jewish war. But I am to speak of what is lawful under the settled dispensation of the Gospel, and therefore--Secondly, I assert that it is lawful to take away a man’s life in the way of public justice on notorious criminals. This is to be done by appointed magistrates and officers, and as they are such, for these have authority and power to punish malefactors even with death (Genesis 9:6; Genesis 26:11; Deuteronomy 17:6-7; Joshua 1:18; Romans 13:4; Acts 25:11). Thirdly, in a lawful and just war it is no sin to take away a man’s life. We may kill our enemies in a just cause, because we execute justice in so doing. Fourthly, we may take away another man’s life in case of necessary defence, that is, when we are constrained to it in defence of our own lives. Fifthly, this may be done in the necessary maintaining of public justice, and the conservation of public peace. Sixthly, if a man kills a person by chance or misadventure, this is not to be reckoned a sinful and unlawful act. But excepting these limitations, there is no taking away a man’s life but it is to be reckoned unlawful and downright murder. For it is the wilful killing of an innocent person, and that is the thing that is here forbidden. I am in the next place to assign the reasons of the prohibition, or to show what are the arguments against this killing which is here forbidden,. They are these two: the sinfulness, and the danger of it.

1. The shedding of man’s blood is forbid because of the sinfulness, the absolute depravity and enormity of it. We find it is that which our nature recoils at most of all. The very name of murder strikes a terror into the hearts of all that are not become wholly insensible. The wild and savage brutes have a courtesy for those of their own species, and seldom prey upon and devour one another. It must therefore be very repugnant to human nature to shed the blood of mankind. Besides, a man’s life is the most precious thing he is owner of, and is the foundation of all other blessings and enjoyments: wherefore all is parted with for this, and all hardships are undergone to secure this. All the laws and constitutions of magistrates aim at the preservation of this, either directly or indirectly. I proceed next to the danger and punishment which attend this sin, which is another reason of the prohibition. All sin is troublesome and penal, but this of murder especially. It lies heavy on the conscience. It hath been known that after the commission of this horrid act, the guilty parties have not been able to enjoy a minute’s rest, but have shifted from one place to another, and have rather chosen to be their own executioners than to live to be their own tormentors. And as this sin is most clamorous in the sinner’s own breast, so the voice of it is heard the soonest in heaven. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to Me from the ground,” saith God to Cain, that first murderer (Genesis 4:10). All sins speak, but this crieth. And that we may avoid this horrid crime, it will be necessary to observe these brief rules.

1. We are to beware of covetousness, and all greedy desire of wealth, and riches, and worldly possessions. Naboth’s vineyard was coveted by Ahab, and this put him on contriving Naboth’s death.

2. Let us curb ambitious thoughts and a desire of being great, lest these administer to bloodshed. Abimelech killed three score and ten of his brethren to get to the throne. The next direction is, that we put a check to lust and lewdness; for these have zoo often proved the forerunners of bloodshed. Uriah’s wife is unlawfully desired by David, therefore he must be taken out of the way, that David’s lust may be satisfied. Herod, to gratify a lewd woman, struck off the Baptist’s head. Also, be careful to avoid all licentiousness, evil company, and debauchery, and particularly excess in drinking; for these proceed in time to this extremity of wickedness. Again, be not forgetful to suppress the inward springs and roots of actual murder, and those are pride, hatred, envy, revenge, and excess of anger; which are indeed themselves a kind and degree of murder, as I have shown before. This likewise must be enjoined, that we avoid the outward occasions of this sin, and whatever leads and prepares to it. We should carefully shun all bloody shows and inhuman spectacles, which are incentives to cruelty. Lastly, pray we unto God with great earnestness and fervour, in the language of the Psalmist (Psalms 51:14), that we may be kept by the Divine assistance and influence from the guilt of bloodshed and slaughter, of what kind soever. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

The Sixth Commandment

The primary aim, of course, of the commandment is to inculcate reverence for human life. Man is, or rather should be, a sacred thing to man. But for the tendency of the selfishness which makes every bad man his own idol, each man’s life would be thus sacred in each man’s eyes. It is Christianity that has made it so. The Romans would assemble by myriads in the amphitheatre to see men hew each other to pieces for their amusement. In China, in Dahomey, in all savage countries, human life is utterly cheap; in Christian countries it is infinitely precious. When the body of poor George Ebbens was cut and dashed to pieces on the rocks above Niagara, tens of thousands of spectators assembled on the shores of the river to help him if possible, and one universal sob shook the heart of the whole mighty multitude when that poor unknown boy missed his leap, and was swept over the rushing Falls. Only the lowest nations, only the basest or the most pernicious men, care not who perishes so their interests be fed. Was there ever a more wicked speech uttered than that of Napoleon I, when Prince Metternich told him that his plan would cost the lives of 100,000 men, and he haughtily replied, “A hundred thousand men! What are a hundred thousand men to me?” Metternich walked to the window and flung it open, exclaiming with indignation, “Sire, let all Europe hear that atrocious sentiment.” The Sixth Commandment, taken as the Rabbis took it, and as it ought to be taken, in connection with the First, was meant as a check to this hateful egotism. You will say, that the commandment forbidding murder is needless to most men now; there is scarcely one man in a million who becomes a murderer. How that may be I know not. It is thought by some that more murders by far are committed than are ever detected, and that many a child, for instance, as well as many a mother, has been done to death, directly or indirectly, even for so mean a bribe as an insurance fee. A murderer is by no means always a dull, bestial, and ferocious soul. Many a tender and delicate man, who dreamed as little of being a murderer as we do, has become a murderer out of greed, or envy, or fury, or to hide some awful shame, or as the sequel of indulged passion, or of a life made reckless by gambling or debauchery. Some of these have left behind them a terrible warning of the slow degrees by which temptation, smouldering at the basis of the life, has leaped in one moment into the uncontrollable flame of a great crime which shews itself to be, not a sudden aberration, but the necessary result and epitome of long years of secret baseness, Now, which of us is wholly free from one or other form of this murderous sin so common and so rank? Anger: how many almost pride themselves on being irritable! They think it shews magnanimity, whereas it only shows weak pride and lack of self-control. What an abyss of crime has anger often hurried men into! Then there is what is called “bearing a grudge.” How often has one heard on vulgar lips those wretched sayings, “I’ll pay him out!” “I’ll put a spoke in his wheel!” “I owe him one for that!” “I will give him as good as he gave!” Sometimes this becomes a feeble spite, sometimes it deepens into a sullen revenge that has turned men into raging maniacs, and women into frightful demons. But the spirit of this commandment is, “Avenge not yourself, neither give place unto wrath.” And if many of you leave religious hatred to priests, is there no one here who has been guilty of that murder of the soul which may often in God’s sight be more heinous than the murder of bodies? He who lends to a younger and weaker brother some impure book in which in ten minutes be may read himself to death, he who acts to some comrade, whom he calls his friend, as the torch bearer to sin; he who first plants the seeds of hell in the soul of one of Christ’s little ones; he who leads another over the thin borderline of wrong by teaching him to lie, or to gamble, or to drink, or to devastate the inner sanctities of his own being, may be in God’s sight a ten times worse murderer than many who have been hanged. Again, all selfish, guilty, oppressive trade is murder in God’s sight. Once more, in conclusion, there is a spirit of murder even in cold indifference and callousness to human misery. (Dean Farrar.)

The Sixth Commandment

I. The disposition of heart it enjoins us to bear one towards another.

1. Thou shalt not bear an envious, but thou shalt bear a complacential spirit towards others. Envy, strictly speaking, is that inward hatred of another for some good thing he has, which we have not, but wish for.

2. As we may not bear an envious, so neither may we bear a revengeful temper towards any of our neighbours, but must be disposed in meekness of spirit towards all and every one of them. We must consider that by this commandment those dispositions which are the direct contraries to this revengeful spirit, and which fall under the general word meekness, are enjoined upon us.

3. But we may not be of a cruel, but must be of a compassionate disposition. As we may not rejoice in others’ sins, so may we not lead any into sin; as those do who take pleasure in making others drunk, or in putting them upon any kind of wickedness. Nor, finally, may we encourage any sin by our example and conduct.

II. We must indulge neither envy, revenge, nor cruelty in our tongues; but from a real affection one towards another, our words must be charitable and kind.

III. Our conduct. Thou shalt not do any damage to thy brother in soul or body, but shalt do him all the good thou canst in both. (S. Walker, B. A.)

Eights of Life

There is a nobility in life. It is a grand thing to live. Whether in the ephemera of an hour or the eagle of a century, the flower of a day or the yew tree of a thousand years, the infant of a week or the man of threescore and ten, life is a glorious fact. Life is everywhere; it is the only thing of which God seems prodigal. There is life in the earth and on the earth, in the sea and on the sea, and throughout the vast expanse of the atmosphere. Give the microscopist more light, and he will reveal the existence of more life. It is not possible to conceive of life devoid of grandeur. Whatever may be the misery incident to existence, to live is preferable to annihilation. The lease of life varies in animals and in plants. In some it is a song, a thrill of love; in others it sweeps through the centuries. What life is, is one of the deepest of all mysteries. The answer has baffled the chemist, the biologist, and physiologist, who have toiled in vain on this splendid theme. But whatever may be our definitions, life seems to be an impartation rather than a creation. There is but one life in the universe--the life of God. The Scriptures are accurate in the assertion that “in Him is life,” which has a depth of meaning to command our keenest thought and widest research. The old Hindus entertained this loftier conception of life as an impartation, and said that all human lives were parts of the Infinite Life, and as drops of water return to the ocean, so all souls return to the Infinite Father by absorption. Underlying this description there is a deep thought, but by them misunderstood and misapplied; for all imparted lives, whether of men or of angels, will retain their individuality forever. But life is of immense importance primarily to the individual, secondly to society at large. To the individual it is the beginning of his immortality, given for the noble purpose of self-development and for that probation from which he is to enter upon the exalted state of his blissful eternity. Who can contemplate a thought so sublime without placing the highest value upon our mortal existence? To the individual, life is the unfolding of his character; it is the accumulation of those forces which enter so largely into his destiny, and to destroy such a life is to interrupt the great process of nature and cheat man of his inalienable rights. Among civilised men there are two estimates of the importance and value of human existence--one of vanity and contempt, the other of dignity and power. From whatever standpoint human life is viewed, its grandeur is conspicuous. The fact is recognised by all governments, under all civilisations. Human law conceives an immeasurable distance between the life of a man and that of an animal. The organic law, “Thou shalt not kill,” condemns murder, suicide, duelling, war, intemperance, malice, indifference, and unkindness. The crime of homicide consists primarily in three things: the destruction of the image of God; for one human being to lay his hand upon another is to lay that hand on the image of God, and, in a certain sense, upon God Himself. It is usurpation of the prerogative of the Sovereign of the universe, who has the right to create and the right to destroy. It is also the interruption of the unfolding of that individuality to which all have an unquestionable right, and he who interrupts that unfolding commits a crime against mankind. It is robbing society of an individual life, the influences of which might have gone forth as so many beneficent streams issuing from the fountain of goodness. Society depends largely upon its individual component parts, out of which come public opinion and public conscience. By the protection of the individual society reaps the golden harvest of purity, charity, and devotion. But the original law is not confined to homicide; it has a vaster amplitude and a more solemn comprehension. The deaths from homicide are but a fraction of the whole number who annually depart this life. There is a looseness in public sentiment touching the right of suicide. It is a mistake to suppose that suicide is largely from cowardice. The greatest characters in history have thus ended their existence. There is such a thing as despair. It may spring from temperament, sickness, misfortune, unbelief, bereavement, intemperance. How vast the army of suicides headed by Samson, Saul the son of Kish, Hannibal, Cato, and Brutus! There is a question among some physiologists of today, and the question is coming to the front more and more, whether life is worth saving in those afflicted with a chronic disease, who are beyond the scope of science, for whom there is no known restoration. Is it true science to perpetuate the life of such? May not the dictates of reason and of love suggest that in their case life should be permitted to end in a superinduced sleep, in the interests of a common humanity? This is not a new thought. It is as old as Plato, who suggested that the science of medicine was designed only for those who have temporary and curable ailments. But a truer science should place a higher estimation upon human existence and cherish life until the last respiration. This ancient law of Mount Sinai not only covers the extreme cases of murder and suicide, but all causes leading to premature death. A blasted life by dissipation is only another form of self-destruction. The Divine law of life is as minute in its application as it is comprehensive in its requirements. Where life is imperilled, from whatever cause, a refusal to aid the helpless and comfort the distressed, when within the range of possibilities to aid and rescue, the law condemns such refusal as violative of its benign spirit. The law makes each man the preserver of the life of every other man. The dictates of reason and the precepts of religion demand that you should rescue a man from a burning house, from a watery grave, from a state of starvation. In its higher range of thought it demands the advancement of those sciences which preserve health and prolong human existence. There is, however, a vaster sweep in this law of life, comprehensive of those sanitary conditions which are promotive of human existence. In its grander sweep this beneficent law of life includes the existence of nationalities. The right of a nation to defend itself on the principles of justice tallies with the right of the individual to defend himself. But what shall we say about those wars for glory, for empire, for commerce? (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

Thou shalt not kill

Beginning with this commandment, God lays down the rules to be observed by men in relation to their fellows. To kill, to murder, to slaughter, etc., are words which make us tremble. Man’s life is precious to him--he gives it up with a struggle; and God takes it under His especial protection. Man has been made in the image of God, and His image must be honoured in every human life. Notice--

I. How this command is transgressed.

1. In old catechisms this commandment is illustrated often by two pictures--the fulfilment of it by the picture of the good Samaritan, the breaking of it by Cain with the club with which he slew his brother. Thus, whoever acts as Cain did--whatever the weapon he uses--transgresses this command (Genesis 9:6). And it is seldom that the Divine order regarding this is escaped--not even here vindicated. A drop of blood, the lethal weapon, a footprint, a chance word, the pangs of remorse, etc., will bring the deed to light. Blood unjustly shed cries for vengeance; and anyone deprived of life--even though a child or man in extremity--is murdered. The life which God has given God alone may take; and one is not guiltless even when he risks his own life in the deadly encounter.

2. The commandment also forbids the maiming, wounding, or injuring the body of another. When the man inflamed by drink injures another, when a man attacks his foe in the descending darkness, etc., there also lurks the spirit of murder.

3. But the tongue, too, may wound bitterly. There is an art by which, through insult or reviling, a neighbour is deeply wounded and bears about the scars for many a year.

4. But the Word of God requires more. It requires that the roots from whence those murderous words or actions spring should be torn up (Matthew 5:22). Such roots are anger, hatred, envy, malignity, revengefulness (1 John 3:15, etc.). He who laughs and is glad when another weeps because of misfortune, etc., has the spirit of the murderer (Proverbs 24:17). Nor must any take on themselves the rewarding of unrighteousness without waiting for God’s time (Romans 12:19). In the spirit of revenge lurks the spirit of murder.

II. Notice how the command is obeyed.

1. We must turn away from the image of Cain and look on that of the good Samaritan--save those who are in danger of being murdered. If we see one in danger of losing life, say not with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”--pass not by with priest or Levite. Let us cultivate the spirit of the peasant who saved the lives of the bridge keeper and his family when the bridge had fallen, bringing them in the light skiff through the raging flood and crashing in drift safely to the shore and then going his way, putting aside every offer of reward.

2. We must also help men in time of need. If we neglect the hungry when we have plenty and refuse to succour the sick, we are not fulfilling this command (Isaiah 58:7-10).

