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Exodus 20:1. All these words.] Concerning which observe
(1.) That they form the basis of the covenant, of which ch. Exodus 19:3-6 offers the first proposal; chs. 21–23, the detailed sketch; and ch. Exodus 24:1-8, the formal ratification.
(2.) That they are all grounded upon the existing relationship between Jehovah and Israel announced in Exodus 20:1; so that THE LAW, par excellence, is itself founded upon redeeming grace.
(3.) That thus they may all be united by the principle to which they owe their privileged position—faithfulness to Him who has redeemed Israel, shown directly towards God Himself in matters of worship (“four commands.” 3–11); and indirectly towards man—for whom Jehovah cares—in matters of social intercourse (“six commands.” 12–17).
(4.) That, nevertheless, they reveal the immeasurable inferiority of the old covenant to which they give character, as compared with the new: the leading note of the former being “Thou shalt,” that of the latter “I will” (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:0).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:1-3
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
The recollection, and admiration, and love, and worship, and obedience, and fellowship of God, form the substance of true religion. Salvation is God revealed in Christ.
I. Every man must have a god—originally.
1. Man must draw enjoyment from without—God alone is independent.
2. Man has capacities which are exercised on something external.
3. Man must now have many gods (Jeremiah 2:28).
II. Jehovah claims to be the God of each individual. The grounds of this claim are stated in the Preface to the Ten Commandments. “I am the Lord thy God.
1. His intrinsic excellence.
2. His relation to men—to His people—to all.
3. God willingly submits to comparison (1 Kings 18:0).
III. Jehovah’s claims to be the God of His creatures are generally overlooked and rejected. The forms of human idolatry are very numerous.
1. The creature is deified (Romans 1:25).
2. God Himself is made after the fancies and tastes of depraved men.
3. God is contemplated out of Christ.
IV. Jehovah observes and marks the manner in which His Divine claims are disposed of by men.—
1. He observes it as omniscient.
2. He observes it as jealous of His glory.
3. He observes it as forming a righteous judgment respecting the conduct of all His creatures.
4. He observes it that He may deal with men accordingly.
5. Prepare to meet thy God.—Outlines by Stewart.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Law Divine! Exodus 20:1. A converted infidel exclaimed on reading Exodus 20:0, “Where did Moses get this law? The Egyptians and the adjacent nations were idolaters. So were the Greeks and Romans. The wisest Greeks and the best Romans never gave a code of morals like this. Where did Moses get this Law, which surpasses the wisdom and philosophy of the most enlightened age? He lived at a period comparatively barbarous; yet he has given a law in which the learning and sagacity of all subsequent time can detect no flaw. Where did he get it? He could not have soared up to it. It must have soared down to him. It must be from God.” No Canova-eye can detect the tiniest flaw in this snow-white marble code.
“How holy is the precept,
How righteous the decree,
Revealing to His creatures
The Lord’s own purity.”
Moral Law! Exodus 20:1. A boat on a summer sea is a pleasant picture. But a boat full of people on the Indian Ganges or the mighty Amazon, when the day is dull and the sky dismal—when the wind roars and the thunder peals—when the waters swell and the stream flashes past—is a spectacle of horror. You hear the shrieks between the thunderpeals as they on surging waters, and you on solid strand, wonder how salvation is to come. Ah! if their frail barque could but be drawn into yonder narrow creek, all would be well. A rope is flung out to them, and fastened to the boat. Suddenly a frantic sailor seizes a hatchet, and by one frenzied blow severs the rope. One blow—no more! The boat sweeps headlong against the rock. A crash—and all is o’er. It needs not that the rope should be cut in ten places to sever the connection and injure salvation. If one commandment be broken; if frenzied passion cut God’s Law at any one point—all is broken. Thus we see how
“One mischief entered brings another in;
The second pulls a third, the third draws more,
And they for all the rest set open the door.”
Divine Denial! Exodus 20:2. Kircher, the famous astronomer, anxious to convince an infidel friend of the Divine existence, procured a very handsome astronomical globe, and placed it in a corner of his room. When his friend called, he saw the globe, and admiring it, inquired to whom it belonged! “It was never made; it came here by ‘chance.’ ” The sceptic declared it was but a sorry jest, since such was impossible. The wise philosopher at once happily retorted, “You will not believe that this tiny, frail globe came from ‘chance,’ and yet you expect me to believe that all those mighty worlds have no Maker!” He then proceeded to reason with his friend, so earnestly that he flung his infidel ideas to the wind, convinced of the existence of the Divine “I am.”
“Infinite strength, and equal skill,
Shine through Thy works abroad;
Our souls with vast amazement fill,
And speak the builder God.”
Idolatry! Exodus 20:2-3. A man’s idol is not necessarily an image of gold. It may be a child of clay—the fruit of his own loins—the wife of his bosom. It may be wealth, fame, position, success, business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against such idols God hurls His resistless missile here as resolutely as against “the heathen idols of wood and stone.” When the English captured Rangoon, the saintly Havelock established a prayer-meeting in a famous heathen temple. The room was filled with idol-images, and in the lap of each of these “dumb gods” he placed a lamp to give light. He turned the idols into lampstands for the Divine glory. When there is no danger of our worshipping our old human-idols, let us turn them to good account. We may transform them into lampstands. We may make them serveas lights to enable us to worship Him, whose glory is that of the One True God.
“There are many heathen people,
Who yet God’s name have known;
And many other idols
Than those of wood and stone.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:4-6
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
The Being and Spirituality of God seem to be among the most simple ideas of which the human mind is susceptible; and yet they have been perverted or entirely obliterated by the corruption of our nature. The Being of God is almost universally admitted. But the Spirituality of His essence has never entered into the conceptions of mankind under the dominion of sense. The deities of the heathen were all local—often in the form of deified heroes—it was therefore natural that they were made to assume a shape. Even the Israelites were guilty of this unholy worship.
I. Offer some general observations upon idolatry.
1. In the origin of idolatry we may find a lesson for our guidance with regard to the misuse of things in themselves lawful, and the perversion of ideas in themselves unobjectionable. The probable origin of idolatry was the perversion of simple and sublime sentiments. When mankind, in the infancy of their existence, opened their eyes upon creation, they beheld everything wonderful and splendid in the scene. What could be more calculated to awaken inspiring contemplations? The mind would then soon pass from admiration to reverence and worship. Thus homage was paid to the sun, moon, and stars, which was only due to the Creator. The reverence felt for men of genius gave them an ideal grandeur, and exalted them into the rank of deities. Thus the perversion of good ideas occasioned the growth of bad ones.
2. Nothing can be more painful than to record the extensive prevalence of idolatry. It would have been a melancholy fact had history stated its existence in only one town; how sad when all nations are under its influence. This proves the folly and depravity of man. The whole world has wandered from God.
3. The effects of idolatry. While, on the one hand, the depravity of the human heart has produced idolatrous worship, this has reacted upon man himself, to debase his character. The effects of idolatry are cruelty, the rendering sacred the worst vices, the contaminating the temples and homes of the land, and the corrupting of society.
4. The spirit of the command in the text must be considered as including all mental idolatry. There is a distinction to be made between idolatry and image worship. The former, which is the worship of false gods, is forbidden in the First Commandment; the latter, which is the worship more especially of images or representations of the true God, is interdicted in the Second. But as all out-ward figures or images of God are forbidden, so it must be considered that every substitute for God, as an object of adoration and love, is also forbidden, for God requires the supreme homage of the heart. We must not form an image in the mind of anything lovely which turns aside the mind from God. Covetousness is idolatry. What images of folly and abomination lurk in the secret recesses of the mind!
II. Notice the particular reasons here assigned for its interdiction. These reasons comprehend both the jealousy and mercy of Jehovah; both powerful considerations.
1. The Divine jealousy and its terrific manifestations. The term is frequently applied in the Old Testament to God, and is strikingly descriptive of His determination to maintain His high prerogatives. Jealousy is considered as one of the strongest passions of our nature. It is the feeling which an interference on the part of another with the object of tender affection inspires—a feeling of wounded love. We are not to suppose that God is susceptible of any painful emotion of the mind, in the strict sense of the word; but this passion is employed to illustrate the fact of that concern about His people which God is described as entertaining. The heathen gods had no jealousy; they were not capable of love.
2. Another reason for the interdiction of idol worship is taken from the mercy of God; and it is one, in its nature, most conciliative. The Jewish economy, as well as the Christian, was founded in mercy. Their formation into a distinct and chosen people was the outcome of mercy. Their system of worship was ordained by heaven in mercy. They had providential mercies. What motives are there in the mercies of God to urge us to keep the commandments.—(F. A. Cox, LL.D.)
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 20:4-6. There are few feelings stronger than those of the parent for his children, and it argues an extraordinary moral derangement where the father is careless and indifferent to the wellbeing of his offspring. The Supreme Legislator has taken advantage (so to speak) of these sentiments, and arranged them on the side of righteousness. He attacks men through the avenue of the domestic charities, and calls upon them to prove themselves not unnatural parents, by striving to lead a life of holiness and piety. If they care not for themselves, will they not for their children! If they are indifferent to the ruin which sin must procure for their own portion, can they consent to the sending down to those they best love an hereafter of woe and of shame? Yet this is precisely what they have a right to expect if they go on in a career of transgression. “I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me.”
We shall assume that the announced visitation of the iniquities of the fathers upon the children is unrestricted and general, so that it constitutes a feature in the fixed economy of the Almighty. We must state, however, that when we speak of the fathers and of the children, we are not to confine our ideas to that single relationship which these terms would ordinarily define. It is clear that the alleged principle is, the dealings of God must be supposed to take a wider range. The principle is, that one set of men shall be made to suffer for the sins of another set of men. We should do evident violence to the spirit, and, we may almost say, to the letter of the precept, were we to suppose that the transmission of iniquity was only then to take place when the parties were associated by the close ties of blood.—H. Melvill, B.D.