3. But not only does God seek to take a poisoned root out of man’s heart by this command, but to implant another which will bring forth the fruit of love and mercy (Colossians 3:12).

4. We are to live in love and peace even with our enemies. God has forgiven us much; we also must learn to forgive our enemies, etc. “Love is like dew,” says the proverb; “it falls on roses and nettles alike.” If your foe comes to you saying, “Let us be at peace,” he comes in the spirit of this command. But even if he does not thus, come, but goes forth to de what is unjust, then “heap coals of fire on his head” by gentle forbearance; and remember ever the promise, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” “They who turn aside disputing and striving turn the curses into a blessing,” says the proverb.

5. Although animals are not made “in the image of God,” yet mercifulness to his beast is part of the adornment of a Christian man’s character. The man who starves or overdrives his beast sins against the spirit of this command. The tormenter of animals may become the slayer of men. Let the spirit of love reign. (K. H. Caspari.)


Verse 18

Deuteronomy 5:18

Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

The Seventh Commandment

The original word which our translators restrain to committing adultery is of a large signification, and comprises all kinds of uncleanness and lewdness. So that all unlawful lust and carnal pleasure is here forbidden, and we are enjoined to preserve chastity in every kind and degree. I begin with the sins forbidden.

1. Polygamy, or having more wives and husbands than one at one time, is here condemned; for this is contrary to the primitive institution and law in Genesis 2:24.

2. Divorce, as we learn from our Saviour’s interpretation of this commandment in Matthew 5:31-32.

3. Incest, that is, lewdness committed with those that are our near kindred. That we may particularly know who these are, they are set down distinctly in Leviticus 18:4. Fornication, which is the defiling of an unmarried woman.

5. Adultery is a direct sin against this commandment, and is the particular kind of uncleanness which is expressly named in it. This sin is extremely heinous, because there is not only an injury done to the woman, by setting her into a course of unfaithfulness and even downright perjury, and thereby hazarding the salvation of her soul, but to the man also in whom she is concerned, by robbing him of the incommunicable right he hath in his wife. This proves it to be the highest injustice; and it might be added that this injury admits of no reparation. On which score perhaps death was inflicted on the adulterer by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 20:10). And other lawgivers, even among the Pagans, punished this notorious offence with the loss of life. There are other lewd practices forbidden by this commandment, among which rape, or ravishing of a woman, is one. Here is forbidden voluntary self-pollution, or persons committing folly alone on their bodies. For which kind of disorder Onan was punished by the hand of God: the Lord slew him (Genesis 38:10). Here is likewise forbidden all immoderate use of carnal pleasure. And lastly, here is condemned all unnatural lust, as sodomy and bestiality, which are both mentioned together, and branded with the titles of abomination and confusion in Leviticus 18:22-23. Thus far I have spoken of the actual sins of uncleanness which are comprehended in this commandment.

1. This commandment strikes at all unclean thoughts and desires. Our Saviour acquaints us that there is the adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28). Namely, when the thoughts and inward inclinations of the mind are corrupted, and are a preparative to outward defilements.

2. There is the adultery of the eye, which we learn from the Saviour’s exposition of this commandment (Matthew 5:28), where looking on a woman to lust after her, because the heart or mind which gives denomination to all moral actions is engaged here; and this it is which diffuses the defilement into the outward senses.

3. There is the adultery and uncleanness of the tongue; for if wanton looks are adulterous, then obscene words are of the same nature. Wherefore the apostle commands the Colossian Christians to put away filthy communication out of their mouths (Colossians 3:8). As he had before left this prohibition with the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). And again, the very mentioning of lewd things is forbid (Ephesians 5:3-4; Ephesians 5:12).

4. Next, there is the adultery of the ear, that is, listening to such kind of discourse as is filthy, delighting to be entertained with lascivious talk, with obscene songs, and unchaste poems, with which this age abounds.

5. And so it doth that of lascivious gestures, and whatsoever tends to the promoting of lust--as lascivious dresses, and all manner of enticements to unchaste practices. I will in the next place propound the reasons and arguments which we are to make use of against it. And some of these are proper to Christianity; that is, they were never used by heathen moralists, but are to be found only in the apostolical writings; as those three which we meet with together in 1 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. Then again, there are arguments against this sinful practice, taken from the spiritual, the temporal, and the eternal evil which attends it. Thus I have been all this time in pursuit of the negative part of this commandment. I proceed now to the affirmative, which is the plain reverse of what hath been said, and may be comprised in few words. We are enjoined here to be chaste and pure in our minds. We are enjoined likewise to preserve our bodies pure, and all parts of them, the tongue, the eye, the countenance, the ear, and all the avenues or organs of bodily sense of perception. We are to take care that our deportment be modest and grave, and so well regulated and ordered that we discover nothing of wantonness. Moreover, this commandment requires that we use all the means and helps which are useful in order to the preservation of our chastity, and the preventing of uncleanness. Sobriety and temperance in eating and drinking. Avoiding occasions of provocation to lascivious thoughts or actions. Diligence in the calling which Providence has placed us in. Solemn resolutions and vows. A deep sense and great dread of the Almighty, and of His judgments. All these particulars contain in them the most sovereign remedies against lust, and helps to the exerting of the contrary virtue. But there is one yet behind, and that is this: in order to chastity and purity lead a conjugal life. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

The Seventh Commandment

I. The command. The command is a simple, unqualified, irrevocable negative. “Thou shalt not!” No argument is used, no reason given, because none is required. The sin is of so destructive and damning a nature that it is in itself sufficient cause for the stern forbidding.

1. It is a sin against the individual. This needs no proof. Nature visits the sin with the heaviest penalties in every department of the complex being of man. The terrible results of unchaste life in the purely physical realm are such as cannot be named here. Every man of science will bear his testimony to the awful demand that nature makes for purity, and will assert that she has no pity for the unclean.

2. It is a sin against the family. The sacredness of motherhood and childhood, and the demands they make upon the care and thought of all, are secured and met in the Divine institution of marriage. Wherever the rights of the marriage relationship are violated and set aside, God’s provision for both is broken down, and the disastrous result of the breakdown of the family circle and entity results. When the family is destroyed as a perfect whole by the sin of unchastity, an incalculable harm is done to the children. There is no more heart-breaking announcement in the newspapers than that which declares that in the granting of a decree nisi, the charge of the children has been given to one parent. Therein lies the destruction of the family after the Divine pattern, and the sin that leads to it is indeed terrible for this reason also.

3. It is a sin against society. Society is a union of families. Every attempt to create society upon any other basis is wicked, and ends in disaster. The sin which blights the marriage relation and destroys the family is the enemy of all true socialism. All the things that may be had in common can only so be shared, as it is forever understood that communism in the realm of sex is the most damnable sin against the commonwealth.

4. It is a sin against the nation. The greatness of a people depends upon the purity and strength of the people, and in every nation where the marriage relation is violated with impunity the virus of death is surely and certainly at work.

5. It is a sin against the race. No man can deny his accountability for a share in the development or destruction of the race. The solidarity of humanity is more than a dream of visionaries. It is an indisputable fact. Every life is contributing its quota of force to the forces that make or mar. All are hindering or hastening the perfect day. The crime of prolonging sorrow and agony lies at the door of every impure human being.

6. It is a sin against the universe. The life of the universe is love. The origin of all is love, for “God is love.” The propagation of all is love. From the highest form, that of the unity of the marriage relation, through all the lower spaces of action, love is the law of growth. The lair of the wild beast is fiercely guarded by the love that holds it sacred. The nesting of the birds is token of the impulse of the love life that throbs through all creation. The bee that carries the pollen from flower to flower is the messenger of the same instinct. Love is everywhere. The sin of lustful unchastity is the violation of love, blighting and destroying it.

7. It is a sin against God. (Revelation 21:8.)

II. Application of the command today. There are certain signs of the times which point to the necessity for a re-statement of this commandment. The first of these is the tendency, which is only too apparent, to loosen the binding nature of the marriage tie. There seems to be an increasingly popular notion that the marriage relation is a civil one only. This is a vital error. It is wholly Divine. Another sign of the times in this direction is the filthy fiction which has polluted the realm of literature in recent years, fiction in which the marriage relation is treated with amused pity, and whoremongers and adulterers are pitied and excused, if not defended. Then, again, is there not a growing danger of ministering to impurity in the multiplication on every hand of callings for women which throw them among men and give them wages which are insufficient? Then holy one would thank God if some word that was not prudish or narrow might be spoken to the women of this country about their dress. The half dress of the society woman is surely a sign of reversion to type, and has in it the pandering to animalism which has for ages been the curse of the marriage relation. And yet once more. There is an anomaly that dies hard in the distinction that is being made between the guilt of man and woman in this matter of unchastity. When General Booth issued that remarkable book, Darkest England, he said, in defence of his using the word “fornication,” “Why not say prostitution? For this reason: prostitution is a word applied to one half of the vice, and that the most pitiable. Fornication hits both sinners alike.” The importance of that statement cannot be over-estimated. Until the man who sins is branded with as deep a scar as is the woman, that public opinion which shields him is guilty of complicity with this vice which is deadly and damning.

III. The Christian ethic. After all that has been said, there yet remains the most searching, withering words of all to repeat. They fell from the lips of the Incarnate Purity in that manifesto of His kingdom which He gave to His disciples during the days of His sojourn on the earth “I say unto you, that everyone that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart, etc. (Matthew 5:28-32.) (G. Campbell Morgan.)

The Seventh Commandment

As we are men, and so the one part of our composition is body, we have all animal appetites in common with other sensitive creatures; hunger, thirst, and the like, are common to us with all the animal world. But then, seeing we are reasonable beings also, and should be religious, God will have these animal appetites kept in due subjection, and directed according to the measures He has prescribed for that purpose: that is to say, no animal appetite must be allowed to usurp a place that does not belong to it, but must be kept within such bounds, and ordered by such rules as God hath set it. And so it is regarding that animal appetite more specially designed in this commandment.

I. It requires us to be chaste.

1. Inward chastity is keeping the heart for God, not suffering it to be defiled by any unchaste and filthy delights.

2. Chastity is also outward, expressive of that purity of heart which lodges within.

II. Temperance is the other duty required by this commandment. By temperance is meant a holy moderation concerning meat, drink, sleep, and relaxation.

1. Intemperance is prohibited for its own sake.

2. Intemperance is not only prohibited as it is sinful in itself, but also as it gives occasion to and nourishes lust. And this a life of indolence does: it is the very food of lust (Ezekiel 16:49-50; Jeremiah 5:7-8). Thus what made the Sodomites so wanton but fulness of bread? What made Lot commit such dreadful incest with his own daughters but drunkenness? (Genesis 19:31-36.) Or what filled David, or his son Amnon after him, with so much lust but a fit of sloth and idleness? (2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Samuel 13:1-14.) “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection,” saith St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Well, and how did he do this?

1. Be moderate in the use of meats and drinks, and, as need is, give yourselves to fasting and abstinence.

2. Be diligent in your calling. Labour keeps the mind employed, and the body under; whereas sloth both genders lust and gives it opportunity.

3. We must be aware of the recreations we use, and how we use them. (S. Walker, B. A.)

The Seventh Commandment

I. The aggravations, more especially, of the sins of fornication and adultery; which may also with just reason be applied to all other unnatural lusts.

1. They are opposite to sanctification, even as darkness is to light, hell to heaven.

2. These sins are inconsistent with that relation we pretend to stand in to Christ as members of His Body, inasmuch as we join ourselves in a confederacy with His profligate enemies.

3. They bring with them many other sins, as they tend to vitiate the affections, deprave the mind, defile the conscience, and provoke God to give persons up to spiritual judgments, which will end in their running into all excess of riot.

II. The occasions of these sins, to be avoided by those who would not break this commandment; and these are--

1. Intemperance, or excess in eating or drinking (Genesis 19:31).

2. Idleness, consisting either in the neglect of business, or indulging to much sleep, which occasions many temptations (2 Samuel 11:1-27. I, 2).

3. Pride in apparel, or other ornaments, beyond the bounds of modesty (Isaiah 3:16, etc.; 2 Peter 2:7-8).

4. Keeping evil company (Proverbs 6:27; Proverbs 6:32).

III. As for the remedies against it, these are: as exercising a constant watchfulness against all temptations thereunto; avoiding all conversation with those men or books which tend to corrupt the mind, and fill it with levity, under a pretence of improving it; but more especially a retaining a constant sense of God’s all-seeing eye, His infinite probity and vindictive justice (Genesis 39:9). (Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

Neither shalt thou commit adultery

In the Sixth Commandment God takes under His protection the body and life of man. But a man should also love his wife as himself, etc. (Ephesians 5:1-33). Here, then, God takes the married spouse under His protecting care, and honours marriage; and as the enemy of souls calls up some passion which militates against each of these commands, against this he sends the serpent of the lust of the flesh which creeps softly into men’s hearts. More, he turns the breaking of this command into a jest--a jest likely to end where the laughter is turned into “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Consider--

I. How we may rightly regard the married estate.

1. Those in our day who desire to overturn the Divine order of things begin by attacking Christian marriage. Their aim is so clearly evidenced that none can mistake it. But there are others, even in the Christian Church, who, knowingly or not, support this outrage by seeking to make marriage an entirely civil contract. God forces His blessings on none; but Christians will not consider this a proper view of marriage. They will regard it as a Divine order (Genesis 2:18), ill which man and wife are bound in Him in love and faithfulness till death shall separate them.

2. Marriage is to be regarded as an holy estate, and blessed. The children of parents who thus think of marriage will rise and call them blessed, whilst men shrink from the adulterers as promise breakers, perjurers, faithless; and if anyone thinks there is not much in an adulterous act, if it be not known, he or she acts like a heathen and despises this Divine order.

3. It sometimes happens that where a time of wickedness in a nation has been followed by a period of punishment it is found that the downward course was begun by a disregard of the honour of marriage, e.g., the Greek and Roman people, and France before the Revolution. Where marriage is no more honoured judgment is near at hand. Then unchastity becomes shameless; the number of children born out of wedlock increases; sin, shame, disorder, etc., prevail, and judgment at last descends (Hebrews 13:4).

II. How shall men best arrange for the married state?

1. Our forefathers said three things were necessary--to begin well, continue well, end well. How shall we begin well? The proverb says, “Marriages are made in heaven”; and certainly to begin well we must begin with God. What Eliezer of Damascus did for his master’s son we must each do ourselves--begin with God. If we do not, then there is little wonder if the proverb comes true, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Begin with the wise counsel of Christian parents also.

2. How shall men best continue in this state? Let each love and honour his (or her) partner in life (Ephesians 5:28-29). In this relationship we need to have wisdom, self-denial, patience, forbearance, submission; but all these are comprehended in love. But each must also honour the other. Where such honour is there will be love--as Christ loved the Church.

3. How shall men end the married state best? When they say, “We shall continue it in God until He shall end it in death.” There is a way by which marriage can be dissolved before death--the only way--through adultery. This really disannuls marriage in the very fact; and even if it be hidden, God Himself will take it in hand (Hebrews 13:4). Many an adulteress or adulterer goes abroad with bold forehead and bids defiance to the world. But Scripture simply places them with the godless, thieves, etc., and says such shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

III. How shall men best prepare themselves for entrance on the married state?

1. We must fear and love God, so that we may live virtuously and chastely in word and deed. Remember that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Young men and women should seek to enter this state in an unblemished manhood and womanhood. Avoid unchaste thoughts, words, looks, unchaste songs or jests, etc. The heart and thoughts should be clean. “Blessed are the pure in heart.”

2. “There are two things unheard of in the world,” said a famous pious man, “unrewarded virtue and unpunished vice.” Young men and maidens, flee occasions to vice. “Where wine goes in shame goes out,” etc. Avoid evil companionship. “Better alone than in bad company.” Opportunity makes thieves; so, too, it makes adulterers. Avoid those whose tongues are unchaste. Often a word is like a spark to powder. “If a worm is at the heart the tree will fall.” Do not be ashamed of shamefacedness. “If you blush it is God warning you.” “Shame prevents disgrace.” Flee from idleness. It is a root of much evil. Guard your youth. Virtue and a good name are a rich dowry to which God will add much interest. (K. H. Caspari.)

The crime of adultery

When I look, he said, at the iniquities which abound in the present day in our cities, I feel the time has come to cry aloud and spare not. If it be necessary for men to live in adultery, and if they must go to the house of the harlot, I don’t know a quicker way down to hell than that is. Any man who can give up his virtue, and turn away from a home of purity, and stoop so low as to go the way of the strange woman, his ruin will be sure and very quick. How many a young man who follows her path goes down quicker than that! He must have money, and he soon begins by robbing his employer, as one crime leads to another, and at last his conscience becomes so seared that he tries to make it out to be a necessity. But does God make a mistake when He says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and excuse you because you cannot control your passions? It may be that you ruin some man’s daughter or wife: then some man will probably ruin yours by and by. There was one place in America where I touched upon this sin; and a man of violent temper said if his wife had been there she would have slapped me in the face. But within a week it transpired that he was actually living with the wife of another. Oh, adulterer! what will you do when God shall bring you into judgment? The sins committed in darkness and in secret He will bring unto light. Do not, therefore, believe that God will not bring you into judgment, for it is only a question of weeks or months, or at most a few short years. (D. L. Moody.)

An adulterer’s miserable end

There has recently died in the South of England a captain who in years past was engaged in watching the coast of Africa in order to the stoppage of the slave trade. He had been successful in capturing several cargoes of slaves., These, consisting largely of young African girls, were taken on board the captain’s vessel. For liberty! Yes; so it was heralded to the world--but according to the commander’s own confession, for “shameful treatment in his cabin.” A gentleman well known thus describes the captain’s confession at the close of his shameful life: “I am afraid to be alone at night. The faces of those black girls, with their eyes of fire and shrieks of despair, fill my room and my vision. And in this miserable state he died. Who need affect surprise that there is a hell to localise such monsters in? These awful confessions were made in the vain attempt to alleviate the fearful agony of a conscience whose torment anticipated the coming judgment before the bar of Christ. (Christian Herald.)

Purity in literature

Of late years, I am afraid, there has been a distinct retrogression in the conscience of the nation, so far as national purity is concerned. For example, some of the novels published today deal largely, if not entirely, with subjects of which no pure-minded man or woman ever speaks. Not long ago a certain novel was issued from the press that was as poisonous in its effects on the soul as sewer gas is on the body. It was one of those books, as Mr. Lowell once said, which if read make you feel that you need to be sprinkled with some disinfecting fluid in order to get rid of the infection. Some years ago a distinguished public man said that when he was a boy at one of our public schools he had put into his hand by an evil companion a bad book, and that for years after reading it lie could not get rid of the stain it had left on his mind. It is impossible to exaggerate the evil done by such an unclean publication. “Art for art’s sake” is their watchword, and the result of this debased conception is works which are not literature and not art, which smell of the sewer, and are only fit to be burned. The man who writes a book that incites to impure thought is on the same moral level as the man who makes adultery easy. It tends by a swift and easy path to the violation of this Seventh Commandment. (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)


Verse 19

Deuteronomy 5:19

Neither shalt thou steal.

The Eighth Commandment

I will consider the negative and, secondly, the positive part of the commandment. For the first, the negative part, to wit, what is forbidden here, we are to know that it extends to ourselves as well as to our neighbours. I begin with the former. We are forbid to wrong ourselves as to our goods and possessions. We are to do nothing that will impair our own estates and livelihood. Wherefore one main thing disallowed of in this commandment, as it respects ourselves, is living without a calling, or wholly neglecting our calling, and living in idleness (Proverbs 19:15). Idleness is the way to beggary; and this is the way to that theft which injures others. Whence the Hebrew ministers say, “He that brings not up his son to some lawful calling and employment teaches him to steal.” Idleness naturally disposes men to robbery. Those that work not steal from others. Drones filch honey from the bees who take pains for it. Again, a man is a thief to himself by niggardliness and denying himself those things which are fitting for his maintenance, though God has given him great abundance. But by being penurious he deprives himself of the comfort which he might take in the enjoyment of them. This is self-felony. Others are guilty of this by a contrary extreme, that is, wastefulness and prodigality. They steal from themselves by being lavish above their income. But this commandment doth more signally respect our dealings with our neighbours, and therefore I will chiefly insist on it under that consideration, and show what sins are forbidden by it. To begin with the lowest instance of stealing, here is forbid covetousness, that is, an unlawful desiring of other men’s goods and possessions. This is a degree of theft, or an immediate tendency to it. But actual stealing is that which this commandment chiefly strikes at, and of that I shall speak next. It is a taking away that which is none of ours. Or more fully thus, it is an unjust taking away or detaining from any man what is his proper goods, either without his consent or without the warrant of some superior authority. This is the true notion of theft, and it is the sin here condemned. This is either open or secret; the former is called robbery, which is an open and violent taking away of another’s goods, as when one on the highway with force of weapons doth this. The other sort of theft, called by us larceny, is taking away privily from another that which is his without his knowledge or in his absence. These are downright thieves; but there are several other ways of defrauding our neighbours, as encroaching on our neighbours’ lands, called, in the Mosaic law, removing the landmarks, which were ever esteemed inviolable, even among the Gentiles. Likewise all oppression and extortion and screwing of our neighbours in any kind whatsoever is here forbid. Yea, denying of alms to those that are really in want is a sort of thievery, for we are not absolute proprietors of what we have, but are stewards, and therefore we are obliged to dispense some part of that we have to our brethren that are in want. If we do otherwise, and show ourselves hardhearted to our distressed neighbours, we rob them of their right, we detain from them what is their due. I might reckon ingratitude also among the other instances of defrauding others, for we are bound to show ourselves thankful to those who have done us kindnesses. And as there is injustice done to single persons, so likewise to the public, for there is a public right in which the whole community is concerned. And in the imperial law, and so, indeed, in the law of nature, it is commended to the care of all that the commonwealth suffer no detriment. And the good of the community is to be preferred to our own private profit. Yea, indeed, these two may be said to be joined in one, for our own interest is involved in that of the public. When the community is wronged, every individual person feels the effects of it, more or less. Unto the things forbidden by this commandment are to be reduced all cheats and circumventions, all articles of tricking and imposing upon others. There are three particulars more behind, namely--

1. First, theft or deceit in buying and selling, in trading and merchandising, is here forbid. The buyer is guilty of deceit when he knows the condition, use, and advantage of what he buys better than he that sells it, and yet cunningly dissembles it, and thereby purchases it at a cheaper rate than it is worth. The seller also is guilty of theft when

2. Next I am to speak of sacrilege, which is a theft of another and a higher kind, for it is robbing of God, and impairing or alienating of what is sacred and separated to holy uses. The offence of sacrilege reaches to places, times, persons, and things.

I proceed now to the affirmative part of the commandment, namely, what is required of us. This part, as well as the other, hath respect both to ourselves and to others.

1. First, it concerns ourselves. We are obliged by virtue of this commandment to do ourselves right, to get and preserve such worldly goods as are for our convenience and welfare. We are to be content with our own, and not to covet other men’s estates. We are to be moderate and prudent in our expenses. On the other hand, we are to take care that we be employed in some lawful business and honest calling.

2. But, secondly, our duty enjoined in this commandment hath respect to our neighbours, and that I am next to consider. We must suffer them to enjoy their wealth and estate, and we must help them in it. This is a general description of that justice and righteousness towards men which this commandment requires. Before I proceed to particulars, I will show what is the spring and root of this righteousness, what is the great rule and standard of it, and I will endeavour to illustrate it by propounding some instances. Without doubt the great and standing rule, as well as spring, of justice towards men is that command of our Saviour, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 12:1-50.), which is thus expressed in Luke 6:31, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” I come now to the particular acts of justice and righteousness which are required in this part of the Decalogue. We are enjoined here to be true, just, and exact in our traffic and commerce. There ought to be great integrity in making of contracts, and as great in keeping them. Particularly in buying and selling there ought to be great faithfulness and sincerity. There must always be a just proportion between the price and the thing sold. This is justice, and this is religion, and they both go together. To which purpose it is observable that, according to Moses’ law, the standards of all weights and measures were kept in the sanctuary, and it was part of the priest’s work to oversee these (1 Chronicles 23:29), which shows that we ought to use great fidelity in our dealings and bargains, and to transact them out of conscience and a sense of our religion which obliges us to it. Again, this commandment requires that we show ourselves just and upright in paying our debts. Further, this requires of us to make satisfaction for injuries, to repair all hurts and wrongs, to restore what was unjustly taken from others. Examples of this are Jacob and his sons (Genesis 43:12; Genesis 43:21), Samuel (1 Samuel 12:3), Zaccheus (Luke 19:8). Restitution is an inseparable ingredient of justice, for this bids us give to everyone his own. We are obliged by the laws of justice and righteousness to be grateful to our benefactors, to acknowledge their courtesies, to pray for them, and to make returns as our condition will permit. By the same law of justice we ought to relieve the poor, to supply the wants and necessities of those that are in distress. The same commandment that forbids theft enjoins charity and beneficence. I may add that justice extends even to the dead. To do the dead right, as well as the living, is an act of religion; and accordingly executors and those that are left to see the will of the deceased performed ought to act in this affair with a good conscience and to do what is just. Besides justice to single persons, there is also the same due to the community, for man is made for society, and calculated for converse and friendship. To this affirmative part belongs also equity, which mitigates the rigour of severe justice and tempers it with benignity. The office of this virtue is to exact of others less than we might, for the sake of peace, and to yield to them more than they could look for, and that for the same reason, namely, to prevent long disputes and to maintain peace. To what hath been said this must be added, that some people are more particularly concerned in this commandment, for though all are to observe the rules of justice, yet this is more especially incumbent on those who are in places of magistracy. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

Desiring to live honestly in all things

This word implies that it is right to own property; that it is perfectly just and legitimate for one to possess goods to which no one else can lay, claim. It is natural to desire to possess property, to have Some portion of goods you can call your own. I almost think that the gratification and pleasure with which a little child finds a pocket in his new dress are rooted in this instinctive desire of possession. We may speak of man’s labour and ingenuity, the will of God, and the law of the land, as the grounds of right to property. That such a right exists few will deny, and there are many advantages resulting from it. As Paley says, “It increases the produce of the earth. The earth, in climates like ours, produces little without cultivation, and none would be found willing to cultivate the ground if others were to be admitted to an equal share of the produce. It prevents contests. War and waste, tumult and confusion, must be unavoidable and eternal where there is not enough for all, and where there are no rules to adjust the division. It improves the conveniency of living. This it does in two ways. It enables mankind to divide themselves into distinct professions, which is impossible unless a man can exchange the productions of his own art for what he wants from others, and exchange implies property. Much of the advantage of civilised over savage life depends upon this. When a man is from necessity his own tailor, tent maker, carpenter, cook, huntsman, and fisherman, it is not probable that he will be expert at any of his callings. Hence the rude habitations, furniture, clothing, and implements of savages, and the tedious length of time which all their operations require. It likewise encourages those arts by which the accommodations of human life are supplied, by appropriating to the artist the benefit of his discoveries and improvements, without which appropriation ingenuity will never be exerted with effect. But while the institution of property has its advantages, the vast inequality in the social conditions of men carries with it many disadvantages, and is the source of much evil and misery. Hence the cry for communism, the social theories that have been propounded, the destructive forces that are secretly and ceaselessly working in Russia, and Germany, and France. And many who have not fallen into open crime are ready to declare war against society. They ask, Why are we compelled to toil like slaves, while others are rolling in wealth, and spending it on their amusements and lusts? Why does Lazarus beg at the gate and Dives feast in the palace? Is it the ordination of God? Then God is unjust, partial, tyrannical. Is it the arrangement of society? What society? The arrangement is a cruel one; it is a conspiracy of the rich against the poor; of capital against industry: “let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” These words appear in a book in Russia--“And when we,” the socialists, “get the upper hand, then will we rid mother Russia of all her oppressors. Then shall we be at liberty to set up our peasant brotherhood, in which there shall be neither ‘mine’ nor ‘thine,’ neither gains nor oppressions, but there will be labour for the common weal, and among all men brotherly aid. Wrong must be utterly rooted out, and Right must be set on foundations that will last forever.” We do not hear much of this doctrine in our own country. A writer in the Contemporary Review says: “Multitudes cherish a faith in the omnipotence for good of a well-intentioned government; and in those lands where socialism is most potent there have been facts to foster this belief. The Russian has seen the effect of the fiat of the emperor in reconstituting the rural life of his subjects; why should not the same power be exercised on behalf of the artisan as well? The German feels the potent grip of militarism at every turn; why should this force not be used for social rather than dynastic gain? No nation possesses such a heritage of political experience as ours, and none has yet attained to so much political wisdom; it is this that has prevented our impoverished masses from joining in the widespread cry for a total reorganisation of our social system.” Socialism would be no remedy; it would be a disease far more terrible than the one it was intended to heal. This word of the law, then, implies the sacredness of property, “Thou shalt not steal.” Not only the burglar, and the pickpocket, and the swindler are the transgressors of this law, but all who by misrepresentation enrich themselves at the expense of their neighbours. There are many other applications of this law which I might dwell upon. “Thou shalt not steal.” A man steals from his family when by his indolence or his intemperance he neglects its interests, and provides not for those of his own household. A man may steal from himself by frittering away opportunities, squandering money, wasting time, and abusing the energy that might be employed for some high and useful ends. A man may steal from God. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me.” To withhold from Him that which belongs to Him, the attention of the intellect, the love of the heart, the service of the life, is to rob Him, to waste our Lord’s money, to embezzle our Master’s property. Be just, then, in all your relations; be true, be honest. (James Owen.)

On theft

I. The nature of the vice of theft.

1. The meanness of this vice. Every decent man, if he has pride in anything, has a pride in appearing upon an equal footing at least with the members of his own society. He will not choose to be indebted for the mere means of living to any man, but to depend upon himself, and be obliged, as much as possible, to himself. While his health and hands are left him he will account it the most reproachful objection which can be made to him that he is a burden to the society or to any individual of it. The thief is the character which is in every respect the reverse of this. He neither possesses respect, nor seems to wish for it. He has an evil and a base mind, which has no sense of honour nor of credit. Instead of aspiring to his own place in society, he aspires to no place; instead of making it his pride to depend upon himself, he thinks of nothing but how he may subsist himself upon others.

2. The vice of theft is not only mean itself, but inconsistent with the very existence and great end of society. In vain has nature directed and Scripture taught us to make provision for our necessities, if the thief or robber is allowed to intercept it. In vain will we select our superfluities, and reserve them for our future occasions, if the base part of our species are allowed to pick our stores and possess themselves of the fruits of our labours.