Of course the case of the father and the child is one of those cases in which the principle is applicable; but whatever the connexion which binds together two sets of men—whether it be that which subsists between rulers and subjects, or that general one between the present generation and the following, or that between the members of a church and their successors—the same principle is brought into play, so that the punishment of sin may descend on those who have had no part whatever in the commission of that sin.—Ibid.
Now we can add other instances which, if less general, are not less decisive. You remember that when David sinned by numbering the people, the monarch himself was not stricken for the offence. A pestilence was sent, so that there died from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men; and so evident was it, that the king cried out in the bitterness of his soul, “I have sinned, but these sheep, what have they done?” A still stronger instance is to be found in the history of the Gibeonites. Joshua had made a league with the Gibeonites, covenanting that they should not be destroyed with the rest of the inhabitants of Canaan. In contravention of this league, Saul sought to extirpate the Gibeonites, and in his zeal put many of them to death. This sin of Saul was not at once noticed by God; but in the days of David there was a famine, and God, on being enquired of, declared that it was a judgment on account of Saul’s sin in slaying the Gibeonites. And what was the vengeance He then took for that sin? Seven of the sons of Saul were delivered to the Gibeonites, and hung up to the Lord in Gibeah of Saul; and then was God entreated for the land. Who will say that in this instance God visited not on the children the iniquity of the father? In like manner David had fallen into the heinous sins of adultery and murder; on confessing his iniquity he was punished! Hear how the prophet Nathan speaks to the king—“Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” But our instances are not exhausted. We bid you next look at the Jews, strewed over the globe like the fragments of some mighty shipwreck. What have this people done that, through long centuries the weakest are strong enough to trample on them, the humblest lofty enough to despise them? Why should the countrymen of the Maccabees, those prodigies of valour, have been oppressed by every child, as though their arms were incapable of being strung by bravery? You can give no explanation of the history of the Jews since the destruction of Jerusalem, if you keep out of sight that they are under the ban of God’s displeasure for the iniquity of their forefathers. It is, however, worthy of observation that the proceeding after all cannot be repugnant to our notions of justice, since its exact parallel occurs in human legislation. If the statutebook of the country enact the visiting on children the sin of the father, it will be hard to show that the visitation is counter to common sense and equity. In cases of treason, we all know that it is not the traitor alone who is punished. His estates are confiscated, his honours destroyed; so that, in place of transmitting rank and affluence to his son, he transmits him nothing but shame and beggary. We do not say that the thing must be just because enacted by human laws; we only say that there can be no felt and acknowledged contradiction between the proceeding and the principles of equity, since human laws involve the children in the doom of the parent. He, who would have worn a ducal coronet and succeeded to a noble patrimony had his father kept unsullied his loyalty, loses both title and revenue if his father revolt against his king, though all the while he himself had no share in the treason; and the consequences go on from generation to generation; so that the highborn family is for ever degraded, and penury and ignominy make up the heritage which passes down to a remote posterity, who, except for the rebellion of a single ancestor, would have rolled in wealth and ranked with princes. We are clear that the gist of the question lies in this: Do the children when visited for the iniquities of the fathers lose anything to which they have a right, or receive anything which they have not deserved? It is certain, on all the principles of a sound theology, that sin involved the forfeiture of every blessing and exposure to every misery; it is just as certain, therefore, that no blessing can be obtained, and no misery averted, by right; and we think it, consequently, an inference not to be disputed, that whatever are God’s reasons for making adistinction between families, there cannot be injustice in visiting on children the iniquities of parents. The visitation cannot overpass what is due to the children themselves; and who then can pronounce the visitation unjust? Why, then, it is certain that the child is dealt with injuriously, if sentenced for the parents’ iniquity to penury and affliction. Are penury and affliction never overruled for good? It is necessarily an evil to have been born poor in place of rich; to be of weak health instead of strong; to struggle with adversity, in place of being lapped in prosperity. No man who feels himself immortal, who is conscious that this confined theatre of existence is but the school in which he is trained for a wider and nobler still, will contend for the necessary injuriousness of want and calamity; and yet, unless this necessary injuriousness is suffered, it cannot be proved that the children who are visited for the father’s iniquity are on the whole worse off than they would have been had there been no visitation. Thus the argument against as much falls to the ground as that against his justice; for, proceeding on the principle that physical evil is never subservient to moral good, we overthrow our position by assuming what we know to be false.—H. Melvill.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Idol Inventions! Exodus 20:4. The god Moloch was a fearful-looking monster, with a huge red mouth and grinning teeth, to show that he was fond of blood. The goddess Kalee, worshipped by many persons in India, is a fierce-looking female figure, with instruments of death in her hands, and a string of human skulls hanging round her neck as an ornament. Ganesa, another of the gods of the Hindus, is represented with the head of an elephant, and having four arms and hands. He always appears riding on the back of a great rat, having the figure of a serpent wreathed round his head. There are hundreds of uglier and more repulsive idols among the poor heathen in Africa and the South Seas; but it is not their hideousness that condemns them as objects of worship. Lovely idols are as loathsome in God’s sight. How lovely are the sun, moon, and stars, and how greatly the Psalmist appreciated their exceeding beauty! Yet men have made these beautiful creations of God loathsome. How! By making idols of them. The Brazen Serpent was no doubt a very bright and beautiful object; but it became repulsive when turned into an object of worship, and had to be destroyed. To admire a beautiful sculpture—whether stone, marble, brass, or silver—is not wrong; but to adore it, raises the Divine jealousy.
“Thou art a God who beareth
No rival near Thy throne;
Yet many a creature shareth
The love that is Thine own.”
Exodus 20:7. Take in vain.] Rather: “utter loud” (as for the purpose of solemn attestation) “for falsehood,” i.e., in the service of falsehood, to confirm falsehood.
(1.) The word nâsâ, from the primary notion of “taking up,” “lifting,” “lifting up,” comes to mean, when applied to the voice, the lifting up or elevating of the voice in public utterance (cf. Isaiah 3:7; Isaiah 24:14; Isaiah 42:2), and hence obtains the signification, in certain connections, of uttering aloud.
(2.) The word shav means not only “vanity” but also “falsehood” (cf. Deuteronomy 5:20; Ezekiel 12:24; Hosea 10:4; Jonah 2:9). The last cited passage is worthy of special notice: “lying vanities;” habley shav = “vanities of falsehood,” where the qualifying notion of “falsehood” is expressly conveyed by the word shav. The more fundamental result thus obtained,—in harmony with the downright prohibition of murder, adultery, theft, &c., favours the view that nothing less than the awful crime of perjury is here forbidden; so that, as Kalisch says, “our verse contains what is more distinctly expressed in Leviticus 19:12, ‘Ye shall not swear by My name falsely.’ ”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:7
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
I. What is meant by the name of God?
1. By the name of God is often understood God Himself; for to call on God’s name and on Himself are one.
2. Properly hereby is understood His titles, as God, Jehovah, the Lord, Holy, Just, &c.
3. More largely it is taken for whatsoever He maketh use of for making Himself known.
II. What is meant by taking His name in vain?
1. False swearing, or blasphemy, charming, and what is wrong as to the matter. Nor
(2) only profane abusing of the Lord’s name when the matter is right, but by rashness, precipitancy, frequency in swearing. Nor
(3) doth it mean unnecessary swearing when it may be forborne. But
(4) in vain when it is not made use of to good purpose; that is, to God’s honour—perjury, levity, scoffing.
III. Why the Lord is so peremptory in urging this command.
1. That He may set out His own greatness and work reverence of Him in the hearts of His people.
2. Because His name is dreadful and glorious.
3. Because this is the way to curb atheism and profanity, which the devil driveth on by these steps; first to think little of God, and then to profane His name.
4. God’s name is precious, and given to His people for a great refuge (Proverbs 18:10). God is a Friend in Covenant, yet so that relation may not in the least wear out His honour, and our due distance with Him (Deuteronomy 28:58). Because this honoureth God, and adorneth the possession of the gospel before others; whereas irreverence therein dishonourath God. Look through your public duties, if there be not much taking of God’s name in vain. Look through your private duties in families, reading, praying, singing, saying grace; how little regard is had to the name of God in these! Look through secret duties between God and you. Look through occasional duties, as when we say it is God’s will. In the writing of books and letters. Accidental mention of God’s name, in salutations. Consider narrations of Scripture history. Let us not take the name of God in vain in any of these things.—See Denham.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Profanity! Exodus 20:7. In ancient feudal times, when a man paid a small “peppercorn rent” to the landlord, it was in token of submission. It was no onerous burden. But when the “landholder” fell to fighting with some neighbouring chief or baron, or when he was summoned by the king to join the royal army into France, the “peppercorn submission” brought its corresponding penalty and danger. The payee was bound to follow in the baron’s train, to make any sacrifices required by the landholder, and encounter any dangers, even death, in his service. Such are “profane expressions.” They are tokens of submission to Satan, and the prince of darkness does not scruple to make the utterers testify their allegiance whenever it suits him. Oaths are light things. Blasphemies are rents too readily paid to the “prince of this world;” but they bring in their train heavy responsibilities from which there is no escape, except by sincere repentance.
“Take not His name, who made thy mouth, in vain;
It gets thee nothing, and hath no excuse.”
Profanity! Exodus 20:7.
(1) When the name, titles, and attributes of God are lightly, falsely, and profanely employed, this link is broken. And it is to be feared that many ignorantly do this in prayer. We have read about a good man once, who made it a rule always to pause and took up before he uttered the name of God. That action was the index of his heart. He stood in awe of God. His holy name was to him holy.