II. The causes from which this vice commonly proceeds.

1. There is often an original difference among minds themselves. Some minds seem to be naturally base and ill-disposed. They possess a natural turn for shuffling and a dexterity in deceit. They will prefer at any time a gain which they can obtain by trick to the same gain which they might obtain by fair dealing.

2. As there are some who are naturally base-minded, and seem originally to have been made of bad materials, there are many more who were once virtuous, but are degenerated.

(a) They consider themselves as removed from notice, and become careless of their own conduct.

(b) They are ashamed to discover their situation and to ask assistance and relief. The shame lies not in asking assistance, but in deserving to be reduced to that necessity. At any rate, we must not add one meanness to another, and, after contriving to be burdensome to our neighbours, contrive next to rob and plunder them.

1. The first conclusion which presents itself is the necessity of employing the active and able part of our existence in acquiring that provision which is necessary to support the infirm and disabled parts of it. This goes to the source of the disorder. Every man, when he sets out in life, ought to ask himself this plain question, Whether he chooses to depend upon himself or to come upon the public? He has but this alternative, and must at last do one of these two things. If he choose the first, there is no covetousness, nor even any uncommon solicitude, necessary. He has only to exert himself and be careful. But then he must do it while he can, and not think that his youth is to last forever. If you would not know the fond pang of a parent’s heart brooding over the wants of his children; if you would not invite temptation; if you would not embrace vice and disgrace, work diligently, work while it is today.

2. Avoid with the utmost circumspection the causes which lead to this vice upon their own account. Covetousness, prodigality, idleness, and theft belong all to the same family. They are all a monstrous perversion of nature, and the certain marks of a vitiated mind. (John Mackenzie, D. D.)

Rights of property

Is it a crime to be rich? Against whom is the offence committed? Against God? Against man? Against society? Underlying the amplest fortunes are inflexible truth, incorruptible honesty, incomparable honour. Poverty, competence, and affluence are the three financial conditions of man, in each of which there may be sainthood. Poverty may be as vicious upon the morals of character and life as wealth. Is it misanthropic to be rich? Do large possessions in land and money sour the milk of human kindness that flows through the veins of humanity? To whom are we indebted for those houses of charity whose gates of mercy stand open night and day? Who are the founders of those libraries which spread their ample feast before mankind? The universities and colleges of our country are the monuments of the rich. Is it unpatriotic to be rich? In the three great wars for the Union the rich poured forth their wealth as the rain descends upon the just and upon the unjust. Love of country rose supreme above the love of money. Wealth is not disloyalty. The capitalists of this country supported the Government in the darkest hour of the rebellion, when the national treasury was in sore distress. Is it tyranny to be rich? Do wealth and oppression go hand in hand? Are slavery and opulence born of the same parentage? Wilberforce was rich, yet foremost in the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. Gerrit Smith died worth his millions; yet he was the most eloquent, most ardent, most benevolent of abolitionists. Is it impiety to be rich? Is poverty essential to godliness? Are beggars the only saints? What, then, shall we do with Abraham, who was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold? Christ would not have had a decent tomb had it not been for the rich Joseph of Arimathea. The acquisition of wealth is a Divine gift. Industry and frugality are the laws of thrift. To amass great fortunes is a special endowment. As poets, philosophers, and orators are born such, so the financier has a genius for wealth. By intuition he is familiar with the laws of supply and demand. He seems gifted with the vision of a seer of the coming changes in the market; he knows when to buy and when to sell and when to hold fast. He anticipates the flow of population and its effect upon real estate. “The Lord thy God giveth thee the power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Against these natural and lawful rights to the possession of property is the clamour for the distribution of property among those who have not acquired it, either by inheritance or skill or industry. It is a communism that has no foundation either in the constitution of nature or in the social order of mankind. It is the wild, irrational cry of labour against capital, between which, in the economy of nature and in political economy, there should be no common antagonism. There is a wealth of muscle and a wealth of brain and a wealth of character. He is a labourer who does productive work; he is a capitalist who has five dollars or five hundred thousand dollars. Capital may be a tyrant, and labour may become a despot. Wealth has the noblest of missions. It is not given to hoard, nor to gratify, nor for the show of pomp and power. The rich are the almoners of the Almighty. They are His disbursing agents. When the wealth of capital joins hands with the wealth of intellect, the wealth of muscle, and the wealth of goodness for the common good, then labour and capital will be esteemed the equal factors in giving every man life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to property is founded in nature, sustained by organised society, and protected by the sanctions of the Divine law. The right has its origin in a prior fact, that each human being is a distinct individuality, adapted to all the purposes of self-government and responsible to God and to society for the manner in which his powers are employed. By his physical nature he is connected with the universe which is modified to supply his wants. He has a right to use his body as he will, provided such use is not an interference with the equal rights of his fellow men. Possessing an intellect, he has a right to the products thereof. Endowed with a soul of sensibilities, passions, and aspirations, he has the inherent right to seek happiness, always recognising a common right in each of his fellow creatures. By this physical, intellectual, and spiritual endowment man is made for society, and each individual in his social capacity is bound to every other individual by the law of reciprocity. If, by the constitution of nature, a man has a right to himself, he has also an equal right to that which may result from the innocent use of his bodily and mental powers. The result is what men call property. In all well-regulated society every man is accorded the right to possess that which he has made and the power of control over the same. The Creator treats this right as a self-evident fact, directs His mandates against every act violative of the same and against the temper of mind from which such violations may proceed. In harmony therewith human governments among their first acts protect this individual right, and treat the offender thereof as guilty of a wrong, and punish him accordingly. Upon the recognition of this right depend the existence and progress of society. Ignore this right, and no one would labour more than is sufficient for his individual subsistence. A nation of thieves would be a nation of barbarians. If such are the principles and consequences involved in this right of property, what are the violations of this right? the burglar takes the property of another without the knowledge and consent of the owner--this is theft; the highwayman takes the property of another with his knowledge, but without his consent. Not less guilty is he who presents wrong motives for the purposes of gain, who excites groundless fears, circulates false reports, inflames personal vanity, and awakens avarice for the purposes of illegal gain. A broker on ‘Change who causes false information to be circulated for the purpose of raising or depressing the market seeks profit by deep rascality. God says to such a man, “Thou shalt not steal.” Among the prevalent causes of the violation of man’s right of property are a corrupt public sentiment, an inordinate love of wealth, an extravagance which amounts to prodigality. Society scourges the thief of necessity, but pities the thief of fashion. He who steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family is sent to jail, but he who is successful in bold, dishonourable speculation, by which others are ruined, is caressed by society. Why is it that official dishonesty is considered less disreputable than dishonesty in a private citizen? A public man guilty of many flagrant sins is treated with consideration, while the private individual, less guilty, is shunned as a pestilential criminal. Does the dignity of his office cover him like a cloak? Does his position of trust and power commend him to our respect? If from the official who reflects public sentiment we turn to the private life of a nation, we shall not be surprised to discover the inordinate love of riches a prevalent and fruitful cause of the violation of the ancient law of property. Such is the greed for gain that justice, truth, honesty, are set at defiance. Men combine in vast monopolies to control vast wealth. All must bow to this shrine of Mammon. What is the dominant thought in the life of the world today? Is it the value of education? the purity of marriage? the elevation of the labouring classes? Is it not revenue, private and public? Out of this condition of things come financial panics with the regularity of clock work. The bold attempt is made to force prosperity--to get rich in a day. As well might a man attempt to force the harvest, The most conspicuous representative of the inordinate love of wealth is the financial prodigy who attracts, lures, ruins. Wise, careful, honourable financiers rarely fail, and rarely, if ever, are they the cause of financial panics; but rather the financial prodigy, whose brilliancy dazzles, whose success captivates, whose unscrupulousness is hidden by the splendour of his operations. Closely allied with this invasion of the rights of property is the prevalent vice of gambling, the abuse of an innocent pastime. It ignores the law of equivalent. It is something for nothing. The highest motives impel to keep the law of property. Nature insists upon the recognition of her rights. Providence is upon the side of the honest. Law throws its muniments of protection around the honourable possessions of man. Honesty leads in the path of personal safety. Peace of mind is the certain reward. The happiness of others is the benediction attained. The future opens its golden gates to those who have obeyed the inspired behest of Heaven. (J. P. Newman.)

Neither shalt thou steal

God has divided the world’s goods diversely. To one He has given much, to another little. This has been since the beginning. No attempt to alter this order of things has succeeded. That which God has given to the individual is called his property or possession; and in this commandment God throws a shield over men’s possessions, be they great or small, and says to each, “Thou shalt not steal.” When do we keep this commandment?

I. When we do not acquire our neighbour’s property unjustly.

1. Of thieving. Luther says: “It is the meanest occupation, yet the most widely practised profession on earth; and if one considers the world in its various conditions it will be found to be a den of thieves.”

2. If a man waylays another and takes his gold, we call him a robber. If another breaks into a ]louse and carries off money or clothing, etc., we call him a thief; and of him who receives the stolen property we say, “The receiver is as bad as the thief.”

3. But he who invades his neighbour’s acres, who removes his neighbour’s landmark, or takes produce from his neighbour’s field, even though he plead necessity, is still a thief.

4. So, too, is the man who gets gain by adulterated goods or false dealing, the merchant who uses false weights or measures, who passes off spoiled or inferior wares as fresh and good, the artisan who gives “scamped” work for good pay, the purchaser who passes false coin, the extortioner, the servant or official who neglects duty, the beggar who by labour might earn a day’s wage, the man who finds what has been lost and makes no effort to trace the owner.

5. And it matters not whose possession is thus wrongly appropriated. The Government steals when it receives the taxes of the people and does not apply them for the good of the people, but for its own fads and designs; but the subject also steals when he seeks to avoid the legal taxation. The child steals when it takes or sells what belongs to the parent; but the parent steals when he squanders in play or debauchery the wife’s or children’s portion or what should be given them for dally bread. It would be impossible to enumerate, briefly or at all, all methods of theft and robbery; and the victims--“God is the avenger of all such.”

II. When we do not uncharitably permit our neighbour to be despoiled of his possessions.

1. Many who lose their property have not to lament theft or deceit, but the carelessness of those who should have warned and helped them, e.g., the guardian who permits his ward to squander his property or is careless as to the investment and safety of that property; the neighbour who sees what damage his neighbour’s servants or children are doing and does not warn him such deal unjustly.

2. So, too, do those who damage their neighbour’s trade or credit. Rather we are to aid our neighbour to increase and protect his possessions, as the apostle has said (1 Peter 4:10).

3. In the sight of men what you possess is your own; in the sight of God it is simply lent. It is His, and should be used according to His will. If God, therefore, requires that we should give or lend in order to increase or protect our neighbour’s possessions, we should do so. “Give to him that asketh,” etc. (Matthew 5:42).

4. Further, Scripture says, “Give thy bread unto the hungry,” etc. (Isaiah 58:7). Not that the lazy, work-shirking beggar or the child who is being trained in beggary are to be directly relieved, for this would be to have part in sin; but whenever we are convinced that the truly poor and needy are before us we are to consider them as sent of God for our help. “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord,” etc.

III. When we are careful that our possessions do not unhappily become to us occasions of sin.

1. We must be careful that we have not to blush at the question as to how we obtained our possessions. Gold on account of which tears are shed--tears of poverty, of the deceived--will burn in the heart. Better to be Bartimaeus the beggar than Ahab and Achan the thieves, or as the miser who on his death bed lamented that the gold which had once been to him like rose leaves on which he could sleep peacefully now appeared to be like thorns and thistles and red-hot needles.

2. We must guard against idleness. He who is idle may soon come to poverty; and if he cannot dig and is ashamed to beg, he may take to thieving. This applies as well to those who have no need to labour for daily bread. To every man some work is given, and “labour has a golden foundation.”

3. Beware of extravagance. He who squanders his possessions in play or drunkenness, etc., has no right to say, “I spend what is my own.” No, it is God’s possession--the possession of his children and, if they have enough, of God’s poor. The prodigal’s fate is mostly an evil one. “The young free-liver becomes the old beggar.”

4. Beware of avarice. “Many treasures, many snares.” To him whom Mammon never satisfies sufficiently, who will sooner forego love and mercifulness than goods and gold, his possessions are occasions of sin. Avarice increases with gain during the years--binds its cords on rich and poor alike, makes the heart stony, and is indeed a “root of all evil.” Many a one would not go about with disturbed mind and troubled heart, a broken promise, and the curse of the betrayer on the conscience, had such an one remembered that Mammon is a merciless lord and gives evil rewards to his servants. “What shall it profit a man?” etc.

5. Beware of envy. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Men may have wealth and yet sorrow and misery enough. “Poverty and riches lie not in chests, but in the soul.” He is rich who combines godliness with contentment. Modest and honourably acquired possessions are like a graceful fountain, full of water (like the widow’s cruse), which fills many pitchers and yet is not exhausted. “From a small fountain we may satisfy our thirst as well as from a great one.”

6. Set not your hope on riches. The riches which water engulfs, fire destroys, rust eats, worms gnaw, and thieves steal are truly uncertain riches.

7. Let both rich and poor put their hope in God. With Him men can be poor or rich without sin; and He has given the promise, “I will never leave thee,” etc. And where poor and rich can grasp this promise, then what Solomon says takes place. (K. H. Caspari.)

Stealing

This commandment strikes at many different forms of stealing, which are being practised today.

1. Perhaps it is hardly necessary to say anything concerning the simple act of purloining articles belonging to other persons. People seem to forget, e.g., that to borrow a book and not to return it is a theft.

2. The sin of stealing is terribly prevalent in the matter of fraudulent getting. Unjust weights, false measures, lying advertisements, etc.

3. The whole habit of gambling is of the essence of theft, and this for the reason that it is a means by which men come into possession of property which is a violation of both the laws upon which property may alone be held. A man who gambles, whether by play or betting, puts into his pocket money for which he gives to the person from whom he takes it no adequate return, money for which he has done no honest work; and by the very act he robs the man from whom he receives, and violates the law of love.

4. The commandment is, moreover, violated by all such as enrich themselves by means that rob their fellow men of the inalienable rights of human beings. The wealth that is tarnished by a death rate higher than is necessary is ill-gotten gains, and they who spend their days in the enjoyment of such wealth are branded in the light of the perfect law of God as thieves--thieves, indeed, by the side of whom Bill Sykes, the burglar, is a hero, for in the prosecution of his unlawful practices he risks his life; but these men risk nothing but the lives of their fellow creatures.

5. The commandment is broken again and again every day within the great realm of capital and labour. How often today might the words of James (James 5:4) be quoted with advantage. It is lamentable, but equally true, that many a working man robs his master in that he withholds his fair share of honest labour while he takes his wage.

6. Principles apply to individuals and to nations with equal force. This being so, this eighth word of the Decalogue is a severe denunciation of the false imperialism which is growingly manifest through all the nations of the world. Strong peoples have, without cause, stolen the land of the weaker. Weak nations have been handed over to the control of new Powers without reference to their own rights, and to the wrong of those so dealt with. (G. Campbell Morgan.)

Stealing in business

1. One of the common transgressions of this law is entirely a modern sin. I refer to those dishonest Limited Liability Companies which are so frequently floated. False prospectuses are issued, hopes of gain which is never made are held out to investors. The men who wilfully promote a dishonest company are as really thieves as the burglar who breaks into the house and forcibly appropriates its plate.

2. A closely connected form of stealing is found in the over-capitalisation of some companies which are formed to take over and to work a prosperous private concern.

3. The same principle applies to the lesser businesses of the world. A tradesman, for instance, who sells his customer goods of inferior quality to that of the sample that leads the customer to purchase, or who adulterates more expensive goods with a cheaper product, and then sells them as genuine or pure, may or may not be punishable by the law, but he is a thief in the sight of God, he is robbing the purchaser as truly as if he put his hand into his pocket and stole his purse. A short time ago I was talking to a commercial traveller of a certain person whom we both knew, and whose name had an unsavoury reputation in the town in which he lived. I said, “He is a very sharp man of business, is he not?” and the reply was, “Yes, he is too sharp to be honest.” In other words, he was a thief, living by deceiving seller and buyer alike.

4. Let us not, however, forget that there may be dishonest buyers quite as truly as dishonest sellers of goods. A man who purchases goods without the means of paying for them, and who does it deliberately, is as really a thief as the man who purloins them. (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)


Verse 20

Deuteronomy 5:20

Neither shalt thou bear false witness.

The Ninth Commandment

I will speak first of the negative part of this commandment; secondly, of the affirmative. Under the former are forbidden these two things: first, more largely all evil speaking that may be any ways hurtful to our neighbours; and then more particularly all evil speaking that tends to the hurt of our neighbours, with respect either to their lives or goods, or good name, especially the last, which is more eminently concerned in this commandment. First, more generally all the abuses of the tongue are here forbidden; all evil speaking that may any ways prove hurtful to others. Nay, those words and speeches which are unprofitable are forbid by this commandment, for these in some kind are hurtful to others. Thus far the tongue offends against the souls of our neighbours. Secondly, more particularly here is forbid that evil speaking which is hurtful to the bodies, estates, and good names of our brethren. Hitherto I have spoken of that injury which is done to our neighbours by words in our common converse; now I proceed to speak of the injury done by them in public courts of judicature. For bearing false witness is either judicial, when a man is called to speak the truth publicly; or extra judicial, between man and man in a more private manner. David complained that false witnesses did rise up, and laid to his charge things that he knew not (Psalms 35:11). The Jewish priests sought false witnesses against Jesus to put Him to death (Matthew 26:59). And at last came two false witnesses (verse 60). And their particular accusation is set down in the next verse. We read that the Jews set up false witnesses against Stephen, who said, “This man ceases not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law” (Acts 6:15). This is a great sin, and the rather because witnesses in judicial courts are under the obligation of an oath to deliver the truth, on which account they involve themselves in the guilt of perjury. Not only witnesses, but all that have business in public courts, and appertain to the law, are nearly concerned in this commandment. Thus I have treated of the several faults and miscarriages of the tongue that are comprised under this commandment. It remains now that I offer the reasons why we should regulate these disorders, and that I prescribe the method how this may be effected. Under the first, I will do these two things. First, in general show why we should redress the abuses of the tongue. Secondly, why more particularly that abuse of it which consists in lying and slandering. As to the former of these, the reasonableness of it will appear from these ensuing particulars. First, on the tongue hangs the greatest good. “What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile (Psalms 34:12-13). Secondly, because it is the source of so many and so great evils (James 3:6). Thirdly, we are to answer at the last day for our words as well as our actions (Matthew 12:36-37). In the next place, more particularly I am to give the reasons why we should refrain from lying and slandering. I will speak distinctly of both. First, there are very great reasons why we should abstain from telling of lies; they are such as these:

1. We are to do it by virtue of the Divine precept, “Keep thee from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7). This is, be not any ways accessory or assisting in promoting or that which is false, but abstain from it, and show thy dislike of it.

2. It is base and ignoble to tell a lie.

3. It is clearly against the use and ends of speech.

4. It is odious to God.

5. It is abominated by men.

6. It is the work of the devil.

My next task is to show how and by what means we may restrain the abuses of the tongue. First, we must avoid too much speaking, and use ourselves to silence and reservedness. In the multitude of words there wants not sin (Proverbs 10:19). Therefore here we ought to restrain ourselves, and to utter things with deliberation. Secondly, we are to look to our hearts, and to keep them with all diligence; for the tongue follows the motion of the heart, and our words are the product of our inward disposition. Thirdly, to cure most of the maladies of the tongue, be careful that you be not busybodies in other men’s matters. Fourthly, avoid excess in drink, and the company of those that are addicted to that vice. For such persons generally have no guard on their tongues. When the wine inflames the company, then this wildfire flies about. Fifthly, avoid passion, the drunkenness of the mind. None offend more with their tongues than the angry and choleric. Wherefore the remedy against the evil of the tongue prescribed by St. James is meekness (Deuteronomy 3:9). Hitherto I have mentioned those abuses of the tongue which are directly forbid in this part of the Decalogue. Now I shall take notice of that which may be reduced to it, and that is unlawful censuring and judging of our neighbours. For I go upon that rule which I grounded on Christ’s exposition of the commandments, namely, that the inward acts of the mind which have reference to the external acts of sin forbid in these commandments are also here forbid. Judging of our neighbours is a disposition of mind that prepares the way for bearing false witness against them, for making use of our tongues to their hurt. Wherefore it is remarkable that speaking evil of our brother, and judging our brother, are coupled together (James 4:11). This latter, then, is at least condemned in this commandment, it being an inward witnessing of the mind, and so is a false testimony borne against our brethren. Judging others is unlawful either in respect of the matter or the manner of this judging. As to the matter or objects. First, it is unlawful to judge peremptorily of our neighbours from their former actions, and what they themselves once were. Secondly, as we must not rashly judge of men from their actions before their conversion, so not altogether from those after it. For we are to remember that the best men are not free from their frailties and infirmities. Thirdly, judge not of the secret thoughts of men. This is a prerogative that God only can claim. Men’s hearts are sometimes better than their lives, and therefore this should check us in our judging of them. Fourthly, judge not men for things indifferent. Not for any opinion or practice disagreeing from ours in matters of that nature. Fifthly, judge not from common accidents and events, such as worldly crosses, poverty, disgrace, sickness, and diseases. Judge not from these concerning the guilt of any person. As we have little reason to think our own state good, because it is prosperous, so we have as little to censure and condemn another’s because it is calamitous. Sixthly, judge not of the future and eternal state of any, nor of the decrees of God concerning them. Thus far as to the matter or object of our judging. Next, as to the manner or principle and motive, it is unlawful in any case to judge and censure our neighbours on weak and insufficient grounds. As first, on surmises and conjectures. Secondly, all judging of others is unlawful that is grounded on bare reports and flying rumours. Common fame hath been a liar, and therefore she must not be trusted. Thirdly, that judging and censuring is very blamable that proceeds from prejudice and prepossession. And again, judging of others is unlawful when the person that exercises this severity is guilty of the same errors and miscarriages which he condemns in them (Romans 2:1). Hitherto of the negative part of this commandment; now for the affirmative. First, this commandment obliges us to use our tongues, to bear witness with them. It is not an indifferent thing whether we speak or not. For speech distinguishes us from dumb animals, and therefore we act contrary to our nature if we imitate those mute creatures and affect to be speechless. We know that reason and religion bid us employ that useful member which God hath furnished us with, and they acquaint us that it is a sin to do otherwise. Secondly, it is required by this commandment that we make use of our speech for good and useful purposes. Though we differ from brutes as to speech, yet if we speak without reason the difference is but little between them and us. For barely to speak is no excellency of itself. To form and pronounce certain words is not denied to parrots and some other birds. Wherefore there must be something else to commend the gift of speaking, and that is reason Thirdly, it is more particularly enjoined here that we speak truth, and thereby edify our brethren. The virtue opposite to lying is truth. The duty that is opposed to bearing false witness is bearing true witness. In two cases more especially we should be very careful of speaking what is true. First, in religious matters. Secondly, when we converse with children and young people. Thirdly, this commandment requires us to preserve and maintain, as much as in us lies, the good name of our neighbours. This doth not imply that we should take no notice of the faults that are in them, or that we should praise the bad, and commend those whom we know to be such, and so make no distinction between light and darkness, good and evil. But the duty is, that we seek not out for occasion to speak ill of others: that as we observe what is faulty in them, and reprove them for it, so we take notice of what is really commendable, and applaud it. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

The false witness

This is the ninth word of the law, and you will observe that all these words were not only spoken by God, but also derive their authority from the nature of God. The announcement “I am Jehovah” might be made before every one of them. If the question were asked, Why should we not lie? why ought we to tell the truth? the answer would be that lying is not only a moral injury to the man himself, and to society, but also contrary to the nature of God, who is true in Himself and in all His works. A man may injure his neighbour not only by crimes, but also by words, by a false testimony, by slander, by backbiting. And unless he be right in his relations to men, he cannot be right in his relations to God. The tree as it grows must receive nourishment and support from the earth in which it is planted, from the air that plays through its branches, from the dew and the rain that come down upon it; but it also receives help from the sun that is millions of miles away from it, and that sends his vivifying beams to the leaves and to the trunk and to the very roots. And man finds himself in this world sustaining divers relations; relations to the family, to society, to the state, and higher than all, and more important than all, to God. And so closely linked together are all these relations, that he cannot do wrong in his relations to men without doing wrong in his relations to God. You cannot strike the link that binds you to your fellow man without touching the link that binds you to God.

I. What does it forbid? It forbids perjury, as the Third Commandment does; but there it is prohibited as a dishonour to God, and here it is prohibited as an injury to our neighbour. This word forbids all wilful and malicious damage to a neighbour’s reputation. It forbids censoriousness, suspiciousness, the hasty and erroneous judgment of character. The man who has a beam in his own eye is, strange to say, quick to detect the mote in his brother’s eye. There are many things to be considered in judging character. The man’s natural temperament, his training, his education, his circumstances, these are to be considered. God takes them all into account, and there is many a poor fellow picking oakum in prison who is not so guilty in God’s sight as some magistrates on the bench. This word of the law forbids all harmful conversation about others. It has been said that you need not mind your own business, as there are very many who will mind it for you. There are “busybodies” now, as in the apostle’s time, who go from house to house to publish the last piece of scandal. A story grows like a snowball; swells like a cairn, when every passer-by is adding a stone to the heap. “The words of a tale bearer are as wounds; and they go down into the innermost parts.” It is an easy thing to find fault; for there is nothing perfect among men. Every character is defective; every Christian work is defective; and just as I have torn to pieces many a sermon I have written, to begin again, so much of our Christian work might be torn to pieces, in order to begin again. It is so easy, therefore, to find fault. There is an old fable to this effect, that Jupiter loaded a man with two wallets--the one filled with his own vices, being slung at his back; the other, heavy with his neighbour’s faults, being hung in front, so that he always saw the latter, and seldom or never saw the former.

II. Consider some of the reasons why we should obey this law. I have already said that as it is given by the true God, the God of truth, this is the supreme and all-sufficient reason for us. But there are other considerations which are also important. For example, let us remember the value of a good name; it is “rather to be chosen than great riches.” A good character is better than property, better than fame, better than life. Regard it as a sacred thing, and do not injure it. And let us, remember, also, our relations to our fellow men. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” A ruler asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” and He replied in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word “neighbour” means, I suppose, nigh-boor, the boor or countryman who is nigh. But Christ gave to the word a much deeper and broader significance. Help the weak, and you will be a neighbour to him; relieve the needy, and you will be a neighbour to him; bind up the wounds of the poor sufferer, and you will be a neighbour to him. Show that your religion means love, neighbourliness; and then not only your neighbour’s life and property, but his good name also, will be sacred in your sight. Look upon your neighbour as your brother, inheriting the same nature, beset by the same infirmities, defiled by the same sin, exposed to the same suffering, at last finding a grave in the same earth. (James Owen.)

On calumny and detraction

This appears, perhaps, only to forbid a false oath in a court of justice to the prejudice of a fellow creature, but in reality it comprehends and prohibits every sort of injury which the tongue of one man can do to the character of another. The most atrocious of these is clearly that which seems to have been more particularly in the contemplation of the legislator, the solemn affirmation before a magistrate of what we know to be untrue to the injury of another. The next degree of guilt in the violation of this commandment is that of him who affirms in private life what he knows to be false with an intention of wounding the reputation of his neighbour. The injury done to the person defamed is often as grievous as what he would have received from a false testimony in a court of justice; his character, his livelihood perhaps, which frequently depends on that character, are the sacrifice. A third offender against this commandment is he who repeats to the detriment of another reports which he has picked up in conversation, not indeed knowing them to be false, but which he might reasonably presume to be so, or which at least he does not know to be true, nor indeed is he solicitous about the truth of them. He thinks he has a right to repeat them. Supposing that he had, is such a repetition generous? is it doing as he would wish others to do by him? But he is deceived in the matter of right; he can have none to affirm anything which may injure the character of another, of the truth of which he is not absolutely certain. Another kind of evil speaking by which this commandment is transgressed, and the reputation of our neighbour injured, is the fixing on him in general terms a bad character; calling him, for example, covetous, proud, foolish, or hypocritical, assigning to him any ill propensity in the gross, without mentioning any particular instances of it. Another mode of gratifying his passion, which the calumniator practises, is by miscalling good qualities, or attributing them, and the actions which arise from them, to bad or interested motives. Now, he who is guilty of this is eminently a slanderer, since he asserts a thing to my prejudice of the truth of which he must be doubtful; for how can any other person possibly know my heart? A fourth slanderer, and perhaps the most pernicious of all, vents his calumnies under the disguise of benevolence; and with an affectation of candour, pretending to vindicate those whom he has heard, or feigns that he has heard, attacked, overwhelms them with the deeper obloquy. I have still further to observe that there are scandalous ears as well as scandalous tongues, and that he who encourages such kind of conversation, by greedily and with pleasure listening to it, who, though he does not concur, shows plainly how much he delights in it; who, by artful questions and affected doubts, draws on the calumniator to launch out and to expatiate, is scarcely less guilty than the person whose vice he thus fosters, and manifests that lie approves. I shall now proceed to point out the chief motives by which men who are guilty of this odious vice are actuated, and in so doing evince its wickedness.

1. The destroyer of character is, I think, most commonly actuated by pride; it so happens that from the desire of distinction, which in a greater or less degree is felt by all men, we have established in our own mind a sort of competition for it with everyone around us we are desirous of surpassing, or at least of having the fame of surpassing, them in whatever excellences fall within our sphere.

2. A second root of scandal and detraction is envy. This is very similar in its nature to the species of pride above-mentioned, but yet it is not quite the same; it is even still more hateful.

3. A third origin of this vice is malice; we have received from our neighbour some real or imaginary injury, which has provoked our dislike of him; perhaps it is not in our power to avenge ourselves any other way, or not in our idea to an adequate degree, we therefore commence an attack on his character, vilify and abuse him on all occasions, disparaging his merits, and aggravating his failings whenever we have opportunity.

4. I will just mention one other ground of scandal, and that is vanity. If the esteem of his fellow creatures he of any value in his eyes, let him remember that he of all others stands the least chance of possessing it; the inventor of slander, the propagator of calumny, is the object of universal contempt and abhorrence. (G. Haggitt, M. A.)

The Ninth Commandment

I. As far as we can we must preserve a good opinion of our neighbour in our hearts. And therefore these three things fall evidently under the censure of this commandment.

1. A censorious disposition.

2. Rash judging.

3. A willingness to hear of the fault of others. Which three are so connected together that there is no dividing them.

II. The other duty required by this commandment is, that according to our power we do maintain his character in the world. And so these three other things fall also under the censure of this commandment.