(2) A Southern planter had a favourite negro servant, who always made a low and solemn bow whenever his master uttered the Divine name. On being asked why he did this, he replied, that he never heard that great name mentioned but it filled his soul with awe and reverence. How many fear not frequently and foolishly in their prayers to take God’s name in vain—i.e., to make it common—to utter it carelessly and irreverently!
“Oh! may we never dare
To act that wicked part;
Nor offer up a prayer
That comes not from the heart;
Or speak that Name in careless phrase
That heaven adores, and earth obeys.”
Profane-Penalty! Exodus 20:7. (I) In one of the loghouses so common in the southern counties of Vermont sat a man watching a fearful snowstorm. He was on his way across the Green Mountains, and was determined to reach home that day. When urged to tarry with his host, and not brave the perils of the increasing storm, he profanely declared that he would go though God Almighty stood in the way. But he never reached home. He was found dead near a large tree, partly supported by its trunk. His body was bent forward, and his ghastly intent features told the stubbornness with which he had profanely taken Jehovah’s name in vain. For more than thirty years that tree stood by the solitary road, scored to the branches with names, letters, and hieroglyphics of death,—a silent rehearsal of the Sinaitic speech: “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”
(2) A profane coachman, pointing to one of the horses he was driving, said to a pious traveller, “That horse knows when I swear.” To this remark his listener made the solemn retort, “Yes, and so does ONE ABOVE.”
“Look to thyself, then deal no more with oaths,
Lest He that hears against thee sends His woes.”
Exodus 20:8. Before Me.] That is, “in presence of Me:” suggesting that the Divine presence in Israel would greatly aggravate the sin of idolatry—under the circumstances, the worship of idols would be an affront committed to Jehovah’s face. The expression may admonish us that a due sense of the Divine presence is the great safeguard against idolatry.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:8-11
THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
It is not the original institution of the Sabbath which is here referred to. The Jews are simply reminded of an institution which is actually in existence. This is clearly implied in the word “Remember.” To remember a thing, it is necessary that we should have some previous knowledge of it. We are, therefore, carried back to the original institution of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3).
Some say Moses was speaking anticipatively in this passage. They contend that the Sabbath was not instituted until the law-was given on Sinai. It was peculiarly a Jewish institution; consequently it came to an end with the Jewish dispensation, and is, therefore, no longer binding. That this view is utterly false is evident from the following considerations:—
1. The language of the text—“Remember.” This implies some familiarity with the Sabbath on the part of the persons addressed.
2. It is recorded in sacred history that the Sabbath was regarded as a Divine institution, and observed as a day of peculiar sacredness before the law was given (Exodus 16:22-28).
3. This is a precept of the MORAL LAW. Moral duties can never be temporary. Nor can the application of a moral law be restricted to any particular nation. Dispensations may change or pass away, but man remains a moral being in all ages and countries; and those laws which relate to his moral nature must ever abide in full force. If the Fourth Commandment is not binding upon us, neither are the rest.
I. The design of the Sabbath. Two ideas are invariably associated with this day—rest and sanctity. It is intended to serve two great purposes:
1. A day of rest from physical toil. On this day God “rested” (Genesis 2:2; Exodus 31:17). So man is to “rest.” On this day there should be a general cessation from labour. Ordinary work must be laid aside, and only that which is necessary performed. This provision applies to the animals which serve man (Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14). Is not this day of rest a wise and benevolent appointment? We greatly undervalue it. What would be our condition without a Sabbath? Every workshop, business mart, and commercial exchange open. Hand at it. Brain at it. Pen at it. One monotonous round of work, with no break in the weary march. Can we conceive of anything more dreary? How would this no Sabbath tell upon the physical constitution? Let facts give the answer. How is the Sabbath observed as a day of rest? In some departments of activity it is difficult to distinguish it from other days—specially true of places of refreshment, public conveyances, &c. The following statistics throw a flood of light on the question:—100,000 men are employed on Sundays on our railways; another 100,000 on rivers, steamboats, and canals; 250,000 in public-houses and beer-shops; 24,000 in connection with cabs, omnibuses, and tramways in London alone, and 20,000 in the Post-office.
2. A day of holy employment. Mark the injunction: “Keep it holy.” (See also Deuteronomy 5:12; Isaiah 58:13-14). It is to be a day of rest, but not a day of idleness. The time taken from secular employments must be devoted to holy pursuits.
II. What is the practical religious value of the Sabbath?
1. It is a perpetual reminder of spiritual things. It makes men think of God, keeps eternity before then. &c.
2. It is a great conservative of good, and a powerful barrier against evil. As things are now, the moral condition of the country is dreadful. What would it be if we had no Sabbath? Some advocate the opening of museums, picture-galleries, &c. To this I offer most resolute and unqualified opposition. I do so for three reasons:—
(1.) The opening of such places is quite unnecessary. As an age of books. Books are plentiful and cheap. Working men get good wages, and can afford to buy them. They work short hours, and so have time to read them. They have frequent holidays, and may visit museums, &c., without encroaching on the Lord’s day.
(2.) It would entail labour upon others. It is unjust to compel one portion of the community to work on Sunday merely to gratify the whims and tastes of another portion.
(3.) The purpose served by these institutions is not a spiritual one, and is, therefore, unsuited to the character of this holy day. They instruct and elevate the mind, but do not purify the moral nature.
III. The duty and privilege of keeping this day. As a duty, it is binding upon us in a threefold sense.
1. It is a duty we owe to God. He made the Sabbath. He commands us to keep it.
2. It is a duty we owe to ourselves. As a day of rest it is essential to the highest condition of physical health. As a day of holy meditation and worship, it is essential to our spiritual education and growth.
3. It is a duty we owe to our fellow-men. You cannot violate the Sabbath without influencing your brother to do the same. Perhaps you directly compel him to labour for your pleasure. A privilege. It is a great privilege to be permitted to rest from exhausting toil. It is a still greater privilege to be able to devote an entire day to the interests of the soul. A Sabbath rightly spent is a foretaste of heaven; it exalts us into intimate communion with God, and elevates the whole tone of our life.—George Brooks.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 20:8-11. As a social institution, the Sunday imposes upon us an obligation to keep it as free as possible from ordinary work; but as a religious institution it does not so much impose obligation as offer privilege. The great question we have to ask, in relation to any possible infraction of its religious sanctions is not, Shall I by doing this break a law? but, Shall I by this miss a blessing? Every thing will fall into its right place, and every question will receive its true answer, if we once seize the true idea of the day. It is a day to rejoice in; a day not of bondage, but of freedom; not of gloom, but of gladness; a day in which we declare that we are not merely merchants, mechanics, shopkeepers, and lawyers, but men—children of God and heirs of immortality; a day in which we assert our position as the rulers and lords of the material universe, and refuse to be in thraldom to it, and in which we claim to be the citizens of an invisible and Divine commonwealth. It perpetuates the memory not of our rescue from slavery in Egypt, but of a still nobler redemption. It bears witness to the resurrection of Christ; and to our resurrection with Him—it is “an Easter Day in every week.” It reminds us, not of the completion of the Old Creation, but of the commencement of the New; in which at last the sins and sorrows which have marred and desolated the fair beauty of this world shall be known no more; but in which the glory of God shall be man’s inheritance, because in the life of man the life of God shall be perfectly manifested; and in this weekly rest, which has not been imposed upon us by any external law, but demanded and won by an inward spiritual instinct, we anticipate the blessedness of the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness shall dwell—the everlasting Sabbath of the regenerated and glorified sons of God.—R. W. Dale.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Sabbath-Symbolism! Exodus 20:8. The Sabbath is coeval with Paradise. Both date their existence from the first week of time, and both bear the impress of an unfallen world. There is meet harmony between the two. Hence they stand together on the same page of the Bible, and are linked inseparably together in our recollections of man’s primeval condition. As we cast our eyes backwards, they are seen shining like twin stars in the morning sky of the world, giving promise of a refulgent day. Venerable, beneficent, and holy, the Sabbath is the link between the Paradise which has passed away and the Paradise which is yet to come.
“Where that innumerable throng
Of saints and angels mingle song;—
Where, wrought with hands, no temples rise,
For God Himself their place supplies;
Nor priests are needed in the abode
Where the whole hosts are priests to God;—
Think what a Sabbath there shall be,—
The Sabbath of eternity!”—Grinfield.
Sabbath-Slaughter! Exodus 20:8. One morning, a happy cheerful Christian was on his way to the house of God. He was a singular man, prone to do things which others called “eccentric;” but his readiness of thought often proved of great service. As he walked joyfully along the way to the sanctuary, he encountered a man driving a heavily-loaded waggon through the town. No sooner had be encountered the cart than he suddenly stopped, turned around, and, lifting up both hands in horror, he exclaimed, as he grazed under the waggon. “Oh! you have gone right over the child.” The driver was frightened, brought up his horses with a jerk, and then looked down with pallid face under the wheels. He expected to find a little mangled body, but he observed nothing. Perplexed, he looked to the man who had so strangely arrested his attention, and anxiously exclaimed, “What have I gone over?” “The fourth of God’s ten offspring. ‘Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.’ ”
“Day fixed by God for intercourse with dust,
To raise our thoughts and purify our powers,
Periods appointed to renew our trust;
A gleam of glory after six days’ showers!”—Barton.
Sabbath-Steadfastness! Exodus 20:8.
(1) Recently, the Queen’s bandmaster required the members to attend rehearsal on Sunday, on account of some special performances before Her Majesty. Two Germans refused to desecrate the Lord’s Day, and were dismissed by the master without the knowledge of the Queen. The Bishop of London heard of the incident and reported it to Her Majesty, who, on the day of performance, inquired for the absentees. The bandmaster acknowledged the dismissal, whereupon the Queen ordered their instant restoration, declaring that none in her service should suffer for “remembering the Lord’s day to keep it holy.”