1. Going about to lessen the real attainments of our neighbour, which is detraction.

2. Laying a charge against him that does not belong to him, which is slander.

3. Discovering his real faults needlessly, which is evil speaking.

III. From this account you may see what an enemy your tongue is to your soul, and what a perverse nature there is within you to set on fire your tongue.

1. Above all things in the world pray for a new heart. The chief transgressions of this commandment are within; and you know also it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

2. Enjoin this upon yourself, never to speak of the faults of others unless absolutely obliged to it. (S. Walker, B. A.)

The Ninth Commandment

I. What are the duties required? These are--

1. Our endeavouring to promote truth in all we say or do, and that, as to what either concerns ourselves or others. As to what concerns ourselves, we are to fence against everything that savours of deceit or hypocrisy, and in our whole conversation endeavour to be what we pretend to be.

2. This commandment obliges us to endeavour to promote our own and our neighbour’s good name.

II. The sins forbidden therein, which are contained in that general expression “bearing false witness.” This may either respect ourselves or others. A person may be said to bear false witness against himself, and that either in thinking too highly or meanly of himself. But that which is principally forbidden in this commandment is a person’s bearing false witness against his neighbour, and that when he either endeavours to deceive or do him prejudice, as to his reputation in the world; the one is called lying, the other backbiting or slandering.

III. To consider it as forbidding our doing that which is injurious to our neighbour’s good name, either by words or actions; and this is done two ways--either before his face or behind his back.

1. Doing injury to another, by speaking against him before his face. It is true, we give him hereby the liberty of vindicating himself. Nevertheless, if the thing be false which is alleged against him, proceeding from malice and envy, it is a crime of a very heinous nature. Sometimes that which is the highest ornament and greatest excellency of a Christian is turned to his reproach. This sin is attended with many aggravations; for God reckons it as a contempt cast on Himself.

2. The injury that is done to others by speaking against them behind their backs. This they are guilty of who raise or invent false reports of their neighbours. This is done in various ways.

Pulse witness

We may frequently observe that men who would abhor the thought of violating the property of another by direct methods of oppression will nevertheless invade the characters of others with defamation, and destroy a reputation without remorse.

I. What are the different senses in which a man may be said to bear false witness against his neighbour?

1. The highest degree of guilt forbidden by this law of God is false testimony in a literal sense, or deliberate and solemn perjury in a court of justice, by which the life of an innocent man is taken away, the rightful owner stripped of his possessions, or an oppressor supported in his usurpations.

2. He that attacks the reputation of another by calumny is doubtless, according to the malignity of the report, chargeable with the breach of this commandment. To invent a defamatory falsehood, to rack the invention for the sake of disguising it with circumstances of probability, and propagate it industriously till it becomes popular and takes root in the minds of men, is such a continued act of malice as nothing can palliate. Neither is the first author only of a calumny a false witness against his neighbour, but he likewise that disseminates and promotes it, since without his assistance it would perish as soon as it is produced, would evaporate in the air without effect, and hurt none but him that uttered it. It may happen, indeed, that a calumny may be supported by such testimony, and connected with such probabilities as may deceive the circumspect and just; and the reporter in such cases is by no means to be charged with bearing false witness; because to believe and disbelieve is not in our power; for there is a certain degree of evidence to which a man cannot but yield. He, therefore, who is deceived himself cannot be accused of deceiving others, and is only so far blamable as he contributed to the dishonour or prejudice of another by spreading his faults without any just occasion or lawful cause. There is another occasion made use of by which, if this fault should escape from censure, many others might enjoy the same advantage. It is urged by some that they do not adopt the tale till it is generally received, and only promote what they cannot hinder. But how must wickedness he controlled if its prevalence be a reason for compliance?

3. There is yet another way by which we may partake, in some measure, of the sin of bearing false witness. That he who does not hinder the commission of a crime involves himself in the guilt cannot be denied; and that his guilt is yet more flagrant if, instead of obstructing he encourages it, is equally evident. He therefore, that receives a calumny with applause, or listens to it with silent approbation, must be at least chargeable with conniving at wrong, which will be found no trivial accusation when we have considered--

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. If we examine the sin of calumny by this rule we shall find both the motives and consequences of the worst kind.

1. The most usual incitement to defamation is envy, or impatience of the merit or success of others; a malice raised not by any injury received, but merely by the sight of that happiness which we cannot attain. This is a passion of all others the most hurtful and contemptible; it is pride complicated with laziness; pride which inclines us to wish ourselves upon the level with others, and laziness which hinders us from pursuing our inclinations with vigour and assiduity. 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. No rage is more fierce than that of a villain disappointed of those advantages which he has pursued by a long train of wickedness, lie has forfeited the esteem of mankind, he has burdened his conscience and hazarded his future happiness to no purpose, and has now nothing to hope but the satisfaction of involving those who have broken his measures in misfortunes and disgrace. By wretches like these it is no wonder if the vilest arts of detraction are practised without scruple, since both their resentment and their interest direct them to depress those whose influence and authority will be employed against them. But what can be said of those who, without being impelled by any violence of passion, without having received any injury or provocation, and without any motives of interest, vilify the deserving and the worthless without distinction, and, merely to gratify the levity of temper and incontinence of tongue, throw out aspersions equally dangerous with those of virulence and enmity?

2. 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. Calumny can take away what is out of the reach of tyranny and usurpation, and what may enable the sufferer to repair the injuries received from the hand of oppression. The persecutions of power may injure the fortune of a good man, but those of calumny must complete his ruin. Calumny differs from most other injuries in this dreadful circumstance. He who commits it never can repair it. A false report may spread where a recantation never reaches; and an accusation must certainly fly taster than a defence, while the greater part of mankind are base and wicked. The effects of a false report cannot be determined or circumscribed. It may check a hero in his attempts for the promotion of the happiness of his country, or a saint in his endeavours for the propagation of truth.

III. What reflections may best enable its to avoid it? The way to avoid effects is to avoid the causes. Whoever, therefore, would not be tempted to bear false witness must endeavour to suppress those passions which may incite him to it. Let the envious man consider that by detracting from the character of others he in reality adds nothing to his own; and the malicious man, that nothing is more inconsistent with every law of God and institution of men than implacability and revenge. If men would spend more time in examining their own lives, and inspecting their own characters, they would have less leisure and less inclination to remark with severity upon others. They would easily discover that it will not be to their advantage to exasperate their neighbour, and that a scandalous falsehood may be easily revenged by a reproachful truth. (S. Johnson, LL. D.)

Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour

“Beyond our life, our spouse, our temporal possessions we have another treasure, i.e. honour and a good reputation, therefore God wills that we should not rob our neighbour of good name, forbearance, justice.”--Luther. The world is false. “He who seeks faithfulness may kindle a light in clear day and yet scarcely find it.” Honour is a precious possession--it is before gold. Thus God takes it under His protection and says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” etc. To make the meaning clear we shall ask and answer three questions.

I. What is false witness?

1. People generally think of bearing witness in a court of justice. In this view a judge may be a false witness when, like Pilate, he knowingly condemned the innocent, etc. The accused, like Achan. It is bearing false witness for one to conceal the truth, and to deny it, even when force is used. Even the smallest village may furnish examples of the truth that false witness bearing from hate, goodwill to others, or self-interest never brought blessing, but sooner or later brought the Divine judgment.

2. But false witnessing is not confined to the courts of justice--in the home and in the street and field it finds place--nor even when evident lying is practised. A false word from a false heart, and a true word from a false heart are both false witnessing. Liars are false witnesses,--how many a strife have they raised! The betrayer is a false witness. We are not to be silent concerning evil, however--to hide mischief “in order to preserve peace.” This is to betray righteousness. But those who betray secrets which can be kept with good conscience; who pry into their neighbour’s concerns in order with malicious glee to spread abroad any supposed weakness, etc.; those who under the guise of friendship creep into the confidence of men and betray them to the unfriendly--these are traitors whose evil report remaineth, e.g., Judas. They are false witnesses also who take up an evil reproach against their neighbour (Psalms 15:2); so, too, are backbiters. Against open liars men can defend themselves, but not against the sneaking backbiter, who ends with his hypocritical--“but I don’t want it to be known more widely,” etc. Words spoken in innocence are wrested so that they seem criminal, etc. “Honey is in their mouth, but gall in their heart.” Every word from a false heart, be it blame or praise, etc., is false witness; and “a false witness shall not remain unpunished.”

II. How are we to prevent the false witness bearing of others?

1. God has so ordered that lying in the long run never comes to good. Slander does not live long, and even at the worst, if there is no justice for you on earth, there is in heaven. We must ever seek to speak good of our neighbour. “There would be no thieves if there were no receivers,” so there would be no slanderers if there were no listeners. “The slanderer has the devil in his tongue,” said Luther; “and he who listens has him in his ear.” Show to a slanderer a deaf ear, a reproachful look, a closed door, and if you cannot escape him, then you must not be silent. If he has the heart to slander your friend you must nave the heart to censure his lies,” etc. “Honour and a good name are easily injured;” therefore so speak to the injurer of another’s reputation until he blush with shame, and if the slanderer speaks truth, then seek if possible to put forward something praiseworthy in him who is slandered.

2. True, there are things that are evil, godless, etc., and they must be called by their right names, and hypocrites, wolves in sheep’s clothing, must not be spared.

3. There are, however, sometimes actions and words which are difficult to class. And there are men who have two sides to their characters. Then we must remember, “love bears all, believes all things, hopes all things, etc.

4. If all were so to act, if each were a faithful Jonathan, or Ahimelech, or Gamaliel, then Doegs and Ahithophels and Judases would fail. But--the slanderer lurks in all our hearts--we don’t need to seek Pharisees in Jerusalem only. Therefore--

III. How shall we keep our own tongue from false witness-bearing?

1. The tongue is ruled by the heart. The mouth will give utterance to righteousness if the heart is righteous. “From a good root comes good fruit.” Silence is an art which many do not learn during a long life. “Make a grave of thine ears, and close it up until duty compels thee to speak,” says Luther.

2. If you will speak, then watch your words. “A word spoken is like an arrow shot from the bow”--who can outdistance it? who recall it? There are no harmless lies. Even what is stated from amiability (e.g., when an indolent or unfaithful servant is testified to as faithful, diligent, etc.)
, but which is not consonant with truth, is false witness-bearing.

3. Rash judgments of others often lead to false witnessing. “Don’t do to others,” etc. Readiness to believe what is said to another’s harm is also a species of this transgression. When Luther stood before his accusers he almost fainted after much speaking, and Duke Erich sent him a refreshing draught in a silver cup, with the injunction to refresh himself. Anxious friends whispered that the Duke was his enemy, and that there might be poison in the draught. But Luther drank it and gave thanks, saying, “As Duke Erich has remembered me now, so may God remember him in the last hour.”

4. Do not speak bitterly of one who was once your friend. Although he has failed you, do not become his enemy.

5. It may be a duty sometimes to say something hard of one in whose presence you stand in order to save an innocent or inexperienced person from danger. Then ask first: “Dare I say before this man’s face what I would say of him behind his back?” and then do it clearly and unshrinkingly. Our Redeemer, a John, a Paul, are our examples.

6. Above all, covet the honour of having this said of you: “This man means what he says.” Blessed is he whom the Searcher of hearts sees to be a Nathanael (John 1:47). (K. H. Caspari.)

Rights of fame

Cast into the mould of changeless instinct, the ant of today is not wiser than the ant in Solomon’s time, which has not improved the architecture of those mansions into which at all times it has garnered its stores. The bee of this century is no more skilful than the famous bees of Hymettus, and has made no improvement in the form and beauty of its cells. The beaver of our times constructs his habitation on the same plan as of yore. But man is the exception to this changeless and otherwise universal law. The beggar may become a millionaire, the peasant a prince, the private soldier a commander of armies, the fool a philosopher, the sinner a saint. This desire and this capacity are everywhere recognised. Civil government offers to the best citizens its largest immunities and highest honours. In Jehovah’s moral government full recognition is given to man’s ability to rise to greatness. We are commanded to “covet the best gifts.” The scholar may aspire to all knowledge, the man of business to all attainable wealth, the citizen to the highest stations in life, and all to the noblest achievements, to the widest influence, and to the most honourable distinctions. Such aspirations have been realised in the past, and may be in all time to come. The desire for this preeminence is an evil when it is gratified in defiance of God and of human rights. From such a heart God is excluded: the shrine is selfishness; the idol is self. When supreme this desire has given birth to a brood of the most devilish passions. Vanity begets hypocrisy; price, haughtiness; jealousy, hatred; envy, murder. Some men attain to greatness, but it is the greatness of infamy. When this desire is gratified by the sacrifice of principle to policy, of character for reputation, it is highly censurable. Two things are dear to mankind--character and reputation. If a man has a right to life, liberty, and property, he has also a right to his character, and every injury done thereto is an infringement of a natural right and a crime against society. Character is what a man is, in his present intellectual, social, and moral condition. Character is the wealth of the soul, the only wealth of which some are ever possessed. It is the most substantial possession for this life and the life to come. Gold cannot purchase it. It comes to the individual in compliance with the requisitions of law and by the assistance of those gracious influences which descend from heaven. Many a man is bad today, having degenerated from original innocence and a high state of purity, because he did not resist the assaults upon his personal character. Reputation may be lost and regained, but to restore character is the work of God. There may be a beautiful correlation between the public estimation of a citizen and what he is in all the depth and breadth of his being. Character and reputation should go hand in hand and present a proximity closer than the proposition and demonstration of a geometrician; but it is too often true that a citizen wrongfully estimated by the public is the favourite of heaven; while, on the other hand, he may be reprobated by heaven and yet held in high esteem by his fellow men. In a general sense, reputation is public opinion, and may be good or bad, true or false. If true and good it is the source of wealth, honour, and happiness. To succeed in any of the pursuits of life, the individual must be in repute both for capability and honour. The mechanic must be in repute for skill in his handicraft; known among his fellow craftsmen as one deft in any given form of mechanism. All can readily see the financial value of reputation. To blast that reputation is to rob a man, and the chief difference between a robber and a slanderer is that sometimes you can find the stolen property on the robber, but never on the slanderer. How much of human happiness there is in what we call reputation! It is the joy of most men to be held in esteem by their friends and neighbours, for fame men have sacrificed everything. All men sigh for recognition. It is born with our birth; it grows with our years. If these are acceptable facts, confirmed by our experience and observation and recognised by law, human and Divine, then what anathema is too terrible to pronounce upon him who deliberately ruins the fair fame of another, or what punishment is too great to decree against him? How despicable the man who, whether for wealth, position, or glory, seeks to rise upon the ruins of another, whose prospects he has blighted, whose peace he has ruined, whose fame he has tarnished! Were defamation to become a universal custom, what a blow it would be to the very foundations of society! What would become of families, of friendships, of communities, if every failing should be proclaimed upon the housetop? What are the compensations to men who gain preeminence by such despicable means? They may attain to glory. All this is bewitching; but let us behold the troubled life of him who has thus attained to honour. What disquietude of soul; what sensitiveness to every report; what anxiety is excited by every change of public sentiment; what servility of soul to the great, what hypocritical smiles to constituents, what self-degradation before mankind! Whether defamation is by tongue or pen, it is forbidden by the organic law that flashed its authority amid the thunders of Mount Sinai. All evil speaking may not be slander. It is proper, when the ends of justice are to be subserved, to bear testimony against crimes, for he who conceals a crime renders himself party to the offence. It is within reason to give publicity to the faults of others in self-defence, as when an innocent person is wrongfully accused and the guilty party is not suspected. At all times the innocent man has a right to vindicate himself. It is not evil speaking to caution the innocent against the wiles and wicked intentions of the bad. It is both justice and charity. Nor is violence done to law and justice when allusion is made to the evil acts of another, when such have been made known either by the offender himself or by the providence of God. Yet such allusions should be tempered with pity and discretion, and not made with hatred and pleasure. But this liberty of speech is carried to excess and abused when general conclusions are drawn from a single evil act. No one act is the fair exponent of any mail’s character. A single illiberal act does not prove a man covetous, any more than one act of charity proves him to be beneficent. In the treatment of human actions what a world of difference there is between candour and calumny! When a man relieves a beggar in the streets candour would ascribe it to a generous emotion, but calumny to vanity of ostentation. When a man stops short in a career of prosperity and resigns himself to the mercy of his creditors, candour pleads the cruelty of misfortune, but calumny whispers of midnight excesses, habitual licentiousness, extravagant dissipations. Where candour hesitates, calumny assumes the tone of authority. When the former demands investigation and proof, the latter gives confident decisions. Candour suspends judgment for more light, calumny draws conclusions and thunders invectives. When candour is for checking the malicious report, calumny opens its brazen throat and gives to it publicity, calling upon the wings of the wind to spread it abroad. Candour demands hesitation at two points, when the merit of an action is disguised by the uncertainty of evidence and the ambiguity of its complexion when the accused has the right to the benefit of the doubt. And candour hesitates in assigning a motive for actions, for motives are hid by the veil of impenetrable secrecy. Candour never insinuates. “Charity thinketh no evil.” Half-truths and false truths are slanders. A half-truth is one side of a question, and may be the bad side. Facts are false when out of their logical and historical connection. Facts should balance each other, and should be expressive of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some natures are too deep to be understood. Some natures are transparent, some translucent, some opaque. There are those so constituted that they cannot manifest themselves, and so go through the world misunderstood and misrepresented. Many a man is unknown beyond the circle of his family and immediate friends. Chief among the sources of slander is malice. A man succeeds in business, in art, in war, in professional life, and when his success is beyond question some detracting reason is assigned for his success. Nobler impulses would ascribe that success to genius. And what an abuse of the holy mission of language is the violation of this Divine law of fame! It is a law of our being that the words we utter excite in others corresponding emotions. Familiarity with wrong diminishes our abhorrence thereof. Speak an unkind word against a man, and it will open a fountain of hatred against you; speak kindly of an enemy, and his enmity is slain. (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

The Ninth Commandment

I. The simple intention of the commandment. It demands truth in the statement, directly or indirectly made, by man to man, concerning man. The intercourse of men with each other is to depend upon actual facts of character, conduct, and capability.

II. How the commandment may be violated.

1. By false evidence given in courts of justice.

2. By the lie invented and distributed with malicious intention.

3. By repetition of some report without careful investigation.

4. By a hint, a suggestion, or an adroit question. Stigma has been cast upon many a fair reputation by such a question as, “Have you heard about Mr.

?” The answer being given in the negative, the questioner says, “Ah, well, the least said soonest mended.” Nothing further can be drawn from him, but an unfavourable impression has been created, and the innuendo had all the deceiving effect of false witness.

5. By silence.

6. By the imputation of ulterior, selfish, or sordid motive. “Ah, yes; he knows what he is doing.” “The gift was only a sprat to catch a mackerel.” “He knows what side his bread is buttered on.”

7. By flattery. To utter unwarranted praise, to give a testimonial of character, or to recommend a man simply out of friendship for him, while we know him to be unworthy of the testimony we bear, is to inflict injury upon the person to whom he is thus recommended.

III. Application to present-day questions.

1. This sin is terribly prevalent among individuals today. It would be a somewhat startling revelation if records could be taken of all the conversations at afternoon teas, Dorcas meetings, and all those institutions at which women do congregate. There is no doubt that men are also guilty of much wrong-doing in this way, but it seems a peculiarly, favourite form of iniquity among women.

2. Nations and societies, as well as individuals, may be guilty of the sin of false witness. It seems today the perpetual habit of certain sections of the Press to impute motives to foreign nations, and for politicians to heap contumely and abuse on their opponents. Half the unrest in Europe may be said to be due to false witness borne by one nation against another through the Press. (G. Campbell Morgan.)

The remedy against evil speaking

What is the remedy for all this evil? Is it not to cultivate sedulously within ourselves certain good and wholesome principles of thinking and speaking which will be our best safeguard against the sin of bearing false witness?

1. Let us maintain the precious habit of accuracy of speech. “Accuracy,” said Davison, “is of the noble family of the truth.” Let us guard ourselves at all times against exaggeration or diminution of the truth. When we speak, let us say the thing as it is.

2. Let us seek that generous and kindly spirit that believes good rather than evil of a neighbour. It is, happily, possible to reach the habit of kindly thought, of generous tolerance and charitable belief; and just as the atmosphere on the higher Alps is too pure for poisonous microbes to live in it, so this habit will generate in our heart and life an atmosphere in which all that is uncharitable and bitter and base and false will utterly perish.

3. Lot us remember the great principle, that the more we differ from a man or a politician or a church, the more anxiously and scrupulously should we seek to be fair and just in all our estimates and judgments of him.

4. Let us never forget that all men, howsoever much they may differ from us, are our neighbours, are our brothers, and in the light of this great brotherhood, this larger and nobler kinship, only realised perfectly in Christ, let us interpret this command. (G. S. Barrett, D. D.)


Verse 21

Deuteronomy 5:21

Neither shalt thou desire.

The Tenth Commandment

Nothing, be it ever so mean, is to be coveted which belongs to another, if it be to his loss and detriment. Wherefore it is observable that this commandment is thus briefly expressed by the Saviour (Matthew 10:19). Defraud not, take not away. Christ Himself made this alteration of the word in the last commandment, and knew best the meaning of it. He makes coveting and defrauding the same, because he that inordinately desires that which is another’s doth it to his wrong. To wish anything hurtful to others is unlawful, though we never outwardly act what we design. “He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a mischievous person” (Proverbs 24:8). He merits that denomination on the account of those purposes of mischief which are in his heart. And as the Decalogue, so the Gospel declares this truth. Our Saviour interprets lascivious desires to be lascivious deeds (Matthew 5:28). This is the Christian law, that the inward fault is to be accounted for; the will alone makes us obnoxious, though we proceed no further. We are forbid not only to entertain any intentions and wishes, but any imaginations and thoughts tending to the hurt of others. Secondly, I come to speak of the affirmative part, or the duties enjoined in this commandment. Here, then, we are bid to act out of an inward principle of holiness. The law doth not only exact of us external obedience, but internal sanctity. And the Gospel doth this much more, it enjoins us not only to cleanse our hands, but to purify our hearts (James 4:8). As we must take care of our lives, so we must expel all vicious appetites, lusts, and desires out of our minds. We must regulate our intentions and purposes, and rectify our thoughts and imaginations. This likewise is required of us in the affirmative part of this commandment, that we desire and wish in our hearts all good to our neighbours; that we be so far from coveting what is theirs, that we continually aim at their welfare, and employ our thoughts in promoting it. Besides, this is another part of the positive precept, that we be content with what is our own. We are bid here to acquiesce in God’s providence, and to rest satisfied with the condition He hath placed us in. In short, then, if we would have the general sum of both the negative and affirmative part of this commandment, it is thus comprised in the apostle’s words, “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have” (Hebrews 13:5). Here is forbidden an inordinate coveting of what we have not, and a being discontented with what we have. So that I think I shall accomplish the design of this commandment by treating distinctly of these two, covetousness and contentment. I begin with the former. First, as to its nature. It is an inordinate desire after those worldly goods which we have not, and which it is not fitting we should have. I say, it is an excessive desire after those things. And this is one main thing that constitutes the sin of covetousness, as we may gather from the description of it in the sacred writings. Those who are addicted to it are said to be greedy of gain (Proverbs 1:19). And covetousness itself is set forth by that greedy creature the horse leech with its two daughters, i.e. its double forked tongue wherewith it continually sucks blood (Proverbs 30:15). This comparison is used to express the insatiableness of those persons’ desires who are given to avarice. Secondly, as covetousness is an immoderate, so it is an inordinate and irregular desire of worldly goods. For--

1. It is a desire of them as they are our neighbour’s. And thereby is intimated to us that the covetous have an evil eye, and grudge at the good of others. They are angry that they have not a monopoly of worldly riches, and it grieves them that anyone hath a share of them besides themselves.

2. The inordinacy of this avaricious desire of the things of this world consists in this, that it is a longing after them as the chief good. Riches are desired by the covetous for themselves wholly, and are reckoned as the greatest happiness. In the second place, I am to display the evil and mischief of this sin. And this I will do by showing--

1. Know and remember this, that riches and abundance are commonly indulged to the worst of men, and hence you may conclude they are of no great worth. Christ chose poverty, and left it as a portion to His disciples, and the holiest men have been denied the riches of this world. Let us meditate on this, in order to the disengaging of our souls from a covetous desire after wealth and abundance.

2. Observe the design of God’s afflicting hand. Remember this, that He sends outward crosses on purpose to diminish our immoderate longing after these things.

3. Divert your worldly designs by those that are spiritual. Mind these things, which are of the highest nature: covet earnestly the best gifts; labour to be rich towards God. Be always earnestly seeking the graces of God’s Spirit, communion with Him, and His love and favour. Thus cure your malady by revulsion.

4. Always carry in your eye the other world, and then you will be cured of your immoderate longings after this. Look up to heaven and contemplate that, and then the earth will seem to be but a poor, shrivelled point. Thus I have propounded the proper remedies which you may successfully make use of for the extirpating of covetousness and the immoderate love of the world. And because you can do nothing of this without the Divine aid, forget not to be frequent in prayer. I come, then, now to that which is the positive part of this commandment, namely, contentedness. And here I am to show--

1. The true nature of it.

2. The excellency and benefit of it.

3. The means of attaining it.

First, I will give an account of the true nature of contentment. And this we may learn from what hath been said concerning covetousness, for true contentment is opposite to covetousness, and therefore is rightly defined a cessation of all covetous desires, and an acquiescing in what we have. Contentment therefore denotes these two things: first, that the desire of what is absent is taken off; secondly, that there is a satisfaction in what is present. For this is certain, that our ease and comfort consist in having what we desire, and in being pleased with what we have. Now, then, if a man desires something and yet wants it, or hath something and is not pleased with it, he cannot possibly be contented. Here, then, is the noble art of Christianity to take off the edge of out appetites, to qualify or to quench our thirst, and also to make us in love with the present, to bring our minds to an acquiescence in the condition that God places us in. This latter is the chief thing in contentment, and, indeed, comprehends the other; for if we contentedly enjoy the present, we shall not enlarge our desires to things that are absent. This is enjoined us by the apostle in Hebrews 13:5, “Be content with such things as ye have,” or, “with the present things,” for so it should be translated. Secondly, the excellency and benefit of contentment are to be treated of. First, this must needs be a very excellent grace, because it argues a brave and generous spirit. Secondly, it is attended with pleasure as well as honour. Thirdly, it is also profitable (1 Timothy 6:6). A contented mind is impregnable. We are rich with a treasure that none but ourselves can rob us of. Fourthly and lastly, to sum up all in a word, contentment makes us happy. Now, he that hath arrived to the art of contentment must needs be happy, because his will and the things he converses with exactly suit with one another. The third thing is to show what are the proper means of attaining this excellent grace of contentedness. Here I will propound these following directions:--First, in order to contentment it is necessary that we understand aright the true nature and disposition of the things of this world, that we form right conceptions concerning them. In the first place, we must know that they are in their own nature indifferent. They are not really good, and so not the proper objects of our desires. Consider this, and be content. Secondly, let us consider how little will suffice us, and how unnecessary the abundance of the things of this world is. Thirdly, another effectual way to procure contentment is to make a balance, and indifferently to poise both your crosses and your blessings. If you will take the pains to lay the latter in one scale, as well as the former in another, you will make them even, though one seemed to you to be weightier than the other. Have you never heard that the wind and tempest which battered the vessel and tore its sails drove it at last to the desired haven? Valerius Maximus tells us of one in a Tyrian ship who was struck into the sea by a wave on one side, and presently another wave on the other side of the ship hoisted him up into it. So with respect to those things which we are now speaking of, there is an abundant requital. Whenever there is any loss or adverse event there is constantly some compensation goes along with it--at least, if we rightly and skilfully improve the adverse accident, for thereby we may turn blanks into prizes. There is never anything taken from us but we may find there is some supply made for it, or else there is something yet left behind that may make us forget our loss. Wherefore under this head let me advise you, instead of reckoning up what you have not, to consider what you have; and this will lead you to contentment. You can never sufficiently thank God for letting you enjoy the use of your hands, your feet, your eyes, your tongue, for these are much greater things than any you can name that you are destitute of. Consider that you have your liberty, which is an unspeakable blessing; that you are provided for daily with a sufficient portion of meat and drink; that you have not only necessary food, but raiment; that you have a habitation to shelter you from the injury of the weather. Consider, likewise, that if we labour under some particular grievance, yet God generally continues to us some blessing which makes amends for it. Set, then, your health against your poverty, and know that some wealthy persons would purchase the former, though they had the latter into the bargain. Or perhaps you are afflicted with an unhealthful state of body, with pain and torture, But then you may be supported under this grievance by reflecting on those considerable mercies which God hath not deprived you of, as a competent allowance of the other good things of this life--the help of physicians, many obliging friends and relations, a good name, etc. Fourthly, in order to contentedness, it is requisite that we be not solicitous about the future. Our present ease depends much on our behaviour as to the future. Therefore here we are to regulate ourselves, and to take care that we be not inquisitive and anxious about the events that are to come. “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire,” saith Solomon (Ecclesiastes 6:9). It is better to enjoy the good things that are present and before our eyes than to follow after future and uncertain objects with vain inquiries and wishes, for “this walking of the soul,” as the Hebrew in this text elegantly hath it, this ranging of our minds, will certainly create us trouble and dissatisfaction. Wherefore let us confine ourselves to the present, and thankfully enjoy that, and not trouble our thoughts with what shall befall us hereafter. Fifthly, to cherish and preserve in him this excellent frame of spirit, he strives to learn the art and skill of making the best of all that happens to him. Sixthly, be not dejected and discouraged by what the men of the world, who have their portion in this life, are wont to suggest to you. Lastly, be thoroughly convinced of the Divine Providence which rules the world and takes care of us, and firmly depend and rely upon this, and then it is impossible you should be discontented. Seeing Infinite Wisdom governs the world and manages all things to the best ends and purposes, we may fully persuade ourselves that all things shall work together for our good. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

The Tenth Commandment.