(2) In New York, an esteemed clerk was required by the manager of the bank to attend next day (Sunday), and help to make up the back work. As a Christian he could not comply. The president threatened him with dismissal, but to no purpose. He steadily refused to “forget the Sabbath day,” and was dismissed. Some time after, when a new branch was opened, the president was asked to recommend a thoroughly trustworthy manager. He at once nominated the clerk whom he had dismissed, and the nomination was sanctioned. He felt the force of sterling Christian principle displayed in so praiseworthy a manner.
“Let us say to the world, should it tempt us to wander,
As Abraham said to his men on the plain,
There’s the mountain of prayer, I am going up yonder,
And tarry yon here till I seek you again.”
Exodus 20:12. Upon the land.] More exactly: “upon the ground” or “soil” (’adhamah, not ’eretz); a term happily used of a people destined to become a nation of agriculturists. Patriotism clings fondly to the “soil” on which a people’s fathers have trod.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:12
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT
I. Who are we to honour? “Thy father and thy mother.” They have given birth to their children. They have educated them. They have provided for their wants in days of infancy and weakness. They love them as no one else can. They watch them with intense interest, in the opening of their minds to truth, and in their progress in social and commercial life. They are over them in the Lord; and children must give honour not merely in the social and domestic life, but in the moral aspects of the relationship.
II. How are we to honour them? Not by mere verbal expressions of respect; but by true reverence, by constant affection, by untiring obedience, and by every effort calculated to enhance their welfare and delight. Speak well of your parents. Take care of them in old age. Never cause them pain by evil doing. Always commend them to God.
III. Why are we to honour them? “That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” It is well to observe that this is the only one of the commandments which has a distinct promise connected with it. Hence the apostle says, “Children, obey your parents, which is the first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:12). “Children, obey your parents, that it may be well with you.” We may contrast this with another passage: “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother.” Children must honour their parents. Because God has commanded it, because blessing will be attached to it, because the high relationship demands it, because self-respect prompts it, and because in the future they will need a like regard.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 20:12. Some young people may say that their parents are not lovable, and that therefore they cannot love them; not wise, and that therefore they cannot respect them; that they are unreasonable, capricious, and selfish; that they have vices of temper and speech, and, perhaps, vices of a still grosser kind; and that therefore it is simply impossible to honour them. I think that there are not a few children in our days who are disposed to take this ground, and to maintain it as a principle. Our parents have a right to just that measure of respect and affection from us, which they can claim on the ground of their intelligence and worth, no more and no less. At first sight this looks reasonable enough. There is very much to be said for that view of matters. How can I love any one who has very little in her to love, simply because she happens to be my mother? How can I respect any one in whom there is nothing to respect, simply because he happens to be my father? The movements of the heart and the decisions of the judgment are and must be altogether independent of mere relationship, and are determined by the character and power of the people with whom we have to do. That looks very philosophical, no doubt. But, my philosophic young friend, how would it have fared with you if your father and mother had had the same ideas about your claims on them? You want your parents to stand on the same ground as other men and women, and to be loved and respected according to their personal merits, just as if they had no natural relationship to you; what would have happened if they had been equally philosophical and impartial, and if they had given you only as much affection and care as you seemed to deserve, or as you claimed on the ground of your helplessness; if, in short, they had justified themselves in ignoring any special obligation to love you and to care for you, beyond the obligation which would have rested on them to love and care for any child that happened to come into their hands?—R. W. Dale.
The notices of the childhood and youth of Jesus Christ in the Word of God are very few. But let us look now at His obedience to His earthly parents. He honoured them, first by being “subject to them;” He was obedient; He was “full of grace and truth;” He grew in wisdom daily. His understanding and His answers astonished all that heard them, even the most learned doctors of the day; and yet this Son went down to Nazareth with His parents, and was subject to them. What a lesson for all is this! He who was higher than the kings of the earth was subject to His parents; He honoured His father; He obeyed them. And nothing can excuse a child from this duty; it belongs to the relation, and what God has joined no man may put asunder. We find the greatest characters in the Word of God honouring their parents, Joseph, though governor of Egypt, bowed himself with his face to the earth before his father Jacob; and Solomon, the most magnificent of all earthly kings, honoured his mother with the same reverence, rising up to meet her and bowing himself unto her, and giving her the place of honour at his right hand; and “behold a greater than Solomon is here,” “who was subject unto His parents”—not merely courteous and reverential, as the examples I have mentioned may have been, but “subject” unto them, obedient to them. Nor should I conceive, dear friends that age in the least interferes with this duty on the part of children, but that obedience is due from the child to the parent as long as the relationship exists. There may be a variety of reasons why the parent should have no occasion to exercise his authority; but should occasion arise, I conceive that the child, however advanced in years, is in no sense exempt from obedience; because we shall see, as we go on, that the parent is certainly not exempt from the exercise of authority.—J. W. Reeve, M.A.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Parental Honour! Exodus 20:12. When, after the delivery of the law on Mount Sinai, the commandments were graven on two tables of stone, this was placed first upon the second. It is the first commandment with promise. A little boy was once asked in school to explain the fifth commandment. Instead of trying to do so, he covered his face with his hands to hide his blushes, and said, “Yesterday I showed a strange gentleman over the mountain, and the sharp stones cut my feet. When the gentleman saw that they were bleeding, he gave me some money to buy shoes. I gave it to mother, for she had no shoes either, and! thought that I could very well go barefoot to honour my mother.”
“Thou shalt honour thy mother, whose love unto thee
The greatest of God’s earthly blessings shall be.”
Filial Faithfulness! Exodus 20:12. George Washington, when quite young, was about to go to sea as a midshipman. Everything was in readiness. His trunk had been taken on board the boat, and he went to bid his mother farewell. Seeing her distress, he turned to the servant, saying: “Go and tell them to fetch my trunk back, for I will not go away to break my mother’s heart.” His mother. struck with his decision, and with mingled tears of joy and sorrow, assured him that God would bless him for thus honouring his mother. And the assurance was realised. The name of General Washington is a world-wide word of valiancy, integrity, and piety. We say that “now we see through a glass darkly.” Suppose, when all is clear in the eternal world, we discover that had Washington gone to sea he would have met with an untimely—or unhonoured—death, whereas by honouring his mother his days were long in the land of his birth.
“How sweet, when we hear the commandment to say,
‘Lord, if THOU wilt help me, I’ll strive to obey;
I’ll bend down the force of my own stubborn will,
And bid every passionate feeling be still.’ ”
Filial Folly! Exodus 20:12. In Deuteronomy 27:16 we read these solemn words: “Cursed be he that setteth light by father or mother.” In Proverbs 30:17, God speaks in this awful way: “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out.” In Western Pennsylvania dwelt an Irishman, who had been wealthy at one time. He had an only son, whose wild and wicked ways reduced the father to poverty. With shattered health and fading sight—poor, blind, friendless, and forsaken—the old man found shelter in the Franklin almshouses. One day the wicked and ungrateful son was passing through the city, and was urged to visit his kind father, whom he had ruined. He refused to do so, and proceeded on his journey. A severe storm overtook him, and he caught a severe cold. It fastened on his eyes, from which all sight soon entirely fled. Poverty came; and on the very day that the dead corpse of the father was borne out, his living corpse was borne into the Franklin almshouse. He was put into the same room—died in the same bed—and was borne forth to the same grave.
“Thou shalt honour thy father, the guide of thy youth,
And yield him the homage of love and of truth.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:13
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
One great source of mischief to society is disrespect to parents; against this God has guarded His people, by directing them to “honour their father and their mother.” Another great source of evil in the world is to be found in the angry passions of men, which have hurried them on to thousands of violent and cruel actions against each other. God has given this command in His Word, “Thou shalt not kill.” In order to see the true tendency of our corrupt nature in this matter, we must go to those lands in which the counteracting influence of Christianity is unknown. In heathen lands now interminable wars and private murders quite thin the population. Look at civilised nations; contemplate the wars in which they have been engaged. The passions which lead to war are here condemned.
I. Let us look at its meaning—“Thou shalt not kill.” This command is not to be taken in an unlimited sense, as prohibiting all bloodshed, because there are certain limitations to it which the Word of God lays down, and it is one amongst many passages of Scripture which show that we must constantly seek for those limitations which God has set. God has Himself shown that there are some cases in which bloodshed is not only allowable, but right (Genesis 9:5). Long after, when the old Mosaic law was established, the life of a murderer was by that law to be taken, and there was to be no atonement made. It is thus God’s will that the murderer should be put to death. Nay, further, it is His will that other intolerable evils which would otherwise overrun society should be checked forcibly; and if, in the effort to prevent them, blood be taken, it is agreeable to His will (Exodus 22:2). Defensive wars may be placed upon this ground: if the thief, who broke into a dwelling, was to be resisted even to death, it must be agreeable to the Divine will that, when a multitude of men combine to overrun a peaceable community, they should be put to death. Human life may be taken when necessary to the repression of violent crimes, it may not be taken on the mere plea of expediency. But to take away human life on any other pretext whatever—to take it away from revenge or passion—to take it away unjustly, under colour of law or without law, by means of the magistrate or by personal violence—is absolutely contrary to the express will of God. It is contrary to His will that we should take away our own lives. Suicide leaves no space for repentance. It closes life by an act of rebellion against God. Even heathens could speak of the cowardice of suicide; because it never springs from any other cause than a man’s incapability of bearing the sorrow which Divine Providence has imposed upon him, or which arises from his own fault. But we especially refer this command to others. Sometimes it has happened that men have taken away the life of a fellow-creature by means of unjust and oppressive laws. That was no justification for their conduct in the sight of God; it must be murder, because they were the direct cause. If a man has made use of another as his instrument in attempting to murder, he is the murderer in God’s sight. David, rather than Joab, was the murderer of Uriah. Cruelty leads to murder, as in the case of the oppressed slave. Excessive work leads to murder, and those who require it are guilty of murder. But the command of God bids us bind those angry passions which tend to murder. We are called to check all strife (Proverbs 17:14). We must avoid hatred, as it leads to strife. In the Word of God, hatred is said to be murder. We must not permit the feeling of revenge (Matthew 5:39). Envy is also the source of murder; resist it. This occasioned the first murder; it nearly wrought the death of Joseph. Resist pride, as by pride cometh contention. Also the command not to kill, enjoins upon us the cherishing those opposite affections by which the temptation to kill shall be destroyed, and those passions controlled which are the first step to murder. Instead of indulging revenge, we are told, “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink,” &c. Instead of allowing ourselves to hate our fellows, the command is given that we should cherish brotherly kindness. Instead of being allowed to envy our fellow-creatures because of their superior merit, we are told to honour all men Instead of indulging pride, we are to be subject one to another. We are to love our enemies, &c.