Observe, first, that this is a unique commandment. Search all the laws of all the world, and you will not find one which resembles it. Human laws can only prohibit crimes of which human eyes can take cognisance; the hearts of men are beyond their reach. The tyrant can only command the outward obedience, of his slave, but he cannot subdue the fierce rebellion which rages in that slave’s heart. He makes no attempt to order what he is impotent to enforce. The unique command which prohibits not only commissions but concupiscence can be uttered by God alone. And herein the ten commands on Sinai anticipated the eight beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. The law says, “Thou shalt not desire”; the Gospel says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” It is a commandment preeminently spiritual; it cuts at the root of all formalism and all hypocrisy; it shows that each man is not what he seems to be to men, but what he is in the eyes of God. The lesson which the Tenth Commandment teaches us is that God must be obeyed, not with eye service as men pleasers, but with singleness of heart. Even the heathen say that the God with whom we have to do is one with whom nothing avails except heart obedience. “Wickedness and injustice,” says Aristotle, “lie in the intention.” “He,” says Juvenal, “who thinks in silent wickedness within himself incurs the guilt of the deed.” And this command is tender as well as unique, for it is designed to save us from error; it is meant, not to terrify us, but to train; it reveals to us, as with a flash out of God’s eternity, when and how the work of our life has to be done; it shows us that there is” no sound cure for any disease, without the removal of the cause. The literal meaning of the commandment is, Thou shalt not excessively or wrongfully, thou shalt not unlawfully or irregularly, desire anything which thou canst not innocently and uprightly “possess.” Perhaps you think, What harm can a mere desire do when I have not even expressed it? “What wrong can there be in such an airy nothing, such an impalpable thought?” The answer is two-fold. First, that airy nothing, that impalpable thought, as you call it, is a very real thing. It is seen in heaven, it is heard in heaven, in heaven it needs forgiveness, and consequently that thought will, if dwelt upon, be certainly the prolific mother of all sins. It is the cockatrice’s egg which brings forth the vapour of the fiery flying serpent. Guilty longings are the avant-couriers of the performance of guilty lusts concealed in the guise of a harmless infant, the guilty curiosity, the guilty lingering on the confines of temptation. The guilty wish pushes open the wicket gate, and then, when it has done so it springs into the menacing stature of a giant demon. The sole way to keep ourselves from the infinite possibility of sin is only to follow the exhortation of St. James: “Cleanse your hearts, ye sinners; purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” It is with the latter form of concupiscence, with the covetousness which is idolatry, that the extension of the commandment chiefly deals. It warns us against the greed of accumulation and the thirst for gold. This commandment says to our England of today, “Which wilt thou be, the freeman of Christ or the bond slave of Mammon? Which wilt thou be, an example to the world or its corrupter? Rich thou art beyond all nations, and art ever becoming more and more rich. But wealth means weal, means well-being; it does not mean riches and woe to thy weal.” But this commandment teaches us something more than contentment, lovely, indeed, and full of happiness as a virtue. Utter content is but the passive form of the most fruitful of all virtues--it is self-sacrifice. But he who has ceased to desire will rejoice also to abstain; he who desires to cease that selfish greediness for what does not belong to him, or what he ought largely to share with others, will be eager to give with wise generosity--he will find that herein is happiness. St. Edmund of Canterbury, one of our sweet English saints, used to leave his money on the sill of the window of his staircase for anyone to take who would, and sometimes he would sprinkle dust over it, saying, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Another great man said, “We have no time to get rich; the expulsive power of good affections leaves no time for meaner passions.” The lives of such saints poured silent contempt on gold, and how great is their reward! They are uplifted above the base temptations which surround the toiling, moiling multitude. Self-abnegation, the subdual of concupiscence, means that the soul is satisfied with God. Dissatisfaction is the necessary curse of worldly life. “Vanity of vanity,” says one of the best-known novels of the century, “which of us has what he desires, and having it is satisfied? Answer me, children of the world, votaries of self-indulgence, slaves of gold; answer me, and confess your misery.” Covetousness means a curse, but he who gives all to Christ gains all from Christ; he who will lose his life for Christ’s sake shall always find it. Can you imagine a more struggling and apparently miserable lot than that of some poor harmless missionary in the depths of Africa? Not long ago a dying missionary wrote home from the wilds of Africa: “Tell my family and all my friends that I rejoice to have left all for Christ. Were my sacrifice to make again, I think, as I lie here dying in a strange land, I would make it again a thousand times. I would not change my lot for all the happiness of the world.” “This German beast, says Leo X, “cares nothing for gold,”--a strange phenomenon when all the priests and all the world cared so much for gold; but because Luther did not care for gold, and lived and died a very poor man, it raised the hearts of myriads of men to seek their treasure where he had done--in things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. (Dean Farrar.)

The Tenth Commandment

For settling the true sense of these words it will be needful to remark--First, that in the nine former commandments there has been direction given for every inward and outward act of duty owing to God or man, and all the sinful conduct contrary thereto has been prohibited and condemned. Secondly, that the design of the whole law being evidently to make sin fully known, that design would not be answered by it if there had not been a particular commandment in it which should condemn those sinful desires of our nature which are the principles of all sinful acts whatever. In the seventh chapter to the Romans St. Paul does most plainly interpret this Tenth Commandment as condemning the natural desires of our depraved hearts. And lest it should be wondered that no other desires are here mentioned than those which refer to the second table, the reason is that all the sinful desires of our nature are only after the things prohibited in the second table. The sin of our nature against the first table is to have no desire after God; and therefore, there being in our nature no desire after God, that desire only that is in our nature can be condemned, namely, desire after earthly and sensual things, both which are expressly mentioned in this commandment, coveting our neighbour’s house being an earthly desire, and coveting his wife a sensual one. But yet, that all desires after the things and enjoyments of this present time might not seem to be disallowed and sinful, the commandment also gives us to understand how we shall make a distinction between those desires after present things which spring from our corrupted nature and are in themselves sinful and such as are innocent and, indeed, in our present circumstances, necessary. Thou shalt not desire anything that is thy neighbour’s, for to desire what is another’s for thy convenience or gratification issues directly from the carnality and worldliness of thy nature, and plainly proves an inclination for present things which is neither consistent with love to God nor man. Nay, and many times the really sinful desire will be clothing itself under the guise of necessity, and pretend necessity where there is really none. Can we suppose King Ahab was in real want of a garden of herbs? Is it not more probable that some scheme of indulgence or pomp made him conceive he wanted Naboth’s vineyard, and that, for any matter of necessity in the thing, he could as well have done without it? Should I attempt to enumerate all those various lustings and desires that pass through our hearts without being permitted to make a settlement there, and yet are forbidden by this commandment, the undertaking would be endless Yet it will be needful to give some sort of account of them. First, thou shalt not covet or have any sinful desires in thy heart after thy neighbour’s dignity. And here all those sudden risings of heart against the authority of God in the persons of those he has set over us come in and are condemned. Secondly, thou shalt not lust after thy neighbour’s life; thou must not have a motion to his hurt in soul or body within thy heart. All envious, revengeful, unmerciful suggestions against him are contrary to charity, and rise out of a depraved nature. Thirdly, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. All manner of sensuality being also condemned by the Seventh Commandment, all motions towards it fall under the censure of the tenth. Fourthly, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods. What I now speak of is not the sin of covetousness, nor that devising of theft before it is committed, but that which is at the bottom of both--the sinful stirrings of corrupt nature after the interests of the world, in which our foolish hearts do naturally trust. You have not wished to have your neighbour’s goods by fraud or force, I allow; but have you never wished any of them yours from the instigation of a world-trusting heart? Fifthly, thou shalt not lust after thy neighbour’s good name. The meaning of this is, thou mayest never have in thy heart one suggestion of envy because thy neighbour is better than thou, of hatred because his virtues reprove thy vices, of displeasure because he will follow his conscience sooner than thy will, of delight--no, not in the least degree--in hearing of or beholding his sins. This is desiring hurt to thy neighbour’s name. Yea, though thou dost not approve any of these suggestions, but art really displeased with them and wouldest never more know them, yet they are thy sins. What has been said may suffice to show the design of this last commandment, and therein the sad sinfulness of our nature. (S. Walker, B. A.)

The Tenth Commandment

The first thing which this commandment teaches us is that all desire is wrong when we set our hearts upon a thing which we cannot fairly and justly obtain. Ahab and Jezebel broke it when they took Naboth’s vineyard. Is it ever right to desire? And what makes a desire right or wrong? Here we are all full of wishes and desires. Desire is one of the great motive forces of the world. If we had no desires we should have no progress. It is a sense of want that makes us exert ourselves, and very often bring to pass a great many results which we never set before ourselves as ends. What, then, is to be our criterion? Desire is not a wrong thing in itself. Desire of learning is not wrong; desire of success, say, in an examination, or in our future career in life, is surely not wrong? Roughly, very roughly, speaking, success is the guarantee from outside that we were right in pursuing such and such a course, in using our talents in such and such a way; while failure, speaking again very roughly, seems to mean that we have wasted our time, or mistaken our vocation. It is not always so, of course. Desire is not, it may be repeated, a wrong thing in itself. When is it wrong?

1. When we desire things that are unworthy of us, as when Nero wished to be applauded as a stage performer, or when a great man, like Browning’s “Lost Leader,” is led aside from his path by the offer of some petty title or distinction; and, alas! if we look into our own hearts, we shall often find, almost with a sudden shock of shame and dismay, how miserably petty are some of the objects around which our imagination is building its castles in the air.

2. Again, desire is wrong when it throws us off our balance, and makes us take a one-sided view of life.

3. Desire is clearly blamable when we allow it to absorb us and make us forgetful of the needs of others.

4. Again, desire is wrong when indulged in such a way that the failure of what we desire makes us discontented.

5. Again, if our ambition, our love, our de, ire, makes us forgetful of God, is it not worse still? There is, however, one other thing I should like to say. Primarily, and roughly speaking, God does fulfil, or shows us how to accomplish, our wishes. There is a decided a priori probability that we shall get what we want. As an exquisite fragment of Greek poetry tells us, Hesperus (the evening star) brings everything home: the sheep to the fold, and the child to the mother. So we may say of the evening of life, in very many cases, it has brought to the man or the woman the objects of lifelong desire. “All things,” as we say, “come round to him who waits.” But it is also possible to have a wrong desire fulfilled, and to mourn its fulfilment as our bitterest misfortune. “Occidat dum imperet (Let him kill me if he only reign!),” said Agrippina of Nero, and her aspiration was terribly realised. The thirty pieces of silver were the “desire” of Judas Iscariot! How often do we see this still! The moment we try to force God’s will we desire wrongly, and are sure to repent of it. (Elizabeth Wordsworth.)

Law of purity

The last of the Ten Commandments is the most important; it relates to the heart, out of which are the “issues of life.” It is a law that cannot be broken by any word that man may speak, by any act that he may perform. It is descriptive of character, and supposes a moral state out of which flow all motives, desires, thoughts, words, and deeds. All the other commandments are violated by an act or a word; but the tenth is supremely mental in its scope and purpose. In this last of the Divine ten precepts is the law of desire. To covet is to desire the “forbidden fruit.” It is not external, but internal; it relates to what a man thinks and feels. A desire is a conception, a wish, an inclination, an aspiration, which may or may not lead on to action. The penalty is not stated. Will it not be exclusion from God? The great thought is desire within the limitations of law. There is a pleasurable, beneficent, lawful exercise of desire. There is a covetousness that is right and commendable. We are commanded to “covet earnestly the best gifts,” and to “covet to prophesy”--that is, to teach the way of the Lord. Intense desire is indispensable to success. What were life without aspiration? Desire nerves the soul, stimulates the intellect, animates the mind. Men may aspire to all knowledge, to the largest wealth, to the highest honours, to the greatest achievements, to the widest influence, to boundless usefulness, to all attainable purity; but God must be supreme; principle the rule; charity the end. A man may desire a wife, but not another’s; a horse, but not his neighbour’s; a trusty servant, but not to the disadvantage of an employer; an ox, an ass, a field, but not to the injury of its owner. How execrable the man who lessens the esteem of a husband for the woman he has wedded and then ingratiates himself in the affections of that alienated wife that he may have her! The imagination is the domain wherein the law of purity operates, and therein should hold supreme sway. No other mental faculty is so potent in the formation of the character and in giving direction to the destiny of men and nations. The imagination rules the world for good and evil. The sacred writers couple the imagination with the heart, which is neither accidental nor incidental, but is done with intelligent intent. It is to remind us of the immense power of this masterful faculty over the great passions of our nature. To capture, control, purify, refine, elevate this dominating power of the soul is the mission of the law of purity: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” How beneficent is the imagination when subject to law; how malevolent its influence when unrestrained and lawless! Like the reason and the memory, the imagination is subject to discipline and the sovereign will of man. This law of purity demands a passive state and an active manifestation. Christianity is the religion of the imagination. Christ is the only religious Teacher known to man who demands of His people a moral condition antecedent to act of devotion. If God is not a respecter of persons He is of character, and that He has foreordained unto eternal life. Christ’s demand for a moral condition antecedent to all mental and physical action is in harmony with the order of nature. There is a passive state of our muscular forces and intellectual powers upon which the active depends, and of which the active is the living expression. If the arm is strong to defend, there must be healthfulness in the muscles thereof. If the faculties of the mind respond to the will, there must be latent vigour in the intellect. Man’s moral nature is both passive and active, and experience is in proof that as is the passive so is the active. If the affections respond only to objects of purity, if the conscience only to the voice of right, if the will only to the call of duty, there must be inherent purity and strength in all our moral powers when quiescent. Christ is the Saviour and Sovereign of the heart wherein He incarnates purity. He must be at the fountainhead of life, that the issues thereof may be Divine. And it is a matter of experience that with purity there comes an intellectual elevation, a sharpening and quickening of all the mental powers, whereby the “perfect man in Christ” discerns more readily between right and wrong; and the heavenly calm that reigns in all his being, and the “perfect peace” wherein he is ever kept, conduce to tranquillity of intellect, correctness of taste, candour of intention, carefulness of judgment, and impartiality, of decision. The imagination acts directly on the moral character, and by its abuse the will is weakened, the mental energy is dissipated, and the whole life is polluted. Purity and happiness are inseparable. In nothing more is the beneficence of the Creator apparent than in His ordination that happiness here and hereafter shall flow out of the character of a man. The blessings of human life, such as honourable birth, liberal education, ample fortune, high social position, renown among men, abundance of health, and length of days, may contribute to the repose of soul and add to the joy of life; but these can never be the radical source of happiness. The whole history of the world is a proof that happiness never flows into a man, but rather flows out of him. And what is true of earth will be true of heaven. Such was the conception of the Psalmist, who sings, “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” (J. P. Newman, D. D.)

Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife

This commandment is in brief, “Thou shalt not covet”; or, to put it positively, Give Me thine heart. Give it not to the world and all its store. Thus beginning and end of the Ten Words are united--the circle completed. “He who keeps the first commandment,” said one of the fathers, “possesses the spring of all good works and righteousness, i.e. the love of God; and he who keeps the last commandment checks the fountain of all sin, namely, evil desire, whence flow all wicked works” (1 John 2:15). What does this command require of us?

I. That we should not weld to evil desires. This is the easiest requirement.

1. The story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard is a terrible example of the result of yielding to covetousness. Yet how many Ahabs are there who lust after their neighbour’s house, etc., and who, when the neighbour has come down in the world and a friendly hand might raise him, do not stretch out that hand, but eagerly seize hold of the coveted possession!

2. How many are there also who, out of envy and covetousness, will disturb the peace of a household--raising discord between man and wife, between servant and master! Not more than one in ten can be found, perhaps, who would, on the contrary, seek to reconcile, in love and faithfulness, husband and wife, and how many will seek to draw a good and faithful servant even from a friend’s service, with promise of higher wages, etc.! How many will either possess themselves of what is another’s; or, if that cannot be, with the wickedest meanness seek to destroy or spoil the possession!

3. In this commandment God puts a check on the sin and evil desires which haunt men’s hearts like savage creatures, ready to break forth in shameful deeds. He knows that wicked desires manifest themselves universally: envy, which covets a neighbour’s goods; hate, which seeks a neighbour’s undoing; fleshly lusts, which flame out in debauchery, pride, vanity, etc. But the