II. How we may strengthen this principle of obedience which we are called to cherish. When God has said to us, “Thou shalt not kill,” He has enjoined upon each of us to take the means, which are prescribed in the Word or presented by circumstances, by which we may secure obedience to that command. Prayer is necessary; thus grace comes to the soul. We have no reason to expect the aid of God, except we ask it. We must present to our minds those considerations which tend to strengthen the principle of obedience. Think of the authority of God in enacting this law; He calls us to repress all angry passions. Let us remember God’s forbearance to us, and that He loved us while enemies. Take care to avoid the beginning of strife; if called to it in the way of duty guard the motives. Be careful in your friendships; make no friendship with an angry man. Let us guard all prejudices against others. Let us not fancy evil against any one. Let us form those habits which cherish all the purest and best affections. Let us enter upon this duty in dependence upon God’s grace. There are many motives to it. It will bring us many personal comforts; it tends to give us the purest and most steadfast happiness on this side of eternity, and to prepare us for that celestial abode where no angry passion enters. It is calculated to benefit society and to adorn the doctrine of Christ.—B. W. Noel, M.A.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Murder-Memories! Exodus 20:13. Amongst the numerous converts to God amongst the Red Indians of N.W. America was a great chief, noted for his many savage murders. When brought to a saving knowledge of the truth, his exclamation was, “Oh! why did you not come sooner; and then those whom I have killed would have heard those glad tidings.” During a long and useful Christian old age, he frequently lamented the fact that he had by death prevented some of his fellow-creatures from hearing the Gospel’s joyful sound. Even in the closing scene of life, his thoughts wandered to these murdered ones, whether he should meet them in the other world. He felt how awful a thing it was, even in heathen ignorance, to send a fellow-creature, whether friend or foe, unprepared into eternity. He had never read Shakespeare, but he still could enter into the feelings of Hamlet’s ghost, who dwells so much on the fact that he was killed
“With all his sins broad blown,
Unhonselled, unanointed, unannealed.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:14
THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT
Among the various, the innumerable proofs, which God has given of His perfect goodness, the institution of marriage is one of the most beneficent; and it shows especially and abundantly His goodness to fallen man. Those who have not entered this endeared relation, feel in the midst of the world a solitude of the heart. In this relationship there is every circumstance calculated to promote human happiness. Other relationships are often interrupted and broken in upon by opposite interests; but, through the goodness of God, the interests of man and wife are one. Other relations are often separated by the circumstances of life; but a husband and his wife are united for ever. Yet man is so perverse and foolish that he will cast aside this happiness. An adulterous man breaks many vows, and destroys the happiness of an entire family.
I. In this command, God has forbidden unfaithfulness towards a husband or towards a wife; having attached to it, both under the law and the Gospel, the most fearful penalties. Then the adulterer and the adulteress were to be put to death. Now we are told that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But this commandment forbids any previous step in a course of infamy,—any kind of incentive to impurity is forbidden by the pure morality of the Gospel. Indecent conversation. Immodesty in dress. All evil thoughts.
II. Rules favourable to moral chastity.
1. To mortify any evil propensity. We are commanded by the Word of God to put to death any corrupt inclination.
2. We must endeavour to strengthen the spirituality of our minds. “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God; set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
3. Seek the society and the friendship of those who are themselves good and holy. If a person loves the good he has a natural distaste for the society of the abandoned and the wicked. Just in proportion as virtuous affections obtain the dominion in our hearts, vicious passions are subdued.
4. Fill up lime with wholesome and right employments. Even those that are not in themselves of a high and elevating character, but are the lowest kind of duty to which any man can be called, have this excellent effect; they are calculated to occupy the thoughts, to interest the mind, and to prevent the thoughts becoming vagrant after that which is in itself corrupt.
5. Observe the rules of temperance in all things, in eating, sleeping, and drinking. We owe a duty to society at large. We must secure our personal purity and lessen the amount of vice found in the world. Society ought to frown upon vice. No government ought to employ an avowed libertine. The public journals ought to brand him with infamy.—W. B. Noel, M.A.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Passion-Power! Exodus 20:14. One bright July morning, I was driving to town. As I came to the top of the hill just above the bridge, on the outskirts of the place, a little boy, from a cottage on the north side of the road, fired off a small cannon. He was so near the road, the cannon made so big a noise, and the whole thing came so unexpectedly, that my little bay pony took fright, and shied, with a spring, to the other side of the road. He not only overturned the carriage in doing so, but was with great difficulty reined in and prevented from running away. “You should not fire your cannon so near the road,” said I to the boy, after I had got the pony somewhat quiet; “you frightened my horse badly, and nearly made him run away.” “I didn’t mean to do it,” said he, “but it got agoing before I saw the horse, and then I couldn’t stop it.” I said no more, but drove on, thinking of the boy’s answer, as I have often thought of it since, though all this happened years ago. “Couldn’t stop it!” How often, when we start “lust,” there is no stopping. Do not begin, and the difficulty will not arise It will not get “agoing.”
“But if once we let them reign,
They sweep with desolating train,
Till they but leave a hated name,
A ruined soul, a blackened fame.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:15
THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: VARIETIES IN THEFT
Man is not to regard himself as an individual unit—as living for himself alone—but as forming part of the great aggregate of humanity. The promotion of his true welfare is the promotion of the welfare of the whole community of which he forms a part. He who wrongs the community wrongs himself; and also he who wrongs himself wrongs the community. A man by stealing thinks to enrich himself; but he is certainly impoverishing himself in the long run, as well as doing injury to his neighbour, so that the man who is a faithful keeper of the law obtains a reflex blessing. In seeking his neighbour’s good a man is promoting his own highest welfare.
I. We must not rob ourselves. It might be supposed that selfishness would prevent us violating this precept, but selfishness overleaps itself, and is suicidal. The selfish are those who are self-spoliators. The selfish man robs himself of happiness at least; and in most cases hinders himself from becoming truly wealthy. Matthew Henry very pithily observes—“This command forbids us to rob ourselves of what we have by sinful spending, or of the use and comfort of it by sinful sparing.” The prodigal robbed himself by sinful spending and was reduced to starvation. We must not rob ourselves either by wasting our money or our time, or by misusing our privileges, or by abusing Divine gifts, or by letting pride and prejudice prevent us receiving gospel blessings. There are duties which a man owes to himself. There is a sense in which a man must live to himself.
II. We must not rob our neighbours. Human laws very generally enforce this Divine law, “Thou shalt not steal,” as a precept to be observed with regard to material property. Human governments have instinctively recognised the Divinity, and the necessity to social welfare, of a great part of the Mosaic Decalogue; and on what principle some are regarded as Divine and as perpetually binding, and others as not so, we fail to perceive! Material stealing is a crime universally abhorred. How comes it to pass that intellectual stealing is not more generally reprobated? Great changes would take place in the literary world if over every desk of the writer, and if over every pulpit of the preacher were written, and were duly observed the words, “Thou shalt not steal.” We may repeat the question, Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Dost thou attempt to shine in borrowed plumage? Dost thou unblushingly appropriate the intellectual wealth of others? There is also moral theft. Every man who lowers the moral tone is stealing. Every man who undermines public virtue is stealing. There are many thieves who are regarded as honest men. There are thieves everywhere, but we shrink from calling things and men by their right names. A periphrastic mode of utterance may mean national decline, as well as the advance of civilisation.
III. We must not rob God. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation.” We rob God more frequently than we rob men. There are those who are regarded as honest by their fellows who have robbed God. A man has no right to steal himself from God. The creature is the Creator’s property, and the creature who does not use himself for the Creator’s glory is guilty of stealing. And in thus robbing God we rob ourselves much more. We must be honest to ourselves, honest to our neighbours; and perfect honesty is only secured when we are honest to our God. Godward honesty will make manward dishonesty an impossibility. Then masters will not steal from servants, nor servants from masters. Then justice will be rightly administered. Then kings will rule in the fear of God. Then nations will not steal from nations. Oh, for the bright day when all shall seek to understand and to obey the comprehensive and farreaching command, “Thou shalt not steal!”—W. Burrows, B.A.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Theft-Tests! Exodus 20:15. Years ago, in Edinburgh, lived a “gang of body-snatchers.” It was common for gipsies to steal children from their homes. The Arabs of East Africa are designated “men-stealers;” while some white traders under the Southern Cross are termed kidnappers. All these are regarded as heinous breakers of the Eighth Commandment. But this “eighth of God’s moral offspring” may be slain and set at defiance by others. Very recently a man of eminence stole a rare volume from the Metropolitan Library, though he would have cut off his hands rather than steal the money it was worth. He steals, who robs God of the honour due unto His Name; and so does she who plunders her own soul of those precious moments given for solemn preparations for eternity. The self-plunderer thus seriously breaks God’s law; how much more, then, the robber of God? To withhold part of the price of our obligations to God is the most aggravated form of theft.
“Higher yet this sin extends;
For it steals the spirit’s love
From the very best of Friends—
Robbing e’en the God above.”
Theft-Trouble! Exodus 20:15. Phœbe was tempted along with other girls to gather plums in a neighbouring orchard. On bringing home some of the fruit, her mother mildly reproved her, and said that she ought not to have gathered the plums without leave, because it was sin: God had commanded her not to steal. The child, not being sensible of the evil before, seemed greatly surprised, and bursting into tears cried, “I cannot touch these plums.” The other children did not seem much concerned, but there was no pacifying Phœbe. She returned the plums to the owner; yet still she was full of grief. To every inquiry, her reply was, “Oh, it was sin”—sin against God. Phœbe never forgot to old age the solemn lesson, “It was sin.”
“I must not nurse within my soul
One spark of sin’s unhallowed fire;
Or yield my heart to the control
Of aught that speaks a wrong desire.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:16
THE NINTH COMMANDMENT: THE POWER OF THE TONGUE FOR EVIL
Human codes take cognisance of theft and of murder, and seek to repress them by severe punishment; but they do not punish for theft and murder committed by the tongue. We acknowledge the power of the human hand, but too often forget the power for evil of the human tongue. In this the Divine code is for the most part superior to human codes. The tongue can steal and can murder. It may kill a neighbour’s reputation. It may rob of that the loss of which makes him poor indeed and does not enrich the thief.
I. The violation of this command destroys the witnesser’s moral manhood. This is a species of lying. All falsehood is base. It is the outcome of baseness. and increases the baseness. Every man who bears false witness does himself more moral damage than he does to the neighbour of whom the false testimony is given.
II. The violation of this command does injustice to our neighbour. It may do him no moral harm, but does him great social damage. It places him in a false position. The court may disbelieve and reject the false testimony, but the man has been injured by being subjected to an examination. It is extremely difficult for a man to clear away all the dirt which has been thrown by the false-witness bearer. Many a man’s reputation has been darkened all his life by the malicious tales of the bearer of false-witness.
III. The violation of this command prevents the course of justice. The administrators of law cannot move with certainty when witnesses are not reliable. Witnesses are not likely to tell a false tale, if appearances are not against the accused. It requires great sagacity to separate the true from the false, to get above mere appearances, and discover the correct state of the case.
IV. More generally notice that the violation of this command degrades. The tale-bearer revealeth secrets; and depraved human nature loves to hear evil secrets revealed. The slanderer may be welcomed, but is not respected. And ultimately his tales are received with suspicion. He is in danger of being cast out as an evil spirit. The man who to me slanders my neighbour, will in turn slander me to my neighbour; and if we are wise we shall not lend him our ears.
V. The violation of this command robs the slanderer of his capital. In modern society especially reputation is as much capital as the current coin of the realm. It is true that character remains when reputation is destroyed. This may be some consolation to the man sitting amid the ruins; but when reputation is gone a man’s social position is gone. It may also be true that a man’s well-known character will tend to preserve his reputation; but if sufficient dirt is thrown some of it is sure to stick. Slanderers are the bane of society. What suffering they inflict! They have embittered the lives of the purest and the holiest. We must pray God to hide us safe in His pavilion from the strife of unruly tongues.—W. Burrows, B.A.
Bearing false witness covers the whole case of those sins which transgress more or less of the whole truth; and one who fails in a given case to tell the whole truth is more or less amenable to this law. Observe apart from deliberate lying—
I. That we may bear false witness by equivocation.
II. That we may bear false witness by the suppression of any essential element that goes to make up the whole truth; e.g., in revealing an incident which affects our neighbour’s character.
III. That we may bear false witness by putting a wrong connection on and giving a wrong emphasis to the words of another.
IV. That we may bear false witness without the utterance of a word.
(1.) By neglecting to defend a slandered character, silence implying consent.
(2.) By a shrug of the shoulders, a compression of the lips, a motion of the hand, is quite enough to ruin a reputation or a soul. To avoid this and its heavy condemnation; (i.) Seek to become like Him who is “the Truth;” (ii.) be open and candid in all your ways; and (iii.) give others credit for what you demand for yourself.—J. W. Burn.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
False-Witness! Exodus 20:16. This commandment requires us to keep our tongues from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering. In the garden of Eden, Satan bore false witness against God by telling Eve that she would not die if she ate of the forbidden fruit. Every one, therefore, who lies, slanders, or speaks evil of his neighbour, is becoming like Satan. It is said that there is one place in India where, when a person is found guilty of false witness, he is taken to a public place, and in the presence of a multitude of people his mouth is sewed up. It is to be feared that such a penalty inflicted impartially on such offenders in England would produce startling stillness of speech. Still greater would be the silence, were the mouths of all who gave ear
“With greediness, or wittingly their tongues
Made herald to his lies, around him sewed.”
Scandal-Seed! Exodus 20:16. The story is told of a woman who freely used her tongue to the scandal of others, and made confessions to the priest of what she had done. He gave her a ripe thistle-top, and told her to go out in various directions and scatter the seeds one by one. Wondering at the penance, she obeyed, and returned and told her confessor. To her amazement, he bade her go back and gather the scattered seeds; and when she objected that it would be impossible, he replied that it would be still more difficult to gather up and destroy all the evil reports she had circulated about others. Any thoughtless, careless child, can scatter a handful of thistle-seeds before the wind in a moment, but the strongest and wisest man cannot gather them again. And the “thistle-seeds” need not be of the tongue. False witness is too often borne by
“The hint malevolent, the look oblique,
The obvious satire, or implied dislike,
The sneer equivocal, the harsh reply,
And all the cruel language of the eye.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:17
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: INORDINATE DESIRE
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s.” “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Here are two closely related commands. The negative and positive aspect of a perfectly righteous man’s life. “Thou shalt not” may go far enough for children; but “Thou shalt” is a step higher. The perfect one must not only refrain from injuring a neighbour, but embrace him with the arms of love. The man who can say he has kept the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” has gained a high moral elevation, but he has not yet climbed the sublime moral heights of him who loves the neighbour even as if the neighbour were himself. Love is compatible with desire, but it is not consistent with inordinate desire. Love thinketh no evil; and the covetous man is an envious man, is an evil-thinking man, is a man given to dismal brooding. Love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own; but the covetous is most unseemly in his behaviour—the covetous not only seeks his own with great zeal, but seeks by fair means or by foul to get possession of that which is not his own. My very love for a friend may increase my admiration of his perfections, and thus lead me to desire them, but it will prevent me looking upon him with an envious gaze; it will keep me from being discontented. 1 shall rejoice in his perfections and possessions as if they were mine. Indeed my love makes them mine. They afford me as much pleasure as they do to him whom the world considers the true owner.
I. The violation of this command arraigns the wisdom of Providence. Some men may blame not Divine Providence, but their own improvedence, for the fact that they are not surrounded by all material blessings. We too often make Providence responsible for the evils under which we groan. But having done our best, and having been beaten in the race, we arraign the wisdom of Providence when we covet the winner’s prize. The disposal of human events is of the Lord. We must believe that the hand of God gives riches, and beauties, and pleasures to some, and withholds from others. And we must not arraign the wisdom which guides the hand by coveting our neighbour’s possessions.
II. The violation of this command disturbs the balance of society. It disturbs the harmony of all societies, both communistic and non-communistic. The early Church tried all things in common, but covetousness threw its withering blast over the fair ideal. Covetousness is the worm which destroys every booth which communism erects for a shadow. Covetousness leads the rich to oppress the poor; and causes the poor to combine for the destruction of the rich.
III. The violation of this command produces criminal deeds. The desire is inordinate, irrepressible. It consumes and destroys all right moral feelings in the man. No stone must be left unturned for the gratification of the forbidden lust. Every barrier must be thrown down that intervenes between the man and the coveted boon. Guile shall accomplish the purpose. But if guile fail, then force must be applied.
IV. The violation of this command embitters existence. A man may have sufficient worldly prudence left so as not to permit his covetousness to lead him into criminality. He may have sufficient self-control to stop just where the police meet him, or human law traces its lines. But his life is stripped of all pleasure. The cup he constantly drinks is very bitter, and his covetousness has prepared the ingredients. Envy is the rottenness of the bones. And where there is no envy there will be no covetousness.
V. This command can only be kept in the spirit of the Gospel. Love will enable us to fulfil the law, and this special law requires a special love. The Gospel teaches the true brotherhood of humanity. Covetousness is a thing of the darkness and cannot live in the clear light of brotherly love. Brotherhood is destroyed when covetousness takes possession of the soul. We need not only more brotherliness, but more motherliness. For a brother may covet a brother’s goods, but a mother could never covet a child’s goods. Oh, for this highest love 1 Oh, for the true spirit of Christ! Oh, for this power to look not with covetous eyes, but with complacent gaze upon the things of others!—W. Burrows, B.A.
That this law is of vast importance is seen—
1. From its position in the code. It is the last.
2. From the fact that it is one of the secret sins of the heart.
3. From the fact that it is the root and mainspring of every other evil. God’s Word gives illustrations which can be multiplied in every experience of the breach of the other commandment through it (cf. James 1:14-15); idolatry and kindred crimes (Colossians 3:5): Sabbath breaking (Numbers 15:32); dishonour to parents (Luke 15:0); murder, David and Uriah; adultery, David and Bathsheba (Romans 1:29); theft (Micah 2:2); lying (2 Timothy 3:2; 2 Peter 2:3). Learn—
I. That covetousness is possible in many forms.
1. We may covet our neighbour’s property, money, house, dress, &c.
2. We may covet our neighbour’s abilities.
3. We may covet our neighbour’s reputation.
4. We may covet our neighbour’s friendships.
II. That covetousness is punished in many ways.
1. It is abhorred by God (Psalms 10:3).
2. It is condemned by God (Habakkuk 2:9).
3. It involves exclusion from Church membership.
4. It disqualifies for heaven (1 Corinthians 6:10).
III. That covetousness may be avoided in all its forms.
1. By purification of the heart (Mark 7:22).
2. By effectual fervent prayer (Psalms 119:36).
3. By godly contentment (1 Timothy 6:6; Philippians 4:11-14; Philippians 4:19).
4. By earnest coveting of the best gift.
IV. That God’s blessing rests upon them that hate it in many ways (Proverbs 28:16).—J. W. Burn.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Covetousness! Exodus 20:17. In the backwoods of Canada the forests have to be cleared for farms. The trees are cut down, but the roots remain. Efforts have been made to burn them, but this method is only partially successful. Some one has, however, invented a “root extractor,” which has huge iron hooks and a crank connected with very powerful machinery. In this way the tough gnarled roots are torn up. The human heart is like the uncleared prairie. It has many twisted roots, and amongst the worst is that of “covetousness.” Men, women, and children have these roots in their hearts. Hippocrates, in his letter to Cratena, an herbalist, gives this good counsel: “If it is possible, among other herbs, cut up that weed covetousness by the roots that there be none left; for know this of a certainty, that by so doing your patients will soon be cured in mind and body.” Diodorus Siculus relates that the forest of the Pierian mountains being set on fire, and the heat penetrating to the soil, a pure stream of silver gushed forth from the bosom of the earth. The best dissolver of the spirit of covetousness is the fire of gospel love. When it burns up the growth of worldliness, silver lodes of self-denial and devotedness flow out from the human heart; for, says the Bible, out of the heart are the issues of life.
“Is there, then, naught above
That we may covet to possess?
Yes, there’s the Saviour’s boundless love,
With which He waits my soul to bless.”
Exodus 20:19. We will hear.] Kalisch happily remarks that “in the word v‘nishma‘AH, with the he paragogicum, lies the readiness and willingness: ‘we will eagerly and gladly hear.’ ”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:18-21
THE SUPERFICIAL AND THE PROFOUND
The law was given under circumstances of great solemnity. Nature assumed her sternest aspect; and spoke in tones of thunder. All was calculated to impart deep and striking emphasis to every enactment given forth by the world’s great legislator. The whole scene was so appalling that the people were filled with terror. When we think of our own emotions as we listen to the thunder’s deep base, or watch the lightning’s vivid flash, we are not surprised that these people were alarmed. Let us, however, seek to get a correct view of Divine proceedings, and thus gain confidence.
I. Superficial views of Divine proceedings induce fear. Superficial views are always dangerous, though they may not always lead to fear. The superficial man is bold through his very shallowness. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Ignorant men are not troubled with doubts. They sometimes speak with repellant fluency and painful dogmatism upon subjects they have never thoroughly studied and much less mastered. Nevertheless, superficial views are dangerous, and lead to great mistakes. They did so in this case. The people said unto Moses, “Speak thou with us and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Their fear led them to prefer the human and to reject the Divine. This is the history of fearing and deluded humanity. Human voices are followed through a mistaken sense of safety. Divine voices are rejected through baseless terror. The world follows the teaching of the priests, instead of listening to the still small voice of the Infinite. And the world is thus led fearfully astray; for earthly priests are not constituted after the Mosaic type. Our fears are the result of our sins; for conscience doth make cowards of us all. Earthly and self-seeking priests take advantage of our fears; but not so Moses, he was the world’s sublime prophet.
II. Profound views of Divine proceedings encourage confidence. The voice of the earthly priest is fear; but the exhortation of the Heavenly Priest is, Fear not. The former carries on his trade by increasing the fears of the people; but the latter, with Divine benevolence, seeks to encourage a legitimate confidence. Moses had profound views of Divine proceedings, therefore his exhortation. A correct understanding will remove terror; it often does so in things temporal. The lions produce terror, until we get a further revelation and find that they are chained. It must do so in things moral. God is to be feared in the assembly of His saints, but He is not to be regarded with terror. Fear not, is the exhortation of Moses; Fear not, is the exhortation of Jesus Christ, of whom Moses was an eminent type. If men were to fear not in the presence of the mount that might not be touched, how much more may we say, Fear not, to men who see the mount which is bright with the light of Divine love?
III. Profound views of Divine proceedings lead to a correct understanding of Divine purposes. “For God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” Shallow views lead to disastrous mistakes. The religion of mere sentiment will be a religion of terror. We must think upon the Divine ways, and then shall we turn our feet unto the Divine testimonies, and understand more correctly the deep things of God. Here is a seeming paradox, fear not and yet fear. Fear not with slavish terror; but fear as loving children. Fear not with that terror which makes you shrink from the Divine voice; but fear so as to shrink from that which the Divine voice forbids. The purpose of Divine proceedings is that His people may be proved. Nature herself tests man’s powers. His power of labour and of endurance are tested. The phenomena of nature may become great moral tests. The thunder’s peal and the lightning’s flash may develop a true manhood. God comes to prove His people, not always by the thunder and the lightning and the smoking mountain, but by the common events of our daily life. Disappointments in business, defeats in ambitious projects, a new and seemingly unpromising opening in life, disorders in the family or in the nation, sickness, and bereavement, are the pathways along which God travels to prove His beloved. The ultimate purpose of all Divine methods is that His people sin not. The terrors of the Jewish economy were to keep people from transgression. The love and grace of the Gospel are intended to promote holiness. Jesus came to save people from their sins, to deliver them from moral bondage and corruption.
IV. The unenlightened and the fearing stand afar off. “And the people stood afar off.” There is no reason to keep away from God. He invites and welcomes to Himself the children of men. We do not get to ourselves the true knowledge of the Divine Fatherhood, and therefore we keep at a distance. The prodigal felt himself unworthy to be called his father’s son, until he understood the greatness of the father’s love. Let us pray for more light. Let us consider that God is our Father in heaven, bending down with loving gaze and deep interest to us His children upon the earth. And why should we keep away from a Father’s love? Why should we shut out the light of a Father’s compassion? Why should we stand afar off, when we may be embraced by the arms of the Eternal?
V. But the heaven-taught are taken into the thick darkness where the true light appears. Moses drew near, or, more correctly, was made to draw near, unto the thick darkness where God was. The rabbis suppose that God called unto Moses, and encouraged him, and sent an angel to take him by the hand, and to lead him up. This may be a mere fancy, but it has its foundation in fact. God’s encouraging call is heard in the hearts of the faithful. God’s guiding angels lead by the hand God’s faithful ones into the thick darkness where the true light appears. The pure in heart shall see God. At first the vision may seem only like thick darkness, but soon it will be one of celestial splendours. This is often the Divine method through the thick darkness into the Divine celestial splendour. Through the thick darkness of earlier formations into the light, and glory of the finished creation. Through the thick darkness of the law into the light of the Gospel. Through the darkness of repentance into the light of pardon. Through the darkness of this world, and through the deeper darkness of death, into the land of unclouded light and unsullied glory.
—W. Burrows, B.A.
GOD’S REVELATION OF HIMSELF.—Exodus 20:18-20
God’s revelation of His law was accompanied by a revelation of Himself. What was this but a symbolic promise that He would be with them and enable them to keep His law. Cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:20; Luke 14:4-9. We have dealt with this subject under other aspects before, (see on Exodus 19:14-25). Here we have the mode, the reception, the comfort. Notice—
I. That the mode of this revelation was striking. Exodus 20:18.
1. Such a mode was necessary
(1.) to reveal God’s majesty to men familiar with the puerilities of heathen worship;
(2.) to show that God was not to be trifled with and His laws broken with impunity;
(3.) to meet the case of those—and the Israelites in general were such—who are open only to impression which can be made upon their fear.
2. Such a mode served some of the most important functions of the old dispensation.
(1.) Galatians 3:24, cf. John 1:17. It was preparatory to the mild and beneficent grace of Jesus Christ that by contrast with it the latter might be the more welcome. It was the storm before the calm, the night before the day. See also Hebrews 12:18.
(2.) It was a symbol of the workings of the law in an awakened conscience before the blessing and liberty of the Gospel of Christ (Romans 7:8).
3. Such a mode was appropriate as accompanying judicial proceedings. It was the same
(1) at the flood;
(2) at the destruction of the cities of the plain;
(3) it will be so at the last day (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 20:0.) &c. &c.
II. That the reception of this revelation was what God intended it should be.
1. It was intelligent. “All the people saw it.”
(1.) Revelation is not an appeal to credulity, but to reasonable faith. Its evidences and credentials all appeal to the intelligence of man.
(2.) The people saw what God intended them to see, not merely a spectacle which it would be difficult to forget, but the manifestation of Himself in it. So many painful providences tax our energies to see the meaning of them; but if our eyes are opened we shall see Him there (2 Kings 6:14-17).
2. It was reverent. “They removed and stood afar off.”
(1.) This was reasonable; undue familiarity would have been shocking.
(2.) This was exemplary. Many Christians in their references to the person, words, or works of God, may learn a profitable lesson from it.
(3.) This should be usual (Exodus 3:5; Ecclesiastes 6:0).
3. It was prayerful. Exodus 20:9.
(1.) This shows the natural and reasonable yearning of man’s heart for a mediator.
(2.) This shows how desirable it is that the mediator should be man.
(3.) This shows that the benefit of mediation is mercifully accepted by God.
III. That the comfort of that revelation disarmed it of all its terrors.
1. God had spoken. The God of their fathers. Their Redeemer. The God who had promised to bless them if they would keep His law.
2. God had spoken for their encouragement, “Fear not.” The fire should not burn, the lightning should not strike them. These were but manifestations of the power which was on their side.
3. God had spoken but to prove their loyalty to Him. If they could stand the test, what could harm them? (Romans 8:39).
4. God had spoken for their moral elevation.
(1.) “That His fear may be before your faces.”
(2.) “That ye sin not” (1 John 2:1-2), especial in earnest with Exodus 20:21. Learn—
I. Not to dread God’s revelation. “Ye fearful souls, fresh courage take.” II. To approach God through the one new and living way which is ever open. III. To keep all God’s laws in the strength of the comfort which His presence brings—J. W. Burn.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Law and Love! Exodus 20:18. The prodigal’s father was no Eli, chiding with bated breath. Faithful and monitory were his counsels; urgent and expostulatory were his warnings. Did he love the wayward child less when thus he chided sternly than when he gently seated him at the festive board with its fatted calf? We trow not. The same deep, tender love was there in both; only it differed in expression. When I warn one dear to me from entering on some desperate plunge that must end in peril if not death, is my affection less than when I plunge in to save him! No. And so there is the same love in the law as in the gospel. In the law of Moses, love warns; in the gospel of Messiah, love wins. Both are the true mirror of Him who thus defines His own character, “God is love.”
“The Law brought forth her precepts ten,
And then dissolved in grace.”
Divine Discernment! Exodus 20:20. The law was in one sense God’s “odometer.” It reminded men that He could tell when they had gone beyond the boundaries of righteousness. The odometer is a machine something like a clock which can be fastened on to a carriage, and in some way is connected with the motion of the wheels. It is so arranged that it marks off the number of miles travelled over. Two young men hired such a conveyance, not knowing that it had an odometer fastened to it. Having gone ten miles more than the hire, they returned to the stableyard, where the postmaster asked them how many miles they had been? “Twenty” was the reply. He touched the spring, the cover opened, and there on the face of the instrument the thirty miles were found recorded. The moral law is the odometer divinely fastened to the conscience, and when the journey of life is over, its face will tell how far the conscience has deviated from the way of holiness.
“Law of the Lord most perfect!
And traced in burning light!
How can a fallen rebel
Survive the dreadful sight!”
Divine Design! Exodus 20:20. The tidal river, below the banks of which a pretty rural village stood, suddenly overflowed with an unusual spring-tide, and sweeping away the low banks for hundreds of yards, poured its rushing waters over the whole district for miles round. Nancy’s cottage was one of the first to be surrounded by the roaring torrents, and but for the land sloping behind, it must at once have been swept away as a frail leaf. As it was, the rushing waters made it tremble and almost totter, and to save herself from the fast-rising water within the cottage, she retreated up her little staircase. As step by step the waters rose, she retreated still higher, “wondering what the end would be.” Her husband was away in the fields a mile or two distant, and no human help was at hand. “And how did you feel then, Nancy!” I inquired, as we talked together in the evening of that memorable day. “O miss, it was dreadful to hear the rushing of the water come so sudden. But I thought, ‘Well, the Lord’s here too;’ and SO I sat on the stairs and sang that verse—
“ ‘This awful God is ours,
Our Father and our Love;
He will send down His heavenly powers
To carry us above.’ ”
Exodus 20:23. Ye shall not make with Me gods of silver, neither, &c.] We prefer the Massoretic punctuation of this verse, which reveals a delicate appreciation of the meaning, although it entails on us an ellipsis which makes the text appear stiff, and tasks the reader a little to supply the unexpressed idea. “Ye shall not make … with Me: gods of silver and gods of gold ye shall not make for your selves.” “With Me:” i.e., “to associate with Me.” Supply “anything”—which in fact has not unfrequently to be understood. Then read: “Ye shall not make [anything] to associate with Me:” as much as to say “to put in My place,” “to represent Me.” Without the vowel points, ’itti = “with me,” and ’othi = “ME” are indistinguishable: “Ye shall not make ME, i.e., “anything to stand for Me,” “be called by My name;” which brings us to the same thing again. The division of the verse made in the authorised version is unhappy. It leaves an utterly unintelligible antithesis between “with Me” and “unto you;” as though the “gods of silver” were the more likely to be associated with God, and those of “gold” to be appropriated to man. Understood as above suggested, there is something majestic and impressive in the very vagueness of the earlier half of the verse. Not merely are the Israelites forbidden to make IMAGES of God: they are told not to make anything to be in any way put in the place of God, as even remotely representing HIM.
MAIN HOMILETICS ON THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 20:22-26
GOD’S VOICE BUT NOT A FORM
Moses went into the thick darkness, and held converse with God, and then came forth to declare the Divine regulations unto the people. And thus he was unto the people as a mediator. The ministration of the Gospel is more glorious than the ministration of the law. Moses was the law’s mediator; but Christ Jesus is the mediator in the Gospel covenant. The one the servant; the other the Son in the Divine house, which house is constituted by believing people.
I. God’s voice. How wonderful that God should speak with men! We know not what manner of a voice it was. We cannot tell how the people were made to understand that God talked from heaven. But this we are told that He did speak from heaven. The voice of God is indicative of the Divine personality. Some men’s ears are too dull to hear the Divine voice, so they give themselves up to Pantheism in some cases, and in others to Polytheism. God’s voice may truly be heard in the myriad voices of earth; but there is still a separate voice. He talks from heaven. The Infinite speaks, but reveals no form.
II. God’s abhorrence of idolatry. The command is again repeated, and after a very short interval; and thus the people must have been impressed with the sinfulness of idolatry. We can suppose that the Infinite even might have come forth from the thick darkness and revealed Himself in some wonderful form; but the fact that God refrains makes impressive the lesson—Ye shall not make unto you gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. Our loftiest conceptions, embodied in the most costly and precious material forms, must fall short of Infinite perfectness.
III. God’s love of simplicity. Altars of earth, and altars of unhewn stone. The simplest is often the purest and the divinest. If we are to have our altars, let them be of such a character that they shall be helps and not hindrances to a true comprehension of the spirituality of the Divine nature. Man’s superb altars lead to degrading conceptions of the Infinite.
IV. God’s respect to appearances. “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” Let all things be done decently and in order, is the injunction of two economies. There is a reverence for places and for structures which is idolatrous superstition; and there is an irreverence which betokens a low state of the emotional nature, and which even God does not approve. There may be excessive and soul-destroying ritualism; and there may be excessive and God-dishonouring baldness
V. God’s superiority to splendid structures. In all places where God’s name is recorded there He will come, and there He will bless. It was by Divine appointment that the Temple was built; and yet, before the erection of that superb structure, God teaches that wherever He is devoutly and sincerely worshipped there will His Divine blessing descend. And better than curiously wrought marble, or precious stones; better than telling and striking architectural designs; better than golden adornments, is the Divine blessing. God is not confined to any particular buildings. Wherever His people meet, there they behold His mercy seat.—W. Burrows, B.A.
PUBLIC WORSHIP.—Exodus 20:22-26
The Book of the Covenant (cf. Chron. Exodus 24:4; Exodus 24:7), extending from Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33, appropriately follows God’s revelation of Himself, and appropriately opens with regulations for public worship. Upon which, by way of introduction, we remark—
1. That the end for which God reveals Himself is, that we should worship Him. “Ye have seen” (Exodus 20:22-24, cf. Chron. Exodus 20:1-4).
2. That God’s revelation of Himself should be kept in perpetual memory by acts of public worship (Exodus 20:24-25). So the revelation of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24).
3. That God having made a spiritual revelation of Himself, He should not be worshipped under any symbolic form. This text further teaches us—
I. That public worship involves cost. Exodus 20:24. Let the Christian who complains of the expense of his religion, the collections, the pew rents, &c., remember
(1) what it cost the Jew to be religious;
(2) what it cost God to make him a Christian (John 3:16; Romans 8:32).
II. That public worship can dispense with elaborate ritual. The altars were to be of earth or of unhewn stone, the simplest and plainest possible.
III. That public worship carefully excludes all idea of merit on the part of the worshipper. Here all art and ability of man was to be carefully dispensed with, lest the worshipper should arrogate any virtue to himself. In after years, when the Israelites were indoctrinated into this spirit, this literal command was repealed.
IV. That public worship is not confined to set places. Altars of this description could be set up anywhere and everywhere. Public worship should be celebrated in every place that God appoints for the purpose. God now guides His Church by His providence. That providence points to our neglected populations. What an argument for Home and Foreign Missions! “In every place where I record My name.”
V. That public worship does not depend on the material or intellectual qualification of the worshipper. If altars required wealth to erect them or art to adorn them, then only the wealthy or the intelligent could worship. What a plea for common worship! Not the minister alone, or the choir, but all should engage in the worship of God’s house.
VI. That public worship must be conducted with proper decency. Exodus 20:26.
1. It is a sin to serve God with less attention and decorum than man.
2. It is a folly to encourage it in others. To invite men “to come in their working clothes” is an affront to the intelligent artizan.
VII. That public worship, when properly conducted, is uniformly attended with a blessing.
1. The Divine presence;
2. The Divine benediction (Exodus 20:24). In conclusion, John 4:20-24; Matthew 18:20.—J. W. Burn.
THE REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Moral Restraints! Exodus 20:22-26. No doubt, says Guthrie, the Law restrains us. But all chains are not fetters, nor are all walls the gloomy precincts of a prison. It is a blessed chain by which the ship, now buried in the trough, and now rising on the top of the sea, rides at anchor and outlives the storm. The condemned criminal in Newgate would give worlds to break his chain, but the sailor trembles lest his should snap. And when the grey morning breaks on the wild lee-shore, all strewn with wrecks and corpses, he blesses God for the good iron that stood the strain.
“Laws do not put the least restraint
Upon our freedom, but maintain it;
Or, if it does, ’tis for our good,
To give us freer latitude.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent