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THE DECALOGUE THE BASIS OF THE COVENANT, THE ESSENCE OF THE WHOLE LAW, AND THE CONDITION OF LIFE AND FELICITY.
Moses reminds them of the making of the covenant at Horeb, and of the revelation of the fundamental law of the covenant there. As he was about to recapitulate the laws which God their King had enacted, it was fitting that he should refer at the outset to that covenant relation between Jehovah and Israel on which all the injunctions of the Law rested.
And Moses called all Israel [called to all Israel], and said. "The calling refers not to the publicity of the address, but to the clear voice which, breaking forth from the inmost heart of Moses, aimed at penetrating, as far as possible, to all (Genesis 49:1; John 7:37)" (Schroeder). (Cf. also Proverbs 8:4.)
Deuteronomy 5:2, Deuteronomy 5:3
Not with our fathers, the patriarchs (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37.) The covenant to which Moses refers is not that made with Abraham, but that made at Sinai, with Israel as a people; and though the individuals who were then present had all perished with the exception of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, the nation survived, and as it was with the nation as an organic whole that the covenant had been made. it might be with propriety said that it was made with those whom Moses addressed at this time, inasmuch as they constituted the nation.
Deuteronomy 5:4, Deuteronomy 5:5
The Lord talked with you face to face. God spoke to them immediately, in their presence and to their face, from the mount, as one person might to another. There is a slight difference in form between the phrase here and that in Exodus 33:11 and Deuteronomy 34:10, where it is used in reference to Moses, but it is so slight (בְּפָּנִים instead of אֶל־פָּנִים) that no difference of meaning can be elicited. God spake directly to the people, as he did to Moses, only Moses was admitted to closer communion with him than the people were. This difference is sufficiently indicated in Deuteronomy 34:5, where the mediatory function of Moses, in the promulgation of the Law and the making of the covenant, is described as necessitated by the fear of the people, and their not going up into the mount (cf. Exodus 19:19, etc.). This is referred to more fully afterwards (verse 23, etc.). I stood between the Lord and you; i.e. acted as mediator; LXX; εἱστήκειν ἀνὰ μέσον (cf. Galatians 3:19).
I am Jehovah thy God. "The Law, the establishing rule for men, can proceed only from him who alone and over all stands fast; i.e. from God, specially as Jehovah. The eternal, unchangeable One, since he demands the obedience of faith (is not merely the moral imperative), must not only reveal himself, but in revealing himself must claim Israel as loyal and faithful; thy God" (Schroeder).
Repetition of the Ten Commandments. On these, as the basis of the covenant, the whole legislation rests, and therefore a rehearsal of them is a fitting introduction to a repetition and enforcement of the laws of the theocracy. Some differences appear between the statement of the "ten words," as given here and as given in Exodus 20:1-26. It is chiefly in the fourth commandment that these are to be found. It begins here with "remember" for "keep;" reference is made to the command of God as sanctioning the Sabbath (Exodus 20:12), which is omitted in Exodus; a fuller description of the animals to be exempted from work on that day is given (verse 14); the words, "that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou" are added (verse 14); and in place of a reference to the resting of God after the Creation as the ground of the Sabbath institute, as in Exodus, there is here a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt as a reason why the Lord commanded them to keep the Sabbath day (verse 15). In the fifth commandment there are two additions here-the one of the words," as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee," and the other of the words, "that it may go well with thee" (verse 16). In the tenth commandment, the first two clauses are transposed, "desire" appears in place of "covet" in relation to "wife," and "field" is added to the specification of objects (verse 21). These differences are of little moment. The only one demanding notice is that in the fourth commandment, where different reasons are assigned for the ordinance of the Sabbath. The two reasons assigned, however, are perfectly compatible; the one is fundamental and universally applicable, the other is subsidiary and special in its application; the one is a reason why the Sabbath was originally instituted and is for all men, the other is a reason why it was specially and formally instituted in Israel and was especially memorable to that people. In a popular address to them it seems fitting that the latter rather than the former should be the one adduced. As a memorial of their deliverance from Egypt, the Sabbath was all important to them, for by it they were constantly reminded that "they were thereby freed from the dominion of the world to be a peculiar possession of Jehovah, and so amid the toil and trouble of the world had part in the holy rest of their God" (Baumgarten). It was also fitting in a recapitulatory address that special emphasis should be laid on the fact that what the Law enunciated was what "the Lord had commanded." The addition of "field" in the tenth commandment is probably due to the fact that now, the occupation and division of the land having begun, the people were about to have, what they had not before—each his own property in land. In the tenth commandment, also, there is a difference in the two accounts worthy of notice. In Deuteronomy, "field" is added to the enumeration of objects not to be coveted, and the "wife" is put first and apart, while in Exodus the "house" precedes the "wife" and the latter ranks with the rest. In Deuteronomy also this separation of the wife is emphasized by a change of the verb: "Neither shalt thou desire (תַּחְמֹד) thy neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet (תִּתְאַוָּה) thy neighbor's house," etc.
FIRST TABLE OF THE LAW praecepta pietatis.
In this, the first commandment, the great principle and basis of all true religion is asserted—monotheism, as opposed to polytheism or pantheism There is but one God, and that God is Jehovah, the self-existent and eternal, who yet has personal relations with men.
Here the spirituality of God is asserted, and, in the prohibition of the use of images in the worship of the Deity, all idolatry is denounced, and all deification of the powers of nature in any sense is prohibited. By the Jews, this commandment was not always regarded, for they were not infrequently seduced into following the idolatrous usages of the nations around them. It does not appear, however, that, though they set up images of the idol-gods whom they were thus led to worship, they ever attempted to represent by image or picture the great God whom their fathers worshipped—Jehovah—by whom this command was given; and at a later period, when they had long renounced all idolatry, they became noted as the one nation that adored the Deity as a spirit, without any sensible representation of him: "Judaei mente sola unumque Numen intelligunt … igitur nulla simulacra urbibus suis, nedum temples sinunt" (Tacit; 'Hist.,' 5.5). It appears that, by many of them at least, the commandment was regarded as prohibiting absolutely the graphic and plastic arts. This may account for the low state of these arts among the Jews, and for the fact that they alone of the civilized nations of antiquity have left no monuments of art for the instruction or admiration of posterity. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; LXX; προσκυνήσιες αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ μή λατρεύσης αὐτοῖς. Every kind of worship of images is forbidden, alike that of proskunesis and that of latria. And showing mercy unto thousands; i.e. to the thousandth generation (cf. Deuteronomy 7:9)
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; literally, Thou shalt not take [or lift] up the Name of Jehovah thy God to vanity. This commandment forbids not only all false swearing by the Name of God, but all profanation of that Name by an irreverent or light use of it (Le Deuteronomy 19:12).
Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. This phraseology implies that the Sabbath institute was already well known to the people of Israel; so that this commandment was intended, not to enact a new observance, but to enforce the continuance of an observance which had come down to them from earlier times. The Sabbath was to be kept by being sanctified. This means that it was to be consecrated to God to be used as he had appointed. The sanctification of any object "always goes back to an act of the Divine will, to Divine election and institution. In other words, it is always a state in which the creature [or institute] is bound to God by the appointment of God himself, which is expressed by קֹדֶשׁ הִקְדִישׁ קִדֵּשׁ קָדוֹשׁ,". The sanctification of the Sabbath, accordingly, was the consecration of that day to the Lord, to be observed as he had enjoined, that is, as a day of rest from all servile work and ordinary occupations. Among the Jews, those who were careful to keep this law "rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment'' (Luke 23:56). Not, however, in mere indolence and idle vacancy, unworthy of a man. Not thus could the day be sanctified to the Lord. Man had to "release his soul and body from all their burdens, with all the professions and pursuits of ordinary life, only in order to gather himself together again in God with greater purity and fewer disturbing elements, and renew in him the might of his own better powers". In the Sabbath institute, therefore, lies the basis of spiritual worship and pious service in Israel.
The germ of society is the family, and the family is sustained only as the authority and rule of the heads of the house are upheld and respected. The command, then, to honor parents may be justly regarded as asserting the foundation of all social ordinances and arrangements. Where parents are not honored, a flaw lies at the basis, and the stability of the entire social fabric is endangered.
SECOND TABLE OF THE LAW: praecepta probitatis.
In the enactments of the second table there is a progression from the outward to the inward. First, sins of deed are prohibited, such as murder, adultery, and theft; then sins of word, such as injury of a neighbor's good name by false testimony; and finally, sins of the heart, which do not come into open manifestation, such as covetousness and evil desire. The "commandment" is thus seen to be" exceeding broad" (Psalms 119:96). So that only the man "who hath clean hands and a pure heart, and who hath not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully," shall "ascend into the hill of the Lord, or stand in his holy place" (Psalms 24:8, Psalms 24:4).
Here is an expanded citation of Exodus 20:15-18, addressed by Moses to prepare the way for the solemn admonition to observe and do all that the Lord had commanded them, with which he passes on to the enunciation of the various statutes and ordinances he had been enjoined by God to lay upon them.
And he added no more. "Only these ten words did God speak immediately to you; all the rest he spoke afterwards by me" (Herxheimer); cf. Numbers 11:25, where the same formula occurs, "and they added not," i.e. they prophesied only when the Spirit of God came on them, but this was not continuous. And he wrote them in two tables of stone. This anticipates what is recorded in its proper historical connection in Deuteronomy 9:10, Deuteronomy 9:11.
In a purely historical narrative such as that in Exodus, a condensed statement of what took place on this occasion was sufficient; but in an address to the people, it was fitting that Hoses should give it in fuller detail, especially in view of what follows.
Deuteronomy 5:28, Deuteronomy 5:29
The words of God in reply to those of the people are not given in Exodus; here they are fittingly inserted God approved of their words because they expressed a proper reverence and m due sense on their part of the unworthiness of sinful men to come into the presence of the great and holy God; but knowing their fickleness, and proneness to forget and depart from him, he added, Oh that there were such an heart in them that they would fear me and keep all my commandments always! God looks upon the heart, and will accept no service or worship that is not rendered from the heart. Only they who do his will from the heart (Ephesians 6:6) really fear and keep his commandments. The tongue may sometimes promise what the heart does not guarantee; and so when the occasion that provoked the utterance has passed, the whole may be forgotten, and the promise never be fulfilled.
Deuteronomy 5:30, Deuteronomy 5:31
The people were commanded to return to their tents, and Moses was appointed to act as mediator between God and them, receiving from him his commandments and communicating them to the people.
Deuteronomy 5:32, Deuteronomy 5:33
Moses winds up this part of his discourse by exhorting them to observe and do all God's commandments, not in any way departing from that course of action to which he had called them, that they might live, and it should be well with them in the land they were about to possess.
To the right hand or to the left. "This signifieth an exact care to walk in God's Law, as in the highway, from which men may not turn aside, as in Deuteronomy 2:27" (Ainsworth); cf. Deuteronomy 17:11, Deuteronomy 17:20; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 4:27; Isaiah 30:21. "To receive what God enjoins is only half obedience; it belongs thereto also that nothing be required beyond this. We must not desire to be more righteous than as we are taught by the Law" (Calvin).
The Divine Law based on a divinely revealed relationship.
"I am the Lord thy God," etc. This little word thy, in this connection, gives us the basis on which the Law was set. Of the event called "the giving of the Law," we feel the thrill even now. That Law has in it four features, corresponding to one or other of the aspects in which the people to whom it was first given may be regarded. They were
(1) members of the great human family, moral, responsible beings, amenable to the government of God. They were
(2) a Church in the wilderness, with their own institutions, which embodied the worship appropriate to the religion enjoined upon them. They were
(3) a people rescued from bondage, about to have a commonwealth of their own, for which sundry civil and political regulations had to be provided. They were
(4) a nation which for years was to be in a wandering state, yet destined in the long run to find a home in Palestine. Adapted to them in this last-named aspect, they had sanitary laws; for them in the third aspect there were civil and political laws; for them in the second aspect there were religious institutions; and for them in the first aspect there was the great moral law. The set of rules having reference to health would be binding only so far as the laws of climate and modes of life necessitated their continued observance. The civil law would be but temporary so far as it received its complexion from the idolatrous surroundings of the people. The ceremonial law would pass away in form, but the underlying principles of it are permanent. The moral law is unchanging as man's nature, and enduring as his relation to God. It is given in the ten commandments, of which the first enjoins supreme love to the Divine Being: the second, recognition of the spirituality of the Divine nature: the third, reverence for the Divine Name: the fourth, care for Divine worship: the fifth inculcates religion in the home: the sixth, the religion of the temper: the seventh, the religion of the body: the eighth, the religion of the band: the ninth, the religion of the tongue: the tenth, the religion of the heart. But antecedently to the Law in any of its aspects, there is a question of deep interest and importance, viz. From whom came it? The reasons for obedience to it come very largely out of the answer to be given to that question. Now, the words in Deuteronomy 5:6, which precede the Law itself, are not merely a preface to it, they are at once the basis of it and the reason for obedience to it. And these words should be opened up clearly in every case where the Decalogue is about to be expounded. The Law is not set on law, but on grace! For observe—
I. HERE IS A SPECIAL VIEW OF GOD PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE TO DRAW FORTH THEIR ATTENTION AND WIN THEIR ALLEGIANCE. "Thy God." The Hebrews were never expected to believe in, obey, or love an absolutely unrelated Being. THERE IS NO SUCH BEING! God is related to all the creatures he has made. Hence our knowledge of him is not unreal, because it is relative; but real, because in knowing God's relations to us, we, so far, know him as he is. God was Israel's Redeemer. He had redeemed them that they might be his. He would have the entire life of his redeemed ones spent in covenant relationship with him. Hence he sets his own Law on the basis of those relations. And so it is now. We are not expected to love a Being whose relations to us are doubtful or obscure, or whose mind and will towards us are unknown. We love because he first loved us.
II. THE VARIED ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH ARE SET UPON A LIKE BASIS, AND HAVE IN IT THEIR REASON AND POWER. The following suggestions may be developed largely with great advantage.
1. The conception of law is materially changed when we know that it comes from One who loves us infinitely, and cares for us with a tender care. This gives sweetness to the command. We are "under law to Christ."
2. "The Lord thy God;" that gives the worship of God its charm.
3. This is the truth which is objectively disclosed by the Incarnation.
4. It is the truth which the Holy Ghost graves on the hearts of the saints (Romans 8:15).
5. This truth shows us that real religion is love responding to love (1 John 4:19).
6. It gives a manifest ground for trust. We know whom we have believed.
7. It gives a charm to every precept.
8. It gives meaning to every trial (Deuteronomy 8:5).
9. It is in the light of this truth that prayer becomes possible, and is seen to be reasonable.
10. This gives a solemn aspect to our responsibility (Psalms 81:10; Amos 4:12; Hebrews 4:13).
11. The fuller understanding of the words, "My God," will be the result of ripeness in grace (Zechariah 13:9; Isaiah 41:10-20).
12. This is pre-eminently the truth which gives its certainty and its glow to the hope of future glory (Mark 12:26; Hebrews 11:16; Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:7).
III. SEEING THE WIDE BEARING AND VAST IMPORTANCE OF THE TRUTH IN THE TEXT, WHAT SHOULD BE WITH US ITS PRACTICAL OUTCOME?
1. Seeing the fearful havoc agnosticism would make, if it should ever come to govern human thinking, £ let us show men:
(1) That a God out of relation to us does not exist.
(2) That the one God is related to us as Creator, etc.
(3) That his varied relations are explicitly revealed, specially through the Son and through the Holy Ghost.
(4) That these relations are to be apprehended by our moral and spiritual nature, and not by the intellect alone. It should never make us stagger that, after getting to the very outer rim of natural knowledge, men should look out on an awful blank, and call it "the great unknown." It shows us only that they cannot find God in that way—not that there is no way of finding God, still less that God cannot find us or make his communications intelligible to us. Do not let us suffer men to think that God cannot be found because no one can find him out to perfection! He is our God.
2. Since God is our God, let us cultivate fellowship with him. It is for this purpose he hath revealed himself, that we may come to him (1 John 1:1-3; Hebrews 10:19-22).
3. Let us seek to realize the blessedness of a known and happy relationship to God, enjoyed through Christ, by the Spirit, in a life of penitence, faith, devotion, and love (Isaiah 61:10; 1 Chronicles 12:18; Psalms 68:28; Psalms 46:1; Psalms 18:29; Psalms 146:5).
4. Let faith in the love of our God fill up our duties with glorious meaning, and make the discharge of them a delight (Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 28:58; Leviticus 25:38; Leviticus 11:45; Isaiah 41:10; Jeremiah 3:13; Micah 6:8; Romans 12:1).
5. Let the fact that God is our God create, confirm, and perpetuate our assurance of immortal blessedness. See the wonderful words in Matthew 22:31, Matthew 22:32; Hebrews 11:16. As if God would be ashamed to be called our God, if he did not mean to do something worthy of the name! Wondrous grace! How perfect the reconciliation effected by Christ, to bring together the holy God and sinful men in blest accord and union forever!
The first commandment. God the sole object of worship.
"Thou shalt have none other gods before me." So runs the first of the Ten Commandments. (For the specific direction of each, see enumeration in Homily on Deuteronomy 5:6; for the completeness of the whole, see Homily on Deuteronomy 5:22-33.) It has been well observed, in reference to the delivery of the Ten Commandments, that "this is the only authentic case in the history of the world of a newly formed nation receiving at once, and from one legislator, a complete code of laws for the direction of their whole future life." They are, in outline, the Old Testament revelation of God's will. If any one would wish a clear statement of Old Testament morality, he should be referred to these sayings, or to our Savior's brief epitome of them. We should do very wrongly if we expounded the Decalogue merely as the Hebrews might have done at the time it first was given. Comparison of corresponding or parallel passages in the New Testament will help us in the exposition and enforcement of these ten words. A reference to Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 15:1-9; Matthew 19:16-19; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:25-28; Luke 16:31; John 5:46, John 5:47, will help to show what regard our Lord paid to the Mosaic Law. Bearing this in mind, we will endeavor now to sketch in outline an exposition of the first commandment, using the clearer teaching of the gospel to give us any additional light and force in so doing. Thus saith the Lord, "Thou shalt have none other gods before me."
I. THIS COMMAND AT ONCE SETS ASIDE THE CLAIMS OF ANY OTHER SUPPOSED GODS. (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:19; Exodus 23:24, Exodus 23:25.) "None other gods before me," i.e. "over against me. I will suffer no rival deity; you must worship no other god," etc. Does, then, the command permit Israel to suppose that there is any other god whom they could possibly worship? Not by any means. It recognizes the fact of the existence of idolatry round about them. According to the heathen conception, there were gods many and lords many. Israel was not to regard one of all the gods adored by the heathen. This is the very gracious way in which our Father in heaven would help his children in those young days to higher thoughts about himself. Is it not always the case with young children now? They have to be told what they may or may not do, and as they get older they will discover the reason. Indoctrinate into dogma by means of precept. This was the way God taught Israel "when he was a child," by putting this precept in the front. Had Moses discoursed to the people on the philosophic excellence of monotheism, and so on, he would have been virtually speaking in an unknown tongue. They would not have caught a glimpse of his meaning; but they could understand this. And the faithful obedience to this precept would be for them the very surest way of learning the doctrine which lay beneath it. By serving only one God, they would best come to learn that there was no god but the One. But further. This commandment is much more than a mere prohibition of what we usually call idolatry. It is a declaration of the Divine intolerance of any rival in the heart. Though we acknowledge that there is but one God, yet that is practically the idol of our hearts which engrosses our dearest affections, and with a view to which we shape our lives. God wants the innermost sanctuary of our hearts to be sacredly reserved for him.
II. THE PEOPLE WERE TO DRAW OFF THEIR REGARD FROM OTHER GODS, THAT ALL THE POWERS OF THEIR SOULS MIGHT BE CONCENTRATED ON GOD. (See Deuteronomy 6:5.) In our text, the form is negative; the intent is positive. They are to know none but God, that they may concentrate all their strength on God. In fact, the command is equivalent to this: "Let all your personal, family, social, national life be regulated completely by the commandments of your God. And let this be done from love." Is it asked, "Is this practicable? Can a man put forth all his strength for God when his energy is absorbed in trade?" We answer, "Yes; by regulating his business rightly, as God wills." "Can a mother put forth all her strength on loving God, when the care of her family is taxing and even straining all her powers?" We answer, "Yes; by training her children for God." And so on in each one of life's tasks.
III. THIS IS SET ON GROUNDS OF TENDER APPEAL. (See the preceding Homily.) God does not say, "When you love me supremely I will redeem you from Egypt;" but "I have redeemed you, therefore yield me your all." The religions of man go out to an unrevealed Being, if perchance he may be propitiated. Scriptural religion is the response of the heart of man to the revealed love of the Infinite One. Hence the gospel claim is, in substance, like the Mosaic, although its form is new, and the view we get of Divine love is larger (see Romans 12:1). In both, duty is the same: the whole heart of man is demanded for God. But note the advance in light, tenderness, and strength in
(1) the mercies of God;
(2) the "beseeching" tone;
(3) the "consecration of a living sacrifice" asked;
(4) the reason given, "Your reasonable service."
Here is the difference in the method of the gospel.
IV. THIS PRECEPT IS HERE SET IN THE FOREFRONT OF ISRAEL'S NATIONAL LAW? It was the law for each one's life. It was the rule for all. In their legislation, the supreme feature was to be the national recognition of God. And even now, yea, ever, so far as the legislation of any people is based on righteousness, so tar as that legislation recognizes the rights of the Great Supreme, so far as a people are loyal to God, to that extent will there be the surest guarantee for individual, family, social, and national prosperity. If ever a nation as such should "break his bands asunder," and inaugurate an age of reason versus faith, instead of a reasonable faith, the reign of terror would not be far off. And it is owing to the supreme importance of thus launching into the world a nation with God for its Lord, and righteousness for its law, that the open transgression of this first commandment was so severely punished, as being a crime against the State as well as a sin against God (Deuteronomy 13:7-12, Deuteronomy 13:13-18; Deuteronomy 17:2-7). (The frequent phrase "cut off" does not refer to punishment in another life, but to a man's being "cut off" from the congregation.) And even now fidelity to God is the supreme condition of a nation's well-being; and that man is playing foully with the highest interests of a people, who is seeking to undermine its allegiance to heaven.
V. IS THIS THE LAW? THEN LET US MAKE THREE USES OF IT.
1. As a touchstone. It reveals guilt. The need of any such command is a very humiliating fact. "The law is not made for a righteous man." "By law is the knowledge of sin." This precept
(1) discloses the world's sin.
(2) It shows the deep root that sin had in the natures even of the freed people, that they should need such legislation to grave this precept on their hearts.
(3) It shows our sin, that we should need the written Law. If we were what we ought to be, we should do God's will spontaneously without needing a written law at all!
2. As a judge. This being the Law, we see how it is that as by law we stand convicted, so by it we stand condemned, "subject to the sentence of God," for failures innumerable; and our guilt is the greater, since he who asks our heart reveals his own love that he may call forth ours. This Law is a perpetual, silent accuser (see John 5:45).
3. As a child-guide to Christ (see Galatians 3:24, Greek). God only is greater than law. And he alone can restore those who, having broken law, must needs, in the ordinary course of things, be regarded and dealt with as law breakers. For restoration, three things are required:
Bare Law does not provide for either of these, but God in his Law has witnessed concerning this great restorative scheme. So says Paul in Romans 3:21, "But now there has been manifested a righteousness of God apart from law, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets," etc. So in Romans 1:16, Romans 1:17, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for therein there is revealed a righteousness of God by faith, with a view to [the production of] faith." By believing in Christ, forgiveness is sure to the penitent, and grace re-creates the man, writing the Law on the heart, so that we obey and love God, not because God says we must, but because we are remade so that we can do nothing else. And what we need is to have our whole nature so reset by Divine grace, that we shall instinctively see God's will and do it, without needing any precept at all. As by the regenerative efficacy of the Holy Ghost we attain to this, shall we understand what it is to do the will of God on earth, "even as it is done in heaven."
The second commandment. The spirituality of Divine worship.
It is sometimes said that there is a reason attached to this second commandment. It is scarcely accurate to affirm that. There is a double sanction attached to it to enforce it, but there is no mention made here of a reason, strictly so called. We will, however, incorporate in this Homily the true reason which underlies this precept. But we shall have to go to the New Testament for the clearest statement of that. Let us then, in connection with the above, ask the reader to turn to John 4:24, in which he will find a deep reason for the second commandment. We will first of all, as briefly as we can consistently with clearness, open up the contents of this command, and will then endeavor to unfold the double sanction by which it is guarded.
I. ITS CONTENTS. The first commandment claims for Jehovah alone the love and worship of the people. The second warns off from any mode of worship which would bear a resemblance to or which would be a compromise with idolatry. While Israel was in Egypt, there had been a general worship on the part of the Egyptians, of bird, beast, and reptile, not for their own sake, but as representing some attribute of the invisible God. The forms of Egyptian worship, the names of Pasht, Osiris, etc; must be done away with. No representation of the object of worship was to be allowed. However much men might have pleaded that sense was an aid to faith, the stern "Thou shalt not" peremptorily barred the way. We know the reason why, as they in their childhood did not. God is spirit. Being spirit, it is only by spirit that he can be approached. No merely bodily act can possibly be worship. Further, neither God nor any one of his attributes can be represented by any physical form. Whatever idea of Jehovah may be gained or retained through impressions derived from beholding a sensible object with the bodily eye, will be an idea representing it, not him. It will be a thought of God formed by the image and limited by it—not the true thought given by revelation. Obviously, however, this command did not forbid decorative designs in the tabernacle or the temple (cf. Exodus 25:18, Exodus 25:20, Exodus 25:34; Exodus 26:32; Numbers 21:8, Numbers 21:9; 1 Kings 7:25; 1 Kings 10:20). But never were any creature-forms allowed, either as objects of worship or as aids to it. Nor can we read through Hebrew history without seeing how much need there was of such a command. Ere long, the people were dancing round the golden calf! And in the days of Jeroboam two calves were set up—one in Bethel, another in Dan. But surely the history of Christendom is even a sadder one than that of the Hebrews. Ere four centuries of the Christian era had passed away, how did the Christian Church lapse into repeated breaches of this law? "An enormous train of different superstitions was gradually substituted in the place of true religion and genuine piety …. Images were not as yet very common. But it is certain that the worship of the martyrs was modeled by degrees according to the religious services that were paid to the gods before the coming of Christ." £ It is true, indeed, that in 726 A.D. Leo III. issued an ordinance forbidding the use of images in churches, as heathenish and heretical, and a Council of Constantinople, in 754 A.D; sanctioned that condemnation. Another Council, which met at Nice in 789 A.D; declared the previous Council heretical, and ordained the worship of pictures in churches. The decisions of this Council were rejected at a Council in Frankfort, in 794 A.D. Also at another in Constantinople, in 815 A.D; all worshipping of pictures and images was forbidden. In 869 A.D. the iconoclasts were condemned. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, affirmed a threefold use of images, and declared that like homage is due to the image or Christ as to Christ himself! And we know but too well what the later history of Rome has been, how pagan rites have become more and more mingled with Christian service. The Savior is approached through the crucifix, and fed upon through the bread; and, as if blind to the warnings of history, ritualism openly proclaims that the best exposition of doctrine is that which meets the eye rather than the ear. Perhaps it is not to be wondered at, that in Roman Catholic catechisms the second commandment is left out; and not even Luther was sufficient of a reformer to restore the missing law in his catechism—an easy way, indeed, of blinding the people to the evil of a mistaken ritual, to leave out the authoritative command, obedience to which would render such evil impossible!
II. THE DOUBLE SANCTION ATTACHED TO THIS LAW. The first is drawn from the Divine nature, the second from the Divine administration.
1. From the Divine nature. "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." God is jealous:
(1) For truth in his worship. He would have us think of him as glorious in power, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and love. Our thoughts of God can be but limited at the best. They need not be untrue. But untrue and dishonoring to him they certainly will be if we come at them through the means of any graven image. We do not even except the crucifix. It represents the bodily form of Christ. It may represent the nails, the wounds, the spear, the crown of thorns, the pain-crushed brow; and we confess it may be possible, by looking at these physical marks, to receive so vivid an impression of the physical suffering that we may be wrought up to agony in thinking of it! But even then this is only knowing Christ after the flesh; it is making an idol of his humanity; and in sympathy with the anguish of his bodily woes, we may altogether miss the acting of faith in that atoning sacrifice which lay among the things unseen and eternal!
(2) For spirit in his worship. The worship paid to a spiritual Being is nothing if it be not spiritual worship. But in the endless bowings and prostrations, genuflexions, cross-markings, and waving of the body at the word "Jesus," there is, at least in appearance, a taking for granted that bodily postures are spiritual attitudes.
(3) God would have man lifted up to a higher level by the worship of him. But the sorry record in history of the breaches of the second law shows us four transitions:
(a) An object which at first represents the Being who is worshipped, comes at length to be worshipped. £
(b) Worship paid through the body will sink to merely bodily worship.
(c) When the lofty platform of spiritual worship is quitted, religious service will inevitably lose its meaning. Sense first comes as "an aid to faith," and then is put in the place of it!
(d) When this is the case, the vitalizing force of religion is gone, and man, sinking in religious vitality, sinks also in morality (see Jeremiah 7:1-34. for an illustration of this in the Hebrew people; see Romans 1:1-32. for illustrations of it in the Gentile world).
2. From the Divine administration. "Visiting the iniquities," etc. It would not have seemed wonderful to have found this second sanction appended to such sins as murder, adultery, etc.; but how is it that it follows on so apparently slight an offense as the use of graven images? Because of the sure and inevitable quadruple transition already referred to. He who comes to lose the life of religion will, so far, be undermining the foundations of morality, not only for himself, but for those who come after him.
(1) What a man is and what his family are or may be, are regarded as bound up together by an unalterable law of God.
(2) Evil follows on from generation to generation. A ghastly inheritance to hand down—formalism and idolatry!
(3) But if a man maintains the true spiritual worship of God in his family, that too will be handed down to those who follow him as a priceless heritage; not only to those who come in the physical line: our Lord's words in John 8:1-59. should teach us to look beyond that.
(4) In the mercy of God the influence of a man's good is more lasting than the influence of his evil. Evil—to third or fourth generation. Good—to thousands [of generations]. The influence of Paul, e.g. at this moment, is prodigious; that of Nero is nil.
Learn, in conclusion:
1. We receive an influence from the generations which preceded us; we shall transmit one to the generations that will follow. (We do not think this latter consideration is sufficiently pressed on the people, either on its physiological or on its spiritual side.)
2. Whoever wishes to ensure a prolonged influence that shall blessedly affect generations to come, let him bend all his force to the upholding of the worship of God in purity, in spirit, in truth. So much depends on this. The weal of the land in which we dwell is dependent thereon. Oh! for our own sakes, for our country's sake, for our children's sakes, let us contend earnestly for the maintenance of the worship of God in simplicity and in truth!
The third commandment. Reverent regard for the Divine Name.
The "Name" of God is the form of speech for God himself. "To take" the Name of God means "to take it up"—to use it in any way, which may be done either by speaking to him, of him, for him, or against him. "To take up this Name in vain" means to take it up falsely or vainly. And inasmuch as it has been so grievously common to use the Name of God profanely in oaths, this third commandment has come to be regarded chiefly as a prohibition against swearing. It is that, but it is a great deal more. This commandment is "exceeding broad." It may be wronged, not only by an undue limitation of it, but also by a too slavish adherence to the letter of it; e.g. according to the teaching of the rabbis, certain oaths were harmless if the Name of God was not specifically mentioned in them (cf. Matthew 23:16-22). Further, the expression "in vain" was interpreted as meaning "if you take an oath you must fulfill it;" take as many oaths as you please, so long as you do not break them, and thus turn them into falsehood. The effect of this cold and superficial teaching of the rabbis was twofold. It created artificial distinctions which our Savior did not recognize, and it obliterated such as were of great importance in his eye. It is needful for us, then, to be guided by the spirit of our Lord's teaching, if we would rightly develop this third law. Since our Savior in his Sermon on the Mount removed the glosses with which the rabbis had overlain the Law and restored it to its pristine clearness and purity.
I. WHAT IS FORBIDDEN BY THIS THIRD COMMANDMENT? We are all aware that some have regarded our Savior's words, "Swear not at all," as prohibitive of solemn oath-taking in a court of justice. We cherish all respect for those who so regard them, but we cannot view them in this light, for the following reasons:
(1) The occasion on which our Lord uses the words seems to refer rather to habits in private life.
(2) Christ and his apostles solemnly appealed to Heaven.
(3) In Hebrews 6:1-20; the oath of God is spoken of by the sacred writer, and we cannot suppose this would have been if all oath-taking were wrong. We cannot think that, even by way of accommodation, the Most High would represent himself as doing that which it would be always wrong for his creatures to do.
(4) In prophetic language there is predicted a swearing by the Name of God, which is regarded as obviously right (Isaiah 45:23; see also Deuteronomy 6:14). These reasons seem to us to set the matter entirely at rest. And the view that Christ was referring to men's ordinary conversation when he said, "Swear not at all," is confirmed by Matthew 5:37; the meaning of which evidently is: "If it is needful for you to interlard your conversation with sundry adjurations, you are the victims of a spirit of falsehood which has ' the evil one' for its father!" Further, this precept covers a far wider range than that of swearing. It forbids any "taking up" of the Divine Name which is not true as to loyalty of purpose, actual fact, and after-fulfillment. This precept manifestly prohibits:
1. All scoffing at sacred things; not merely at the word "God," or at the doctrine of the Divine existence, but ridiculing the Bible as the Book of God, the Sabbath as the day of God, Christians as the people of God, and religion as obedience to God. The mild and supercilious scorn of modern skepticism is equally a violation of this precept—it tramples under foot the Son of God.
2. Perjury is another form of violation of this command. The idea of swearing is that of calling God to witness; and to invoke that great and awful Name to witness a lie is one of the most grievous breaches of this law.
3. Profanity also is here forbidden, i.e. taking the Name of God on the lips on every trifling occasion. This is now thought, as indeed it is, ungentlemanly, to a far greater extent than was the case fifty years ago. So far well. Only let us take care that for a custom to be out of fashion, does not act with us more powerfully than its offensiveness to God, in inducing us to give it up! Some are more concerned at a hole in their manners than at a breach of morals. These things ought not so to be.
4. Frivolity in reference to Divine things is a transgression of this command. This is by no means to be confounded either with scoffing or with profanity. It may be found where there is great reverence for God, great kindness of heart, combined with an excessive fondness for raising a laugh. And where this is the case, even sacred things are but too seldom exempt from frivolous treatment. We recall some acquaintance whose chief, yea, whose only apparent fault, was the extreme tendency to turn everything into a joke, even things most sacred. Many were ready to excuse the frivolity for the sake of the talent it revealed. But they are "nowhere" now. Their levity was their ruin. Wit and humor have indeed a place of no mean value in social life. Social evils are often exposed more effectively in scorn and satire than in graver speeches. But there is no tendency of any man which needs to be more wisely cultured, more carefully and prayerfully guarded, and more conscientiously directed, than that to which we are now referring. Apart from this, there is exceedingly great danger of its leading to the "taking the Name of God in vain."
5. There may be a breach of this commandment without frivolity (as usually understood), even where there is no sense of humor and no talent for witticisms, in the indulgence of a vicious habit, much more easily formed than broken off, of interlarding the conversation with certain well-known epithets. We know what these were in Christ's time (see Matthew 23:16-22; Matthew 5:33-36). This is conceited talk, and it is sinful talk.
6. False teaching for God breaks this law (see Jeremiah 23:21-24, Jeremiah 23:31). There are several ways by which, in teaching others, the Name of God may be taken falsely. Either
(1) by declaring as God's what he has not said; or by
(2) denying what be has said; or
(3) by calling in question the truth of what he has spoken.
The first was common in the days of Jeremiah; the second and third are at once more ancient and more modern. Whenever any ambassador for God gives his own thoughts as if they were God's message, he is taking the Name of God in vain. Or if a man, while professing to speak for God, is speaking with the desire to exalt himself, he is guilty of the same sin.
7. Hollowness and formality in the professed worship of God are breaches of the third commandment. We take God's Name in vain if we sing "the songs of Zion" with a vacant heart, or outwardly join in the prayers of the sanctuary without devotion in the soul (Ezekiel 33:30, Ezekiel 33:31; Isaiah 29:13). Oh, the number of times we have been on our knees and have used the Name of God in" indolent vacuity of thought!" "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?"
8. We may break this commandment by vowing unto God, and then not fulfilling the vow. When at the Lord's table, we take the sacramental oath of obedience to our Great Commander, and if we are not true to that, we add sin to sin by "taking the Name of God in vain."
II. HOW IS THIS PRECEPT GUARDED? "The Lord will not hold him guiltless," etc. God may or may not mark this sin by visitations of temporal judgment; there are many cases in which levity has been the ruin of a man, even temporally. But the probability is that the more occult and deceptive forms of this sin will leave no appreciable mark on a man's earthly career. The marking of the guilt will be between God and a man's own soul. Hollow prayers bring no blessing; empty worship no growth in grace. Violated vows will bring down the displeasure of God. If God were to visit upon us all the sins of unreality and formalism, of mechanical routine, and of heartless work in his service, we should be lost men! "God often sees more in our prayers to disgust him than to please him," says Charnock. The Lord pardon the iniquity of our holy things!
III. HOW SHOULD THIS PRECEPT BE USED?
1. As a probe. Possibly, when a preacher takes this text, some may say, "We don't need that. We never break God's law so I" Possibly not, in the conventional sense in which the text is often used now. But what about that conversation laden with frivolity? What about that lesson which had more of self than of God in it? What about the songs of the sanctuary, enjoyed for the sake of the music, without a thought of the words? What about the forgotten vows? Surely we can all recall so many breaches of this third commandment that, if we had not a pardoning God, we should be shut up in despair!
2. To quicken to penitence. By so much as our conviction is deep that we have broken this commandment a thousand times, by so much should our penitence be deep and definite before God.
3. To lead us to earnest entreaties for forgiveness. If we were not permitted to ask this, it would be all over with us, even if the third commandment were the whole of the Law.
4. To lead to fervent prayer for daily heart-renewal. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." If the heart is right the tongue will be right. "If a man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man." Well may we pray that every word we speak may be conformed to truth (for in each of the eight ways named above there is a violation of truth). When our heart, thoughts, words, and deeds are in harmony with God's nature and will, then shall we be true to the duty implied, and free from the sin forbidden, in the third commandment.
The Sabbath, or a rest-day for man.
(For a notice of the variations between the wording of this command in Exodus 20:1-26. and in this chapter, see Exposition.) No Christian preacher could wisely deal homiletically with the question of the Divine intent in the appointment of a seventh-day rest, without noting, in connection with our text, the teaching of our Lord and his apostles thereon. In developing the true doctrine and use of our rest day, let us—
I. INDICATE SEVERAL PRINCIPLES FROM WHICH OUR CONCEPTION OF THE HEBREW SABBATH MUST START. The Hebrew Sabbath has a far-back look. "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." What spaces of time the "six days" represent we may perhaps never know in this life. One thing is clear—a "day" of Divine action must be indefinitely longer than one of man's days. This far-back look, moreover, reveals to us a method of Divine work, after which ours is to be modeled. As man's nature is made in God's image, so our time is to be portioned out after God's order. Further, the basis of the right observance of the day is that of "rest." The word "Sabbath" means that; whatever else may have been connected with the day, the notion of rest lay beneath all. While the Hebrews were to regard the observance of the day as a part of their covenanted duty as a nation, yet the rest was not for them as Hebrews only, but as men. The Sabbath was made for man. Work was to be laid aside, that man might give himself up to a holy and happy day of rest and worship. With a view, moreover, to securing all this, the work of the six other days was to be arranged.
II. THE SUBSEQUENT PRECEPTS ARE ALL IN THE SAME DIRECTION. Never is there anything out of harmony with this benign command to rest (see Exodus 16:29; Exodus 23:9-13; Exodus 31:13; Exodus 34:21; Exodus 35:1-3; Le Exodus 19:3, 30; Exodus 33:3; Exodus 26:2; Numbers 15:32-36). Of such importance to the good of the people was their rest day, that if a man attempted to turn it into a day of common work, he was to be stoned! Severity to the one was a guard of mercy round all! If the people could not or would not guard their rest day for themselves, the great Lord who gave it would shield it for them all! In course of time these precepts were grievously disobeyed, either by an entire neglect of the day, or by a merely formal observance of it (2 Chronicles 36:21; Nehemiah 9:14; Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15, Nehemiah 13:16; Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 56:2; Isaiah 58:13; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Ezekiel 20:12, Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 22:8, Ezekiel 22:26). Later on, when Jesus Christ came, many had lost the spirit of the day in the letter; so that the day which was given to man as a boon of mercy had come to be a chafing yoke and a grievous burden. Consequently, not even Jesus Christ was a sufficiently strict Sabbath-keeper for the -Pharisees. Hence, Jesus in his teaching respecting the Sabbath, did not divert it from, but restored it to, its original intent. The Sabbath as God made it, was restful, beautiful, and free. As rabbinical teaching had perverted it, it was rigid and burdensome. Men came to be on the Sabbath under a hard yoke; but it was man's yoke, not God's (see in Dr. Geikie's 'Life of Christ' abundant illustrations of this).
III. NEW TESTAMENT INDICATIONS VARY IN FORM BUT ACCORD IN SPIRIT. We find in the New Testament some passages which indicate some observance of the first day of the week (John 20:19-26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10). It is remarkable how few there are of such. We have no specific precept to direct us with regard to a Christian Sabbath. There is nothing very clear on the matter, either in the Gospels or the Epistles. Judaism is waning; what is peculiar to it dies away; what is worldwide and for humanity, lives. We seem to see the seventh day receding from our gaze, its luster fades and is lost in the brightness of the first day. There is a dissolving view. Winter is succeeded by spring. Here is something which has Christ's sanction and apostolic warrant, viz. meeting on the first day. It is the day of religious assembling, the day of "breaking bread." The God of Sinai has invested the Son of man with all power in heaven and in earth. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Memories of the great deliverance wrought by him eclipse those of the deliverance from Egypt. Wherefore, ever after, rest-day becomes "the Lord's day." Ignatius says, "Let every friend of Christ celebrate the Lord's day." Justin Martyr, "On the Lord's day, all Christians in the city and in the country assemble together, because that is the day of the Lord's resurrection." Tertullian, "The Lord's day is the holy day of the Christian Church. So gradually, however, did the seventh-day Sabbath change into the first-day rest, that we find for a while both days observed. Accordingly we find, in 'The Apostolic Constitution,' both days named as days for the assembling of the Church; that on the Sabbath and on the Sunday the slaves should rest from their labors, and attend church with the rest to hear the sermon. But as the new skin is forming under the surface, the old is getting looser and looser. Yet for a time, there are two coverings. Soon, however, the old is shuffled off, and only the new is seen. The Sabbath is lost, but rest-day reappears as the Lord's day!
IV. HOW STANDS THE REST-DAY NOW? The fourth commandment had a natural basis and a religious one. It gave a day of rest for man as man, and, as such, has never been repealed. God has never taken away the world's rest-day. It is ours still—a priceless heritage. The religious side of the Hebrew Sabbath, though abolished so far as the observance of Jewish rites is concerned, was at once taken up by the Christian Church, and Christians have, as we well know, by meeting for worship on the first day, recognized the principle of a world's rest-day, and have used it for the higher purposes of the kingdom of heaven. And now to us the Lord's day is
(1) our day of rest from earthly toil;
(2) the day of hallowed calm;
(3) of richest memory;
(4) of united worship;
(5) of mutual recognition of our common relationship to one God and Savior;
(6) of spiritual training;
(7) of holiest service for the Master;
(8) of noblest outlook (see Dr. R. W. Hamilton's 'Horae Sabbaticae').
V. WHAT IS OUR DUTY WITH REGARD TO OUR REST-DAY?
1. As men, let us regard it as an inestimable boon for the right use of which we are responsible to God. We are so made, as to our physical constitution, that we require one day's rest in seven. Then let us take the rest gratefully.
2. As citizens, we have a trust to guard for our fellow-countrymen. Legislation can never direct a man how to spend his rest-day, but it may do something to guard it for him. While we use the rest wisely, so that it makes us not only brisker animals, but holier men, let us also give others the rest.
3. As Christians, we have a sacred day for sanctuary worship, and for home and school instruction. We should do everything to show the young that the Sunday is a bright, light, cheery day, remembering that whatever helps best to health, rest, worship, and holiness is, and always has been, lawful on the Sabbath day.
4. As workers for God, the rest day is our glorious day of special service for Christ and for souls, in the very fatigue of which the spirit finds refreshment. Then surely we enter into the Master's spirit. Our meat is to do the will of him who hath sent us, and to finish his work.
The fifth commandment. Honor due to parents; or, the religion of home life.
Many are the passages in the Word of God which speak of or refer to the duty of children to their parents; e.g. Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17; Le Exodus 19:3; Exodus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Deuteronomy 27:16; Psalms 78:5-8; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 23:22; Proverbs 30:17; Jeremiah 35:18; Ezekiel 22:7; Matthew 15:4 Matthew 15:9; Colossians 3:20. It is worthy of careful noting, that when God would launch forth into the world a new national life, he lays great stress on the recognition of and regard to family sacredness. At the outset of the redemption from Egypt, family life was specially hallowed (cf. Exodus 12:24-27; Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:9). The covenant of circumcision handed down from Abraham was to be observed. Children were to be scaled as the Lord's, and brought up in his fear. That is here assumed. ]t was the understood law. And now, when a moral code for the nation and for the world for all time is to be laid down, the very next precept to those relating immediately to the honor due to God himself, is this—"Honor thy father and thy mother." Not, indeed, that they were to render them a blind obedience, for see Ezekiel 20:18, Ezekiel 20:19. If the parents were bad, the best honor the children can render them is to become better than they were. So that we may note, once for all, in passing, that the commandment recognizes it as incumbent on parents to see that their lives and rules are such as their children can honor, and that their precepts accord with those of the Father of spirits. Throughout our homiletic application of this fifth commandment, we shall assume this to be the case. It is, indeed, understood by many, that this command is to be regarded not only as requiring obedience in the family, but "as requiring the preserving the honor and performing the duties belonging to every one, in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals;" and as forbidding "the neglecting of or doing anything against the honor and duty which belongeth to every one, in their several places and relations." Doubtless this is so. But there is quite as much as we can compass in the brief space afforded us, in the specific duty named in the text. Let us—
I. INQUIRE IN WHAT WAYS THIS PRECEPT MAY BE FULFILLED.
1. During the earlier stages of life, while needing the fostering care and sheltering love of the home, implicit obedience is a child's first duty. We not only say that it is next to his duty to God, but that it is a part of it. The parent's precepts may be distasteful, even rigid, but if they are right, it is the child's part implicitly to obey.
2. Honoring parents is the form which obedience will take when the child is growing up towards manhood. No wise parent would think of directing a lad of sixteen as closely as he would a child of six years; at the same time, though the father may give him more liberty, it may not be either wise or right on the son's part to take all the liberty which is given. At that age his own sense of honor and right ought to be sufficiently strong to guide him; and respect and reverence for his parents will create a loyal regard to their wishes when once they are known, and will lead him to deny himself a great deal that might be gratifying to him, rather than cause pain to or cross the wishes of those to whom he owes his life. Rude words to a parent, "answering again," disputing his rule in the house, will be utterly out of the question where a youth wishes to live in the fear of God.
3. Supporting them may become a duty. There will come a time, if the parents are spared to see their children grow up in life, when they will lean on the children, rather than the children on them. If the children are worthy, they will let their parents lean on them, and will show them that they can be as faithful to their parents in their weakness, as the parents when in their strength were to them.
4. Becoming an honor to them is another way of honoring them, i.e. by living so that they can feel proud of what their children are, quite apart from what they do. If a father car say, "My son never gave me an uneasy thought about him," that is such a testimony as a son might well wish him to be able to bear.
5. By guarding very jealously the sacredness and purity of England's family life, the commandment may be obeyed. We may honor our parents by honoring that holy marriage tie which made them what they were to us.
6. By guarding and handing down to others the holy faith in which they have trained us (Psalms 78:1-8; 1 Chronicles 28:9). We may well desire to honor them by taking on our lips that dear Name which gladdened them in life and sustained them in death.
7. There is another way of honoring parents which we would there were no occasion to name. But there is a drift clearly to be discerned in some directions of English life, which makes a warning imperative (see Matthew 15:1-9). The Jewish rabbis put their Church and their rabbinical rules between a child and his parents. Modern (so-called) priests are doing the same now. Hence this rule: Honor your parents by refusing to let any priest edge his way in between you and them. In Divine institutions, the priest is nowhere compared with the parent. And under the Christian economy he has no right to be. He is humanity's pest and plague. "Honor thy father and thy mother," and never allow a priest to tamper with the sacredness of home!
II. BY WHAT SPECIAL ARGUMENTS MAY A CHRISTIAN TEACHER ENFORCE THIS DUTY?
1. Here let us set in the front a reason given by Paul in Ephesians 6:1, "It is right (δικαιον)." There is another word which is usually translated "right," viz. εὐθυς, which is the equivalent of "straightforward." But the word here used is "just." Obedience to parents is simply a piece of bare justice. For, consider how much we owe them. When we first came into being their care and watchfulness guarded and supplied us long ere we knew aught. They thought us, perhaps, something wonderful, when no one else thought anything of the kind, save in the reverse sense. Ought not all this to be repaid?
2. It is well-pleasing to the Lord. He has in this "set us an example, that we should follow his steps."
3. There is a specific promise made to the obedient and loyal, as such, "That it may go well with thee," etc. In the culture of home obedience will be found a strong safeguard of character. Vicious excesses will not exhaust. Insubordination and recklessness will not blight life's prospects. Hence coet. par. such a life, being the purest and happiest, will also be the longest.
4. Such home virtue is a contribution of no mean value to the stability of a state. The reference of Moses is to the weal of the nation as well as to that of the home. The downfall of Israel's glory is attributed to two evils: neglect of Sabbaths, and making light of father and mother. No nation can prosper without purity in the home.
5. Such virtue brings great joy. "A wise son maketh a glad father." There is joyousness on both sides. This is the beauty with which God's blessing makes the plants of virtue to bloom. It is like the fragrance exhaling from a bed of violets quietly blossoming in a shady lane.
6. The neglect of this will ensure many unavailing regrets on both sides in after life. "A foolish son is the heaviness of his mother." Many an undutiful son, when laying his parents' remains in the grave, would give all he has if he could but call them back, if he could atone for his sin, or could cancel the past. Disobedience treasures up sorrow. God may and will forgive the sin, when repented of, but the penitent will never forgive himself; he will often moan out, "Thou makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth!"
7. The curse of God will rest on those who are loose and disloyal at home. Richard Knill so regarded this fifth commandment, that he would not even go out as a missionary without his mother's consent. He said, "I know that God never smiles on a boy that breaks his mother's heart." (See Proverbs 30:17.) And who does not know how often it is proved true, "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again"? Jacob deceived his father, and his sons deceived him. Can any observant man reach middle life without having had oft to make such notes as these: "A" honored his parents, and honor has attended him. "B" dishonored his parents, and his lamp has gone out in darkness? Though the judgment has not yet come, yet there is a judging process of God's providence continually at work.
8. The observance of this rule is the best possible preparation for serving our generation according to the will of God. He who is a blessing in the home will never be a curse out of it! The habits of self-restraint, of courtesy, of respect to superiors, well learnt and practiced at home, will not be thrown off when outside its walls. Men learn to command well by first obeying well. Even Christ's own preparation for active service was found in filial obedience at home; and he is not only our perfect example, who shows us what to do, he is also our omnipotent Savior, who will give us strength to do it. Be it ours to repent not only of sin in general, but of the sin of disobedience to parents. Let us ask his forgiveness as well as theirs, if the latter is yet possible. Let us implore his renewing grace that we may henceforth keep this and every command, not only because it is written in the Book, but because the love of it is graven on our hearts. It will be no small addition to the joy of retrospect, if, as we afterwards look back on our home life, we can think of it as one of filial loyalty on one side and of parental delight on the other!
The sixth commandment. The religion of the temper.
If a preacher were to announce this as a text in one of our Christian congregations, some of his hearers might be disposed to say, "Such a text might be appropriate enough if the preacher were expounding the Word of God to Zulus, but for us civilized, not to say Christianized, people, it is out of place!" Obviously such a remark would be based on an acknowledged fact, that murder is one of those sins against God which are also a crime against human law, and that no one in a congregation of ordinary character would be likely to dream of committing it. That is so. But we are apt to forget that even among Christian congregations it was not always so. When Peter is writing to believers, he deems it needful to say, "Let none of you suffer as a murderer," etc. And even now, in heathen lands, in many an audience of men just reclaimed from barbarism, it might be necessary for a missionary to preach from this text, adhering to it simply in the negative form, "Thou shalt not kill." In endeavoring now to "open it up" for pulpit use, we would recall to the reader some elementary principles concerning the law already named.
1. That the Law was first given in infantine form. God laid down precepts rather than assigned reasons.
2. That the form in which the Divine Being could put the most effective guard around human life was by a stern and strong prohibition like this, proclaimed amid thunder and lightning, terror and flame.
3. That though the form of the precept is negative, yet it has a positive significance, of such depth and breadth that, even though we may shrink with horror from transgressing the former, it is by no means an elementary stage of Christian character which any one has reached if he attains to the latter. So far were the Jewish rabbis from catching the spirit of this command, that they dealt with it as if the negative prohibitions of the act of murder were the whole of its meaning. Our Lord, in his Sermon on the Mount, shows us how much deeper than this the precept goes (see Matthew 5:21-26). And the Apostle Paul, in Romans 13:9, Romans 13:10, indicates what positive virtue must be cultivated, the maintenance of which will make it impossible to transgress the sixth commandment. If we include in our Homily a notice of these later teachings, it may appear that, even with all our advances, there is something here for us to study, some holy practice for us yet to strive after, urged upon us by weighty reasons, which, though not presented in the world's childhood, are set in full force in "these last days." Let us, then—
I. LOOK AT THE MEANING OF THIS COMMAND. It is sixfold.
1. It forbids the taking of human life from passionate vindictiveness. The Hebrews had, as we have, two verbs with the distinctive meanings of "to kill" and "to murder." We see in the quotation in Matthew 19:18, and from the reference in Matthew 5:21, that the Savior regards the command as a prohibition of passionate lawlessness. But even had we not that light from Christ's teaching, the legislation of Moses himself would shut us up to the same conclusion. For in the administration of justice and in necessary war, the taking of life was commanded (see Numbers 15:35; Numbers 35:31; Exodus 21:12-14). So that, unless we regard the lawgiver as setting enactment against enactment, there is in this commandment a prohibition of passionate outbreaks, but neither of capital punishment nor necessary war.
2. It forbids any carelessness by which the life or zeal of our neighbor would be risked (Exodus 21:28, Exodus 21:29). Wherever human life is risked by insufficient precaution, there is a breach of the sixth commandment.
3. It forbids that anger which takes the form of a revengeful spirit. So Christ teaches. This precept strikes at the thoughts and intents of the heart. Every time a schoolboy angrily lifts a hand to hurt his school-fellow, he is breaking in spirit this commandment.
4. It forbids that indifference in our life to the power of example which would put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in a brother's way (see Matthew 18:1-3; Romans 14:5). If by careless living we "destroy" him for whom Christ died, we are breakers of this law.
5. It forbids dislike and hatred to our brother, and also a selfish isolation and neglect of him (1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:15). If we are merely pursuing our own ends in life, and are not caring whether our brother is saved or lost, this law condemns us. If we even refrain from helping our brother in difficulty or trial, we are guilty (Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 24:12; Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:7). We may "kill" by withholding the help which might save!
6. It requires, therefore, the cultivation of that kindly spirit of genial benevolence, which would seek in every way to promote the gladness and safety of the society in which we move, and of men at large. Negative in form, the sixth commandment is positive in intent. "Thou shalt not kill" is but the elementary form in which God asserts the great law of mutual dependence and interdependence. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law." Would we keep the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill"? Let us read it in the New Testament light, "Thou shalt help thy neighbor." "He that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law."
II. WE WOULD THROW OUT A FEW HINTS AS TO THE GROUND ON WHICH THIS PRECEPT IS OR MAY BE ENFORCED.
1. The preciousness of man in God's sight. He who killed a beast had to make it good; but no satisfaction might be taken for the life of a murderer (see Genesis 9:6).
2. The spiritual nature of man.
3. The high and holy destiny designed for man forbids any tampering on our part with him or with it.
III. WE HAVE, MOREOVER, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, A NEW SPRING OF ACTION DISCLOSED. This should actuate us in refraining from violating, and in seeking to fulfill, the law of love.
1. The incarnation of the Son of God is so touching a revelation of the greatness of man, and does of itself so elevate him, that no one realizing it can trifle with man.
2. The atoning sacrifice gives new views of man. After the Apostle Paul has been referring to the death of Christ, he says, "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh." Christ's death for every man has shown us a halo of glory around every man. We look at him no more according to the accidents of birth, position, color, clime; we judge all men thus: "Christ died for them." Oh! it is this cross which teaches us that reverence for human nature, which else we had lost altogether.
3. The incarnation and the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God not only give us the moving spring whereby to rise to a proper view of the greatness of man, but also the supreme reason for devoted love to him, for Christ's sake (1Jn 4:11, 1 John 4:20; see Ephesians 4:31; Ephesians 5:1, Ephesians 5:2). With what immeasurable strength does the gospel bind us to fulfill "the royal law," "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself!"
IV. THIS NEWLY ILLUMED PRINCIPLE OF LOVE WILL ENSURE THE FULFILLMENT OF THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT, AND WILL EVEN MAKE A BREACH OF IT IMPOSSIBLE. God would have us lifted up by his love to so high a level, that we shall learn to love like him, even with a love
(1) of good will,
(2) of compassion,
(3) of forgiveness,
(4) of actual service,
(5) of self denying sympathy and devotion.
This is the love which "is born of God." This is the Divine philosophy of obedience to law. Learn, in conclusion:
1. It is to revelation alone that we owe the clearest view of human dignity. It is not from philosophy, nor from natural science that we learn to appreciate man. Whatever science may have to say as to his physical organism (and what it can say must depend on its own appropriate evidence), it is the "image of God" which he bears, that is his true dignity, and around it is the Divine guard so stringently placed.
2. From God's revelation to man we learn respect for man as man. Human life is held very cheaply in lands where the gospel is unknown, and even in lands where it is known by men who reject it. There are some, indeed, who reject gospel light, yet borrow gospel morality, and call it theirs, while others who treat it as "a strange thing" are already darkly suggesting a "morality" gross as that of pagan days.
3. From God's revelation we gather the only guarantee for human security and peace. It is by the cross and by the cross alone that the unity of man in a world wide brotherhood of love will ever be secured.
4. It is only by the new life bestowed by the Spirit of God that we come to possess and practice this love to which the cross constrains. We may all of us have refrained from an open breach of the letter of the sixth commandment. Not one of us can stand its searching test in the light of God's pure Word! Ah! "this commandment fit for Zulus?" There is not a man amongst us who in the presence of its all-searching light, is not utterly condemned! (James 2:10.) "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law!"
The seventh commandment. The religion of the body.
In the second part of the Decalogue there are stern prohibitions against sin, without any positive indication of the opposite virtue. Nor is there a hint of how to attain such a life as shall make an offense against the commandments impossible, so that unless we recognize the educatory purpose of the Law, we shall at once underrate it and yet overrate it. We shall underrate it if we forget that it was just what was wanted, and all that could be serviceable at the time of its promulgation; we shall overrate it if we think that the mere prohibitory letter of this precept expresses the whole will of God in the matter to which it refers. We will, therefore, set side by side therewith, New Testament teachings. First, let us look at Matthew 5:27-29. Just as in referring to rabbinical teaching on the sixth commandment, Jesus Christ tells us that it is not only the open act of murder which is forbidden, but even the spirit of anger and revenge which might lead to it; so here, it is not merely the open act of physical degradation which is forbidden, but even the spirit of unhallowed passion which, if unbridled, might lead to it. Nor must we stop here. The New Testament opens up to us the Divine will in the positive direction (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). We are told also what is the true secret of attaining a life which conforms to that will (Galatians 5:16). If we cultivate the life of God in the spirit, the lower life will be in due subjection. Reasons, moreover, which were not given in Israel's childhood are given now (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20); while the issues of a life in which these are lost sight of, are put before us in dread array (1 Corinthians 9:27). Hence a homiletic treatment of this seventh commandment can only be effective as it deals with it as but one branch of a subject, wide, deep, and high, viz." The religion of the body." Observe—
I. GOD CLAIMS THE GOVERNMENT OF OUR WHOLE NATURE. We regard man's nature as triple—body, soul, and spirit. As an acute and learned divine remarks, "The body is the link between the soul and the world, the soul is the link between the body and the spirit; the spirit is the link between the soul and God." It is in reference to our spirit-nature that we are made in the image of God. He is "the Father of spirits." The same Book which reveals God to us, reveals us to ourselves. Any one who understands the structure of his own nature, will perceive which part thereof was meant to rule the rest. The body is to be at the service of the soul, the soul is to be regulated by the spirit, and God is to govern all. But it is by the great work of redemption that the stamp of true dignity has been most clearly impressed on man. The Apostle Paul tells us that it was through the cross that he learned truly to estimate human nature (2 Corinthians 5:16). And elsewhere he argues, "Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." Christ is "the Savior of the body." If we are the Lord's, our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. No part of the body is base unless basely used. All its functions are to be discharged "in sanctification and honor."
II. THIS SACREDNESS OF OUR WHOLE NATURE, AS REDEEMED BY CHRIST, SHOULD LEAD TO A "RELIGION OF THE BODY" ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO HAVE NOT ENTERED ON THE MARRIED STATE, This seventh command is far broader in spirit than the mere letter would indicate. It condemns all impurity of every kind, it forbids us to let the lower self run off with the higher, and, like the preceding commands, though negative in form, it is positive in substance. It bids us:
1. Let our own nature be duly honored, and self-respect be diligently cultivated.
2. Observe towards others that self-same respect which we owe to ourselves, on the same ground, and for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake. The art of "bridling the whole body" is one of the most important in a life of godliness.
III. A DUE REVERENCE FOR THE SACREDNESS OF HUMAN NATURE WILL IMPART SANCTITY TO THE MARRIAGE TIE. Marriage is God's holy ordinance. It is not a sacrament, in the same sense in which Baptism and the Lord's Supper are. Neither is it merely a civil contract, as is sometimes shockingly said. It is a union of two in the closest ties of nature, based on an affinity of spirit which leads each to see in the other what each most admires. It is a union of spirit in the Lord (if it be all that it should be); each one of the two ceases to live in and for himself or herself, and begins practically to unlearn selfishness by living for the other, and thus the reciprocal outgoing of affection is a formative action of spirit, and tends to the very noblest culture of life. And where the Divine idea of marriage is carried out, the purely natural side of it will be by no means the only one or even the highest (see Matthew Henry's touching words on the creation of woman, and also Kalisch's most admirable remarks in his commentary on Exodus 20:14, on the position of woman under the Hebrew economy). There are spheres of duty which are most appropriately filled by men, e.g. those in professional and commercial life; there are other spheres which are most appropriately filled by women, e.g. those in the quiet of the home. And the work of one is the supplement and complement of the work of the other. Hence each one looks to the other for the discharge of special service. Thus there is a mutual leaning on one another. And if the crowning joy of married life be present in both being one in the Lord, in their spiritual fellowship they fan each other's love to him who died for them. Each will supply what the other lacks. Perhaps the strength of the man may lie chiefly in intellectual power. That of the woman will lie in tenderness, and also in far keener and surer perceptions and more swiftly acting intuitions. Thus, through one being the fitting complement of the other, they become mutual helpers in all that is right and wise and true; and as even before they were made one, each one knew how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor, so, when they are one, each honors the other, by making the sacred union subservient to virtue and to the honor of God. Thus rolling years do but deepen the fondness and sweetness of their love, and if it becomes calmer and less demonstrative, it is because it has become fuller, richer, and stronger. When youthful ardor dies down, the holy tie is holier than ever; their very souls become knit together in one. The care of one is the care of both; the joy of one is the joy of both; and any unkindness that stings one wounds both, As two trees side by side in a grove, their arms interlace and interlock, yet each has its separate root, So husband and wife, as trees of the Lord's own right hand planting, do through the whole of this earthly life become interlocked with growing firmness, while their one Savior in whom they live is the common joy of their spirits, their one hope for eternity! That there are innumerable cases in which a noble type of Christian excellence is reached by the unmarried, we all know. While marriage opens up those claims in the discharge of which the most symmetrical character is usually formed, yet Divine grace can so sway the spirit as to culture it nobly for eternity, irrespectively of these sacred ties. There are fathers and mothers in Israel who are so by spiritual relationship. Thus, when our nature is duly honored in ourselves and others, by its uppermost part being kept uppermost, out of loyalty to Christ, it is possible for both the married and unmarried to glorify God in their body as well as in their spirit.
IV. IT IS OBVIOUS THAT IF THROUGH THE REDEEMING GRACE OF GOD WE HAVE OUR WHOLE BEING THUS LIFTED UP INTO A HIGHER REGION, THE STERN "THOU SHALT NOT" OF SINAI WILL BE NEEDED NO MORE. We shall have risen to a sphere in which the transgression of the seventh commandment will be impossible (see 1 John 3:9; Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:24). The sure guarantee of our keeping this law, in the spirit as well as in the letter, is for us to be so re-created by God's Spirit, that it shall be impossible for us to break it. "The law is not made for a righteous man."
V. WE SHOULD NOT FAIL TO NOTE THE IMPERATIVENESS OF THE LAW. If there are those who are not in the region of a higher life, as indicated above, they should be reminded that this law, in its wide sweep and searching depth, condemns all impurity of every kind; it discerns "the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hence the words in Matthew 5:28; hence the warnings in Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47. One indulged sin will drag the whole man after it. "Science," says Dr. Farrar, "confirms by decisive evidence that the Lord avenges the sins of the flesh. It tells us that men must possess in manhood the sins of their youth; that if they sow to the flesh, they will of the flesh reap corruption; that the punishment of sensuality, working not by special interventions, but by general laws, bears a fearful resemblance to the sin itself; that the Nemesis of a desecrated body is an enfeebled understanding, a tormented and darkened soul;" and—the writer might have added—a face from which the luster of the Divine has departed, and in which the lines of a true manhood are manifestly vitiated and defaced, and even exchanged for lines of sin and of shameless vice. Let all take heed and remember:
1. That where each one's weak point is, a sentinel should be kept on watch.
2. We are not safe till the very thoughts are under control.
3. Only the Spirit of God can give us power equal to this.
4. Unless we keep ourselves in subjection we shall be cast away.
The eighth commandment. The religion of the land.
There is much to be said in favor of the proposition that utility is the foundation of virtue; and provided that the sentence be well cleared up and guarded from abuse, and provided also that the word "utility" be lifted up to its highest, and spread over its broadest significance, the maxim is less objectionable than it would otherwise appear. While it, however, has been and win be discussed in the philosopher's classroom, for ages, we may safely go so far as to say, "That is right which renders the highest service to mankind, and by its having this tendency, we know it to be right." Now, among serviceable institutions is that of property, which, as men are constituted, is a necessity of social weal. If rightness consists in recognizing the rights of each, the necessity of property comes out of the equality of natural rights. If a man is alone in the world, he may call it all his own. If there is a brother man with him, they must divide it between them. Apart from the institution of property, one incentive to labor would be gone. Who would be likely to toil day by day for that from which he would obtain naught when the work was over? Now, it is the social law of the institution of property, Divine yet natural, yea, natural because Divine, the existence of which is here assumed, and the recognition of which is here enjoined: in the barest and most elementary form, it is true, yet in the very form best according with the circumstances under which it was given; in a negative form, too, like the other commands, but yet with a positive intent. Perhaps there is no one of the commandments which is more extensively commented on, and repeated in so many forms in the Old Testament, nor one the violation of which is so variously prohibited. Our simplest mode of treating it homiletically seems to be to point out in turn the negative prohibition, and the positive duty which is to be set over against it.
I. LET US INDICATE THE NUMEROUS FORMS INTO WHICH THIS PRECEPT IS THROWS IN SCRIPTURE. If we regard the spirit of it, and read it by the light of Old Testament teaching, we shall find it set in great variety of ways.
1. It forbids our depriving any man of any right whatever (Lamentations 3:35, Lamentations 3:36).
2. It is forbidden to gain an undue advantage at another's expense (Exodus 23:3, Exodus 23:6, Exodus 23:8, Exodus 23:9; Le Exodus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:19, Deuteronomy 16:20).
3. It is forbidden to accumulate wealth by unlawful practices (Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 15:6).
4. It is forbidden to take long credit (Proverbs 3:28; Le Proverbs 19:13).
5. It is forbidden to oppress a poor man in his cause (Exodus 22:26, Exodus 22:27; Deuteronomy 15:7, Deuteronomy 15:10-13, Deuteronomy 15:17, Deuteronomy 15:18; Proverbs 22:22, Proverbs 22:23; Micah 2:1-3; Micah 3:1-4).
6. It is forbidden to pay insufficient wages (Deuteronomy 25:4; Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15).
7. To lend money in any oppressive or exacting form (Exodus 22:25; Le Exodus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 23:19). "The name 'usurer'—neshec—which is derived from biting, sounded badly, since no one chose to be likened to a hungry dog, who fed himself by biting others" (Calvin).
8. To take advantage of the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless (Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Leviticus 19:33, Leviticus 19:34).
9. Unfair trading (Leviticus 19:35, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 16:11; Proverbs 20:10, Proverbs 20:23; Micah 6:10-12).
10. Imperiling another's property (Exodus 21:33-36).
11. Life-long slavery (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12-18).
12. Connivance at wrong (Proverbs 29:24).
13. Respect of persons (Exodus 23:1-3).
14. Revengeful mischief even in war-time (Deuteronomy 20:19, Deuteronomy 20:20).
15. Removing a neighbor's landmark (2 Kings 19:14).
16. Withholding from the service of God (Malachi 3:8, Malachi 3:9). Whenever we withhold what is due to God, or keep back what we owe to man,—if the master is unjust to his servant, or the servant wastes the time or the goods of his master; if a man is guilty of trickery in trade, by adulteration of goods, or scant weight, or short measure; if a man is in any way deprived of his own right or freedom; if we take undue advantage of any one for our own benefit, we are guilty of breaking the command "Thou shalt not steal."
II. LET US INDICATE THE PRECEPTIVE WORDS WHICH ARE SET OVER AGAINST THESE PROHIBITIVE ONES. In the fuller teaching of Moses there was not wanting an indication of an opposite duty, the cultivation of which would make a breach of the eighth commandment altogether out of the question. The people were to aim at cherishing a kindly feeling for each other, and instead of wishing to enrich themselves at another's expense, they were to seek to enrich others, and to find their joy in helping the needy (Exodus 23:4; Le Exodus 25:35; Deuteronomy 15:7-10; Deuteronomy 22:1-3; Deuteronomy 23:19; Deuteronomy 24:19). While in Proverbs, the contrast between sloth and industry is said to be one mark of difference between the righteous and the wicked.
III. THE TEACHING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT IS STILL MORE EXPLICIT. (See Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 10:24; Philippians 2:4, Philippians 2:5; and specially Ephesians 4:28.) The words of our blessed Lord lingered in the apostles' ears as the strains of a lovely song. His life too seemed to say, "Be ever ready to give up what is your own, if thereby you can help another." So that not only is there to be such respect for the rights of others, that we do not infringe on them by abstracting from his property; but over and above the institution of property, which is recognized and guarded, there is the institution of labor, which is to be looked at, utilized, sanctified, so as to subserve the enrichment of others. So that we come at this specific rule: Labor, and sanctify your labor for others; then you will be in no danger of depriving them of the fruits of their labor! The political economist says, "Regulate labor so as best to subserve the production of wealth." So far, good. But Christian maxims go higher, and say, "Pursue and regulate labor with a view of promoting each other's well-being." Now, in this sanctification of labor there are four rules to be observed.
1. Labor as servants of Christ. This is a specific direction both for employer and employed. Both are amenable to him who is the Head and Lord of the human race. In his eye the interests of the human family are the supreme concern on this globe. Material wealth is to him as nothing. Men are his purchased possession; and if by labor we increased the material wealth of this country a thousand-fold, if thereby one soul were destroyed, his curse would rest upon such labor.
2. Labor with an eye to the glory of God: not only as his servants, but so that all our labor may promote that great end for which he lived and died; and just in proportion as this is the case, will Christ approve our toil.
3. Labor in accordance with and for the promotion of another's good. We are to let all our labors be in harmony with another's well-being. We may not make ourselves rich at the expense of others; but only as our weal accords with theirs. All this, of course, applies nationally as well as individually. It is as clearly wrong for a nation to steal a continent as for a man to steal a shilling! And if we so labor as to ignore the good of another, we shall find that "there is a God that judgeth in the earth!"
4. But it is not enough that there should be an absence of spoliation or greed, nor that labor should merely accord with human good; it is required of us that one direct object and aim of our labor should be the increase of our wealth that we may have the wherewith to give. As between man and man, the great God upholds our right to the produce of our labor. As between ourselves and him, he says, "Use for your brother's good, the wealth you get. You are but a steward. Nothing is yours absolutely. What hast thou that thou hast not received? Work, that you may get. Get, that you may have to give." "The poor shall never cease out of the land." If, by any sudden spurt, wealth could be equalized today, it would be unequal in twenty-four hours, and in twelve months scarcely a trace would be left of the readjustment. Some would be workers and some idlers; some spendthrifts and some misers; and any rectification of property, apart from the right-setting of men, would be of no avail. And, at any rate, so long as there are claims upon our sympathy, so long our labor is to have this stamp upon it: Labor, to gain the power of giving; and this is the antidote for any danger of breaking the eighth commandment. Yet, strange to say, there are not wanting those who object, on grounds of "political economy," to the withdrawal of a man's gains for the purposes of benevolence (see Mr. Herbert Spencer, Contemporary Review, 19.556). Now, no one would question that there is a large amount of unwise charity; but the proportion is insignificant between that and the vast amount of ill-gotten and ill-used wealth in our cities and towns. The former is not worth naming by the side of the latter. And the hearts of men are not so over-generous that they need to be dissuaded from giving, by arguments which could hold only if men were naught else but wage-getting animals! But whoever fulfils his labor in a spirit of loyalty to Christ and of kindliness to his brother, will find in labor so discharged, a holy and blessed discipline of character. Shall we live under the low, selfish calculations of earth, or under the higher regulations of heaven? There is a wealth—a wealth most to be coveted—which' comes not as a heritage of birth, but as the reward of giving to others according as they have need. Acting on worldly maxims, a man might live for a thousand years and he will never have it. Acting on Christ's rule, he will reap it as sheaves of golden grain. It is this: "The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy!"
The ninth commandment. The religion of the tongue.
This command gives us a precept touching our words. Inasmuch, however, as it is here given to us in barest, briefest, most elementary form, it would not be well if in the homiletic treatment of it we did not place side by side therewith the varied Scriptures which set before us the duty of regulating our speech. We will ask, and endeavor to answer, five questions concerning this commandment.
I. WHAT IS HERE PROHIBITED? Just as the sixth commandment throws a guard around human life, the seventh around purity, the eighth around the rights of property and labor, so this ninth throws a shield over every man's reputation. A stern "Thou shalt not injure thy neighbor's fair name" is one of the mandates of Sinai, issued amidst thunder and fire! The immediate reference would seem to be to bearing testimony in a court of justice. A part of the judicial code of Moses had reference to this (Deuteronomy 19:16-19). But the precept goes further than this in its spirit. We read in Exodus 23:1, "Thou shalt not raise (or receive) a false report;" literally, "Thou shalt not bear it; ' i.e. you are to have nothing to do, either in making or taking it. Further (Le Exodus 19:16), we are not to give way to gossip and scandal (see Psalms 15:3). Nor are we to make any statement that is prejudicial to the interests of another, unless we are sure of its accuracy, and unless also the good of society requires us to make it. Further (Psalms 34:13), our lips are to speak no deceit nor guile of any kind, either in what is said or in the manner of saying it. If we needlessly tell of another's wrong act, instead of seeking to cover it, under the appearance of virtue in denouncing it, God may see a spirit of malice or revenge in naming it; and any act of another's mentioned in such a spirit is sure not to be construed by us in perfect fairness, and therefore it will certainly become, so far as it is unfair, a false report, whatever foundation of fact there may be in it. The precept, moreover, forbids sitting in judgment on individuals, so as to denounce them when we are contending against what we consider to be unsound in their faith, or unright in their practice. But further still does the precept reach. It forbids any thoughtless word which might unwillingly injure another (see Matthew 12:33-37). How true is Hebrews 4:12! Every uncharitable thought of another, which might prompt an uncharitable word respecting him, is condemned by the holy Law of God!
II. WHAT IS THE POSITIVE DUTY TO BE OBSERVED? We have only to look at gospel law, as brought out by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:25-32, to see this.
1. Truth is ever to mark our speech. The true in thought is to be aimed at, in order that there may be truth, absolute truth, on the tongue. No "pious frauds" are allowable.
2. Love is to rule. While a supreme regard to truth will guard us from violating it consciously, a due cultivation of the spirit of love will guard us from forming those harsh judgments of others which might lead us to violate truth unconsciously by misjudging their actions.
3. Where truth and love reign, there will be self-restraint. A check will be put on unkind feeling of every sort. "Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Note further. In this ninth command the relations between men are supposed to be reciprocal. "Thy neighbor." If any ask, Who is my neighbor? let Christ give the answer," You may make yourself neighbor to any man by cherishing a readiness of disposition to do him a kindness" (see Luke 10:29-37). No distinction of race, color, or clime is to be allowed to stand in the way of our being true neighbors to men, the wide world over.
III. BY WHAT RULE, STANDARD, OR MODEL, SHOULD WE BE GUIDED?
1. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." That, applied to this command, would mean, "Be as careful of another's reputation as you are of your own." There is another rule.
2. Be imitators of God. "Let all evil-speaking … be put away from you … and be kind to one another … even as God in Christ hath forgiven you." The world's rule is: exalt yourself at the expense of others. Christ's rule is: exalt others at the sacrifice of yourself.
IV. WHAT REASONS SHOULD WEIGH ON US IN LEADING US TO RESTRAIN THE TONGUE IN THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS?
1. The fact urged by Paul, that "we are members one of another"' In social life we are dependent on each other for the enjoyments which sweeten it, the luxuries which enrich it, the comforts which gladden it, and for the necessaries which make it possible; and, excepting so far as truth governs words and acts, the very props of social life are wanting, and its cohesive force is gone. If the eye refused to be true to the brain, or if the ear, the hand, or the foot resolved to be at variance with the decisions of the will, life would soon be intolerable, and must ere long come to an end. Even so, we cannot tamper with the law of truth in speech without doing our part towards poisoning the currents of thought, feeling, and action which flow through society, and so far as we bear false witness of any kind with the view of gaining advantage at another's cost, we are aiding the infernal work of setting men at variance with each other, by loosening the bonds of mutual confidence which should unite them all!
2. If the tongue is duly bridled, the whole body will be under command. So the Apostle James declares (James 3:2). Our whole being is to be in subjection to God, body, soul, and spirit. And that means that we are to guard our lips. If we are successful here, that indicates so far a mastery over ourselves. We can bridle the whole body if we can but curb the tongue. "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." A man may do very much to make or mar himself according as he has learned the right government of the tongue.
3. If the tongue is not bridled, we have no religion at all! So the same apostle (James 1:26). Let us lay that word to heart. Whatever may be the outside profession, if we do not govern our tongue for God, if we use it for gossip, trifling, scandal, slander, our very profession of Christ's name is a cheat and a lie.
4. The thought of the coming judgment should lead us to govern our tongue (Matthew 12:37). One would think that such words as these would make men more careful how they use the tongue! Are we so governing our words that we should confront without shame all those that we have ever spoken, when set in array before us? "We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." How will backbiters, slanderers, and retailers of gossip meet the eye of the Great Judge of all?
V. HOW ARE WE TO LEARN OBEDIENCE TO THE PRECEPT OF THE TEXT?
1. Let us awake to the importance, as before God, of remembering his perfect knowledge of our words (Psalms 139:4). Let us cultivate the impression such a thought is calculated to produce.
2. Let us resolve and act (see Psalms 39:1). So said David. Let such a resolution be formed and carried out.
3. Much may be done by auxiliary means, in the way of lessening the temptation to offend with the tongue. Very much of the habit of idle gossip results from unintelligence. Some have nothing to talk about, and for want of a well-stored mind, they fall a-slandering their neighbors. Over and above other means which are more directly religious of reducing the evil of an unbridled tongue, there is this serviceable one: furnish the mind with so much valuable knowledge, that you will be so occupied with useful talk that you have no time for idle words.
4. Let there also be devout attention to the more spiritual aspects of the case. Let the earnest prayer go up (Psalms 141:3), and, remembering the Savior's words, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," let us earnestly plead with God for daily renewal in the spirit of our mind, since, when the heart is right, the words cannot be wrong. Maybe some of us used to think concerning the Ten Commandments, "All these have! kept from my youth up." But, alas, so far from that, unless we are converted and renewed, we shall never keep even this one. Under its severe tests we have broken down thousands of times, and have abundant reason to cry, "God be merciful to me the sinner!" A tree is known by its fruit. The righteousness of the Law never will be fulfilled in us as it must be if we are to enter heaven, unless our hearts are so sanctified, and so imbued with the spirit of love, that by never violating charity in the thoughts we think, we never violate it in the words we speak. May God thus sanctify us! "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law."
The tenth commandment. The religion of the heart.
This commandment is in some respects the most manifestly sweeping and searching of all. It even more fully than the others illustrates Hebrews 4:12. If any reader has thought that in making such heart-work of the preceding, we have gone beyond the scope of the Decalogue, this verse should serve to correct such an impression, for it deals verbally with the unexpressed wishes of the soul, and lays a restraint upon them. We will first of all—
I. INQUIRE INTO THE GROUND WHICH THIS PRECEPT COVERS. Recognizing the neighborly relation between man and man, and people and people, and implying the duty of each individual and of each nation cherishing a kindly feeling for another, it not only forbids the violation of neighborliness by any outward act of unkindness and wrong, but even the desire out of which such unneighborly acts might arise. "Thou shalt not covet." "As it was given," said an earnest preacher, in the winter of 1870, "in the first instance to a nation, it is natural to consider some of the ways in which a nation may violate it, The history of the world is stained and darkened by the crimes to which nations have been driven by the spirit of covetousness. A great and prosperous people cannot endure that the corn-fields and vineyards and the noble river which can be seen from its frontiers should belong to a neighboring power. Sooner or later it is almost certain that this national covetousness will end in a war of aggression or conquest, Some pretext will be found for a quarrel, by some means or other there will be a justification discovered, or created, or alleged, for seizing by force of arms what the heart of the nation longed for" (R. W. Dale). But since the command forbids even the covetous desire, the justification alleged may be as wicked as the war itself; it may be but a cloak to hide from the undiscerning that covetousness which not the thickest veil of night can hide from him whose eyes are as a flame of fire. It is, however, chiefly with the application of this command to the individual that we have now to do. It forbids:
1. Desire after lower good to the neglect of the higher.
2. Desire after improper objects.
3. Desire after lawful objects carried to an improper degree.
4. Desire to gain any object in an improper manner.
5. Any desire after what belongs to another, which is inconsistent with the rule, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," It forbids too:
6. Discontent with the allotments of Divine providence. A discontented spirit is but one form of covetousness, albeit it is a very unamiable one. We are not to be envious of another's possessions, nor for a moment to allow the wish, if our neighbor is rich and we are poor, that his wealth and our poverty should change hands. On the other hand, there is to be a thankful content with the mercies we possess, and a joy in our neighbor's joy if he has more than we have. So far from wishing to gain advantage at another's cost, we are to rejoice in another's good as really as if it were our own. So runs the precept (Romans 12:15). It is much easier to "weep with them that weep," than it is to "rejoice with them that do rejoice." When we do the former, we may have the secret thankfulness that we are spared the sorrow of others; but when the latter, our joy is apt to be checked by the secret wish that we were possessors of their cause of joy. Our obedience to this precept is not complete till we can "weep" or "rejoice" with others with equal readiness. In a word, the tenth commandment requires entire unselfishness. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law."
II. THIS COMMAND MAKES VERY REMARKABLE REVELATIONS. Sin is defined by the Apostle John as "the transgression of Law." Consequently, wheresoever the Law reaches, there would the transgression of it come under that term, "sin." Hence, by the Law is the knowledge of sin. We find accordingly that one of the most noted characters in New Testament history gained, not only from the Decalogue, but from this particular precept, his first deep convictions of sin (see Romans 7:1-25.). Making a like use of it, we see:
1. That this law reveals that to be sin which else would not have been suspected as such. If we were asked by some to point out the marks of sin in the world, they would refer us to war, oppression, tyranny, etc, But God's Word strikes at the lusts out of which these evils come (James 4:1).
2. This law reveals to us how deeply sin has struck its roots in our nature, that it has permeated and saturated our very thoughts, and made them selfish.
3. We see too by the same light that many an apparently good act before men has been rotten by reason of the "lust" in which it had its root.
4. So that we also learn that a man may be altogether blameless in the sight of his fellows, and yet be condemned in the sight of God. God judges acts by motives. Have all our motives been pure?
5. Thus we see that there is quite enough in heart sins to shut us out from the kingdom of heaven.
6. Thus, by this commandment, and a fortiori by all the commandments together, there is revealed to us the impossibility of any one who starts with a burden of accumulated guilt, attaining to the righteousness which is of the Law (Romans 7:9, Romans 7:10). Thus the Law reveals a mischief which it is not its province to cure.
III. WHILE LAW REVEALS MISCHIEF, THE GOSPEL REVEALS A REMEDY FOR IT.
1. It shows us how grace would cut up covetousness by the root.
(1) Our Lord shows us by his teaching that our true wealth consists in what we are rather than in what we have (Luke 12:13-20).
(2) When penitent, he forgives the past.
(3) He re-creates the soul, and lifts us up by promises to a higher level (2 Peter 1:3, 2 Peter 1:4; Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:29; Hebrews 13:5).
(4) Nor is the element of holy warning wanting (1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. It shows us a sphere in which the natural ambition may have legitimate play without degenerating into lust. For, it may be urged, "If we had no desire after the improvement of our condition, we should do away with enterprise? Ought not a young man to be anxious to rise in the world?" Certainly. But not at the expense of others. In a right direction a man not only may, but should, make the very utmost of himself for which his power capacitates him (1 Timothy 4:8; Proverbs 30:5-9). Another may say, "I have the organ of acquisitiveness very strongly developed. I am so made that I must get, so that if I am anxious to have more, I am only acting out that which is imbedded in the structure of my physical frame." Acquisitiveness! an excellent organ to have, and one which makes it specially desirable to decide of what its possessor shall be acquisitive, If it is a necessity of any one's nature to be ever getting, the greater the need that he should be rightly getting the right. Now, while God's Law condemns acquisitiveness in the wrong direction, yet God's grace and gospel open up the grandest possible field for its exercise. By all means let any one develop that noble capacity (Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:5-7; 1 Corinthians 12:31). The surest way of guarding against covetousness of ill will be so to develop this eagerness after good that the other cannot coexist (1 John 2:15). There is no faculty of our nature which can be developed to finer issues than this desire of having, if it be reset by Divine grace, and guided by the Spirit of God. No function of the soul is common or unclean, unless we make it so. Here is the right sort of covetousness (Philippians 3:8), "That I may win Christ." Let all our power of coveting go out after him. He will bring with him durable riches and righteousness. The wealth we have in him will be vastly more than aught we can have from him, and by "the expulsive power of a new affection" he will wean us from the false craving for earth, and ever satisfy us with himself!
The Law as a whole, and its effect upon the people.
In the account of the reception of the Law which we have in the Book of the Exodus, it would seem probable that we have a record which was penned at or near the time of the occurrence. The one before us is declared to be some thirty-nine years after. Moses was then verging towards the end of his career. He indulges in a retrospect of the eventful scenes, and rehearses them in the ears of the people. As we have seen in the first Homily, he "dug" into the Law, and dug up its contents. With this passage as our guide, as we have looked at each command in the Decalogue separately, let us survey it in its entirety.
I. THE LAW IS TO BE REGARDED AS A UNITY. It is not made up of isolated precepts. Our Savior declares that it is summed up in two commandments. And the apostle reminds us that "Love is the fulfilling of the Law," love to God the root, and love to man the fruit. Taking them in order, the first four require of us a love that shall worship God alone, honoring his nature, revering his name, and guarding his rest day for his special service. The six later ones enjoin love to man, requiring loyalty in the home, restraint in the temper, purity of the body, fidelity of the hand, government of the tongue, unselfishness in the heart. What a space of ground all that covers! What part or power of our being is there that is not held in its comprehensive grasp? And how deeply it strikes! It is a "critic" of the thoughts and intents of the heart. No superficial obedience can meet its claims. It is not difficult to see the purpose which it was designed to serve. It was the basis of Israel's national life and legislation. It was for the instruction of the nations round about (Deuteronomy 4:6). And though it was set on a basis of redeeming mercy, it was designed to awaken the conscience to a sense of sin, to take the people to school, and thus to become their child-guide unto Christ. As compared with the simpler patriarchal dispensation, it was an apparent retrogression for the purpose of a spiritual education. It was a form, written, of that high, that holy, that eternal law of righteousness which is the same for all times, all places, and all peoples, yea, of that Law of perfect love which the Divine Being fulfils in absolute perfection, and after which he would have his creatures conformed.
II. THIS LAW CONTAINS WITHIN ITSELF THE EVIDENCE OF ITS DIVINE ORIGIN. An able American commentator on the Laws of Moses (Dr. Wines), tell us of a distinguished lawyer who had been skeptical on the subject of Divine revelation, and who undertook the study of the Old Testament with a view of satisfying himself as to the validity of its claims to be an inspired writing. When he came to the Decalogue, and had given it an attentive perusal, lost in admiration of its superhuman perfection, he exclaimed," Where did Moses get that Law?" He applied himself to the study of the question, and the result was the removal of every skeptical doubt, and the attainment of a clear and earnest conviction of the Divine original of the Law. Nor is it surprising that a legal mind, accustomed to weigh evidence, should come to such a conclusion; for when we know how early in the world's history this Law was promulgated, it is very marvelous to find that an infant nation should, at starting, have a code of moral law so complete; yea, so elevated, that no other nation at that time presented anything like it, and that even now, 3300 years afterwards, not the wisest man in the world can suggest anything loftier! The kingdoms of Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, have furnished us with naught like this, to say nothing of the Roman, Grecian, and Persian empires, the earliest of which was not founded for centuries after. And if, leaving the merely civil and political side of legislation, we ask for an embodiment of a moral and religious code on which legislation could safely be based, we do not find aught to be compared with this. Nor, if we look at the record of the national life of the very people to whom this Law was first given, do we find that even they approximated to conformity to it. In fact, nothing is more marked in their subsequent literature than their grievous departure from their own standards. When man makes any code of laws, those laws reflect himself and his own standard of attainment. But here is a code far beyond the attainment of any yet recorded nation. It is not necessary, however, to go to ancient nations to show that this Law betokens a higher than human origin. Look at legislation now. Look at the moral sentiment of peoples now. What is the cry? Love thy neighbor as thyself? Emphatically no! But "take care of your own interests, and let your neighbors look after themselves!" "Remove your neighbor's landmark as you think well!" Why, if no nation in the world is good enough to adopt the standard of the Decalogue, could it have created it, without ever having had any of its educating influence? And if no nation now could do it, how could they who were just liberated from centuries of slavery? But more than this. This Law is high above the attainment of well-trained Christian congregations. Let a minister proclaim the mercy of God in forgiving sin, and his preaching may charm, Let him insist on the demands of God's righteousness, and while some earnest holy souls will lay it to heart, and humble themselves before God, many will be offended at the enforcement of righteousness; and even now many a minister is persecuted for righteousness' sake. This Law from man? No! it is too good for that. When man is brought face to face with its holy heart-searchingness he hates it! But again. Take the most advanced and holiest Christian you can find. Let him stand in full front of this holy Law—and soon he will be crying out, in agony, "God be merciful to me the sinner!" "But," it may be said, "are not Christians always preaching up to a higher level than that of their attainments?" Certainly; but why? Because they feel and know that here is a Law which they certainly did not originate, which is infinitely above them, and which, by being so, proclaims its intrinsic authority, and proves itself Divine. When such a Law is given, conscience can look at it and say, "That's right." But to create a code above itself, is what no nation ever was able to do. This Law shines by its own light, and is "a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path."
III. WHEN PERCEIVED IN ALL ITS GRANDEUR, THIS HOLY LAW FILLS WITH AWE AND TERROR. The thunder, lightning, flame, etc; revealed a majesty that Israel could not endure (Deuteronomy 5:25, Deuteronomy 5:26; cf. Hebrews 12:18-21). But all this terror was nothing compared with the dread that comes over a man when his inmost self is confronted with the Law in its deep heart-searchingness (cf. Romans 7:9).
IV. GOD TREATS THE TERROR VERY GRACIOUSLY.
1. Israel was called near to the mount to meet with God, that they might learn a solemn awe, and then sent back to their tents, to wonder and to do.
2. God hearkens to their voice, and appoints a mediator—even Moses (Galatians 3:19, Galatians 3:20). We are come to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 12:24).
3. Israel is reminded that what is needed on their part is, not emotion, but devotion (Deuteronomy 5:29). God wants of us a heart to love and obey. Of itself, the Law does but shut us up to see the necessity of a power for righteousness which it cannot give (Galatians 3:21). God has made with us a new covenant. The old covenant says, "Do this, and you will live." The new one says, "Live, and you will do this" (cf. Jer 30:1-24 :31; Hebrews 8:6-13).
4. The people are assured that faithful obedience to the Law of God will ensure the well-being of the nation, its long continuance in the land, and the comfort and peace of the family as well as of the individual. Even so. We have in the Law of God a rule of life absolutely perfect. What is wanted is but obedience to it. This is the one thing to be desired (James 1:22). It is bitterly to be lamented when this obedience is not given (Psalms 80:8-16). When this is the case, the Law becomes a silent accuser (see John 5:45). It is this unwillingness to keep God's Law which is charged against men as sin. It is of this sin of disloyalty that men are called on to repent (Romans 2:1-16; Ezekiel 18:30; Matthew 3:2; Luke 13:3; Acts 20:21). God in his great love offers to law-breakers, when penitent, the privilege of starting afresh (Acts 2:38). God forgives the penitent, and imparts new life and strength through the power of the Holy Ghost, to re-set and restore the nature disorganized by sin. Then the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled as men walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Then life has found its true support, is tending to its right issue, is realizing its highest ideal, and has its noblest outlook. Let us all, then, conscious of innumerable failures in obedience, penitently throw ourselves on Divine grace and love, and seek for energy Divine to work in us, canceling the guilt of the past, creating the life of God within; so will it be well with us forever and ever!
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
The Abrahamic covenant renewed.
So solicitous was God for the well-being of Israel that, on critical epochs in their history, he reminds them of their privileged condition. Three main thoughts arrest our attention—
I. COVENANTED BLESSING SECURED. God has not stood out for the maintenance of his rights; he has stooped to fetter his liberty—to bind himself to generous deeds.
1. He allows us to hold proprietorship in him. We can claim him to be "our God." The Proprietor of all worlds permits fallen men to assert proprietorship in him! Herein is love! We can call upon him, in justice, to fulfill his self-imposed obligations.
2. A covenant implies reciprocal engagements. It is a deed of grace. God binds himself as a Friend and Defender to us, on condition that we bind ourselves in obedient loyalty to him. Failure on one side releases the other party from his pledge.
3. A covenant includes mutual consent. No covenant is really valid, is not complete, until both parties have sworn to observe it. There may be command, law, decree, proceeding from God to man; but no covenant is really in force until we personally have accepted its terms, and bound ourselves by willing act to observe it. Then, our whole being—property, talent, blood, life, are pledged.
II. MEDIATION PROVIDED. This is a further mark of condescending grace. When two parties are alienated, it is always deemed an advantage to one party to have a mediator chosen from its ranks. God allows a man to mediate between Israel and himself. "I stood between the Lord and you."
1. Such mediation was needful, because of mutual disparity, Man is finite; God infinite. Man is for self; God is self-oblivious. Man is earthly minded; God is purely spiritual. That the two may coalesce in sentiment, purpose, life, mediation of some sort is required.
2. Mediation is needful, because of man's selfish fear. The people were "afraid, by reason of the fire"—afraid for their own interests and pleasures. Were men impelled by wisdom, they would count it the highest privilege possible to approach God. What, though we have sinned;—inasmuch as God has revealed himself as the Source of mercy, and has deigned to visit us, should we not gladly respond to his proposal, and draw nigh? What, though he is dressed in garments of flame;—if we are penitent, the consuming flame will consume only our sin; it will benefit and burnish us. This is our honor and our joy—to come very near to God, and to gain larger acquaintance with him. If renewed, our former aversion is turned into longing desire.
3. This mediation was very imperfect. It served a present purpose, viz. a mediation for communicating truth, a mediation for obtaining favor. It speaks a volume for the character and faith of Moses, that he was not afraid to draw near. Imperfect though he was, he displayed a rare spirit of self-sacrifice. "Pardon, I pray thee, this people! or else, blot out my name from thy book!" Here was a vivid type of Jesus.
III. HUMAN OBLIGATION INCREASED. In the very nature of things, kindness on the one side begets obligation on the other.
1. This obligation is personal. "The Lord hath not made this covenant with our fathers, but with us." God's covenant with men is renewed age after age. It is a covenant with us, if we will accept the terms. Are we willing to be his—wholly his? Then the covenant is settled, "ordered in all things and sure."
2. This obligation is all-embracing and complete. It includes every part of our nature, every moment in our history, every interest we have in life. Attention is demanded. The ear must be reserved for God. Intellect is pledged. We must "learn the statutes and judgments." Active and dutiful service is due. Like the true Son, our intention must be, "I do always the things that please" the Father!—D.
The Divine plan for the conduct of our life on earth.
Had we been left in ignorance what the Divine intention in human life was, it had been a calamity indeed. Waste and failure must have been the disastrous result. For every honest-minded man, ample direction from the Supreme Source of authority is supplied. The most cogent argument is not always the most convincing. God might here have prefaced his ten words with a proper assertion of his indisputable sovereignty. But he prefers to appeal to his recent interposition—his emancipation of the people from Egyptian bondage. As if he had said, "I, who released you from grinding misery—I, who created your liberty, and founded your nation, now command your loyalty. Let the lives which I have ransomed be spent as I now direct."
I. How HUMAN LIFE IS TO BE DIRECTED GOD-WARD.
1. That God must be supreme in our regard and affection. "Thou shalt have none other gods before me." This claim is founded in absolute right. The Proprietor has complete dominion over the work of his hands. If his workmanship does not please him, he is at liberty to destroy it. His claim is further pressed on the ground of his transcendent excellence. Essential and unapproachable goodness is he; hence his claims on worship rest upon his intrinsic worth. And his claim to reverent regard proceeds likewise on human benefit. God's glory and man's advantage are only different aspects of the same eternal truth. To give him all is to enrich ourselves.
2. That God must be supreme in our acts of worship. To picture him forth by material images is an impossibility. The plausible plea of human nature has always been that material forms serve as aids to worship the Unseen. But the facts of human experience have uniformly disproved this hypothesis. It may cost us severe exertion of mind to lift our souls up to the worship of the true God; yet this very exertion is an unspeakable advantage. God has no pleasure in imposing on us hard tasks for their own sake; yet, for the high gain to his servants, be does impose them. Throughout the Scriptures, idolatry is represented as spiritual adultery; hence, condescending to human modes of speech, the displeasure of God is described as jealousy. Jealousy is quick-sighted, deep-seated, swift-footed. All revelation of God is an accommodation to human ignorance and feebleness. The visitation of punishment upon the children, and upon the children's children, is not to be construed as excessively severe, much less as unrighteous. The thrice-holy God can never be unjust. The idolatrous spirit would be entailed to children by natural law; hence punishment would culminate in final disaster. The menace was gracious, because, if parents will not abstain from sin for their own sakes, they sometimes will for the sake of their children. The mercy shall be far more ample than the wrath. The anger may be entailed on a few, and that in proportion always to the sin; the mercy shall flow, like a mighty river, to "thousands." True worship fosters love, and stimulates practical obedience.
3. God's authority is supreme over our speech. The faculty of speech is a noble endowment, and differentiates man from the inferior races. The tongue is a mighty instrument, either for evil or for good.
(1) We take God's Name in vain when we make an insincere or superficial profession of attachment. We wear his Name lightly and frivolously if our service is formal and nominal.
(2) We take his Name in vain when we are unfaithful in the performance of our vows. Men pledge themselves to be his in moments of peril, and forget their pledges when safety comes.
(3) We take God's Name in vain when we use it to give force and emphasis to a falsehood. Whether in private converse, or in a court of justice, we use God's Name to produce a stronger persuasion in others' minds, we contract fearful guilt if we use that sacred Name to bolster up a lie.
(4) We take God's Name in vain whenever we use it needlessly, flippantly, or in jest. The moral effect upon men is pernicious, corrupting, deadly. The penalty is set forth in negative language, but it is intended to convey deep impression. Others may hold it as a venial sin; not so God.
4. God's authority over the employment of our time. All time belongs to God. He hath created it. Every successive breath we inspire is by his sustaining power. Since we are completely his, his claim must be recognized through every passing minute. But just as he allows to men the productions of the soil, but requires the firstfruits to be presented to him—the earnest of the whole; so also the firstfruits of our time he claims for special acts of worship. One day in seven he requires to be thus consecrated; but whether the first or the seventh depends wholly on the mode of human calculation. The grounds on which the institution rests are many. Even God felt it to be good to "rest" from his acts of creation. In some sense, he ceased for a time to work. Review and contemplation formed his Sabbath. His claims to have his day observed are myriad-fold. If Sabbath observance was beneficial for Jews, is it not for Gentiles? If it was a blessing to man in the early ages, has it now become a curse? Even the inferior creation was to share in the boon. Strangers and foreigners would learn to admire the gracious arrangement, and learn the considerate kindness of the Hebrews' God.
II. WE LEARN HOW OUR LIFE IS TO BE CONDUCTED MAN-WARD.
1. In accordance with the degree of kinship. A parent has claims beyond all other men upon our love, obedience, and service. Parents are deserving our heartfelt honor. They claim this on the ground of position and relationship, irrespective of personal merit. Parents stand towards their children, through all the years of infancy, in the stead of God. For years the human babe is wholly dependent upon its parent; and this serves as schooling and discipline, whereby it learns its dependence upon a higher Parent yet. The disposition and conduct required in us towards our parents is the same in kind as that required towards God. Filial reverence is the first germ of true religion. Hence the promises of reward are akin. The family institution is the foundation of the political fabric. The health and well-being of home is the fount of national prosperity. If parents are honored, "it shall be well with thee." This, a law for individuals, a law for society, and a law for nations.
2. Our duty towards all men. We are to respect their persons. Their life and health are to be as dear to us as our own. We are to respect their virtue. The lower passions are to be held in restraint. Occasions for lust must be avoided. A bridle must be put upon the glances of the eye. We are to respect their property. This duty has extensive scope. It means that we should deal with others as if they were ourselves. All dishonest dealing, false representations in commerce, overreaching in bargains, fraudulent marks, are condemned. We are to have respect to their reputation. It ought to please us as much to see a conspicuous virtue, a generous quality, in another, as if it shone in ourselves. Idle tale-bearing is forbidden, as also detraction, slander, unfavorable interpretation of others' deeds, and suspicion of their motives. We are charged, as the servants of God, to "love our neighbors even as ourselves."
3. This Divine Law carries its sanctions into our interior life. "Thou shalt not covet." Improper and irregular desires are to be repressed. Like a wise Ruler, God proceeds to the very root of sin—to the very core of evil. 'Tis easiest to strangle the serpent at its birth. If only this fountain were pure, all its streams would be likewise pure. Let the salt of purification be applied here! There is scope for coveting—a direction in which it may lawfully run. It may run Godward. It may fix its eyes and its hands on heavenly treasures. For in securing these we defraud no one else. Therefore, we may with advantage all round "covet earnestly the best gifts." Desire after heavenly gifts and riches is never untimely or excessive, never irregular or inordinate. Hence, as an antidote to a covetous disposition, we may well nourish heavenly hope. "Delight in God" will bring a most satisfying fruition of desire. Sowing in this fertile field yields a prolific harvest. The Decalogue is complete. God "added no more." Authority centers here.—D.
Character determines environment.
I. THE STORMY ELEMENTS OF NATURE SERVE AT TIMES AS THE FITTING ROBES OF DEITY. All natural objects are the projections in space of his creative voice. He spake and they appeared. He is still behind all phenomena—the only real substance. Since he is all-wise, the sole fount of knowledge, the true Revealer of secrets, he is properly said to be appareled with light. The rainbow is his diadem, the morning sun is his radiant face, the thundercloud his chariot. To human eyes, he can only be visible in such forms as these. His holiness can be visibly expressed in no other form than fire. The profound inscrutable ness of his will is best made manifest by the "thick darkness." His insufferable glory is attempered by a cloud. His kingly power is betokened by a "great voice." Such is his fitting environment.
II. THE NEAR APPROACH OF GOD IS INTOLERABLE TO SINFUL MEN. The unrenewed man shrinks from contact with absolute purity. He is in an uncongenial atmosphere—like a fish out of its native element. What tremendous losses foolish man submits to rather than abandon sin—losses of privilege, friendship, joy! So Peter prayed, when the vision of Christ's wondrous power dawned on him, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." But the renewed man yearns and pants for a nearer, and yet nearer, approach to God. "I pray thee, show me thy glory!" This is his joy—to be near God, to grow like him. And yet, how often do we shrink from the passage of death, the passage by which we penetrate into the inner palace of Deity! Whatever brings us into nearer fellowship with God ought to be welcomed.
III. A SIGHT OF GOD KILLS EITHER THE SIN OR THE SINNER. There is no question that God intends the former, but if the guilty man will not part with his sin—identifies himself with it—then he too dies. To know God, and his redeeming Son, is tantamount to eternal life. But to know God only in his judicial character, to have defective acquaintance with him, alarms and kills. The love of sin perverts the judgment, and destroys good logic. These Hebrews said, "We have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth;" and then they inconsistently add, "Therefore why should we die?" In presence of that mystic flame, they promise loyal obedience. If only life may be spared, and God's commands be conveyed in a less alarming manner, they pledge themselves to be his liege servants. Alas! men little know their own weaknesses! So men still say that if they had such a revelation as they wished—such in degree, and such in kind—they would yield compliance! Yet the real difficulty arises not from defects in the external revelation, but from the internal disposition.
IV. GOD'S APPORTIONMENT OF HONOR AND DISHONOR APPROVED BY MEN. HOW different his language to different persons! To some, "Go, get you into your tents again;" to another, "Stand thou here by me." To dwell near to God, and to enjoy his revelations of light and love—this is really man's crowning privilege, this his heaven. Yet the bulk of men are blind to their own good, dead to noblest joy. To possess any pleasure, their environment must be suited to their character; the external must correspond with the internal. "Depart from me!" says man to his Maker. "Depart from me!" responds our God. "Out of our own mouths we are judged."
V. OBSERVE GOD'S INTENSE LONGING FOR MAN'S GOOD. How pathetic are such ejaculations as these, "Oh that there were such a heart in them, to fear me always!"
1. Religion must be a matter of the heart.
2. Religion is not a compulsory, but voluntary, service.
3. Religion commands the allegiance of the whole man—his reverence, submission, and practical service; and that not spasmodic, but continuous.
4. Religion brings largest benefit to ourselves and to our children. Even bad men have, at times, desires after a better life—fitful moods of regret and aspiration. God, in his wondrous patience, smiles on these—approves a passing thought or a transient feeling-and says, in his paternal love, "Would that this frame of feeling continued!" These are the openings of opportunity's golden door.
VI. THE WORLD'S OBEDIENCE IS DEPENDENT ON HUMAN MINISTRIES, The majority of men will not listen to God unless he speak to them through human agencies. Men will only read God's Word as it is written, in large capitals, in saintly lives. Thus God commanded Moses: "I will speak unto thee … thou shalt teach them, that they may do." The pardoned man becomes God's interpreter to the world. "Speak thou to us," they say, "and we will hear." "As Christ was, so we are to be in the world"—light-bearers. The heathen nations learn only through the Church the redeeming work of God.—D.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Reminiscences of Horeb.
I. THE COVENANT. (Deuteronomy 5:2, Deuteronomy 5:3.)
1. Proposed by God (Exodus 19:3-7).
2. Accepted by the people (Exodus 24:7).
3. Entailed obligations on subsequent generations (cf. Deuteronomy 6:2). In this covenant, formally ratified by sacrifice (Exodus 24:6, Exodus 24:7), Israel
(1) accepted Jehovah to be its spiritual and temporal Sovereign.
(2) Pledged itself to observe his Law.
(3) Was adopted by him as his peculiar people.
(4) Had every blessing secured to it on condition of obedience (Exodus 23:22-27).
The new covenant in Christ, while in many respects different from, and superior to, that of Horeb, yet resembles it in several of these particulars.
II. THE LAW. (Deuteronomy 5:6-22.)
1. Holy in its nature.
2. Internally complete as a summary of duty. "He added no more" (Deuteronomy 5:22).
3. Explicative of the character of God. The absoluteness and unity of God, e.g. taught in first commandment; his spirituality, jealousy of his honor, sovereignty, love, and mercy, in second commandment; his holiness, in third commandment; his searching of hearts, in tenth commandment; while in all he appears as the Source of moral obligation, and the Guardian of rights.
4. To be kept from the motive of love (Deuteronomy 5:10). This Law is not abolished, but fulfilled in Christ, by whose Spirit its precepts are written in the minds and hearts of believers (2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 8:10).
III. THE MEDIATOR. (Deuteronomy 5:5, Deuteronomy 5:22-33.) The mediation of Moses was:
1. Craved by the people (Deuteronomy 5:23-28). The manifestation of God's holiness overwhelms sinful men (cf. Isaiah 6:3-6). Moses not only endured this manifestation, but went up alone into the thick darkness where God was. How exceptionally great he appears in this!
2. Acquiesced in by God (Deuteronomy 5:28-32). This transacting through a mediator was in harmony with the principle of his dealings with them from the first. A figure of the mediation of Christ.
3. Suitable in itself. As tending to enhance in their minds the impression of God's holiness and the feeling of their own sinfulness.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 5:2, Deuteronomy 5:3
The covenant at Horeb.
Here spoken of as distinct from the older covenant made with the patriarchs (Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 17:1-27.).
I. ITS RELATIONS TO THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS, It was not a new thing absolutely. It rested on that older covenant, and on the series of revelations which sprang out of it. It could not disannul that older covenant (Galatians 3:17). It could not run counter to it (Galatians 3:21). It must, though "superadded," be in subserviency to it (Galatians 3:15-26). But that covenant made with the fathers was:
1. Of promise (Galatians 3:18).
2. Couched in absolute terms. God pledged his perfections that the promise conveyed in it would be ultimately realized (Romans 3:3).
3. In which an interest was obtained by faith (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3-23).
4. While yet it bound the person received into covenant to a holy life (Genesis 17:1). The new covenant could "make void" the older one in none of these particulars.
II. ITS DISTINCTION FROM THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS.
1. It was a national covenant, having reference primarily to national existence and prosperity.
2. It was a covenant of Law. It was
(1) connected with a promulgation of Law, and
(2) required obedience to the prescribed Law as the condition of acceptance.
Does this look like a retrograde step in the Divine procedure, a contradiction of the covenant with Abraham? Seemingly it was so, but the backward step was really a forward one, bringing to light demands of the Divine holiness which it was absolutely essential man should become acquainted with. Two points have to be noticed:
(a) that obedience was not made the ground of admission to the covenant, or aught else than the condition of continuance in privileges freely conferred; and
(b) that the requirement of obedience did not stand alone, but was connected with provisions for the removal of the guilt contracted by transgression and shortcoming. This brings into view the peculiar feature in the covenant of Horeb—the hidden grace of it. In form and letter it was a strictly legal covenant. Obedience to the Law in all its parts, and without failure, was the technical condition of the fulfillment of promise, and of continuance in covenant privilege (cf. Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10). The fact that atonements were provided to remove the guilt which otherwise would have broken up the covenant, is proof that such was its constitution. The same fact shows that in the structure of the covenant it was recognized that sin and shortcoming would mark the history of Israel; that, on the strictly legal basis, standing in the state of acceptance was impossible. A theoretically perfect obedience no Jew ever rendered. His standing in no case was in virtue of a perfectly fulfilled Law, but was due to forgiving mercy, which daily pardoned his shortcomings, and gave him an acceptance which these shortcomings were as constantly forfeiting. It was faith, not works, which justified him; while yet, in harmony with the unalterable law of moral life, it was his duty to aim at the realization of the ideal of righteousness which the Law presented. Just as with Abraham, the faith which justified him, and did so before a single work had issued from it (Genesis 15:6; James 2:23), was a faith which "wrought with works," and "by works was faith made perfect" (James 2:22). It follows from these peculiarities, and from the statements of Scripture, that it was:
3. A preparatory and temporary covenant. Its leading design was to develop the consciousness of sin, to awaken a feeling of the need of redemption, to evince the powerlessness of mere Law as a source of moral strength, to drive men back from legal efforts to faith, and so, finally, to prepare the way for Christ (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:23, Galatians 3:24, etc.). In this we discern the reason of the severe and threatening form in which it was couched, and of the terrors which attended its promulgation. It was a covenant which could not of itself save or do aught but kill (2 Corinthians 3:6-12).—J.O.
I. MEDIATION IN GENERAL. Mediation has a God-ward side and a man-ward side. The requirements of God's holiness—the needs of man's heart.
1. On God's side, communion with sinners can only be maintained on terms which uphold righteousness and law, and do not derogate from the sanctity of the Divine character.
2. On man's side, there is
(1) the feeling of weakness and finitude, awakening terror in presence of the Infinite (Deuteronomy 5:25-27).
(2) The feeling of sin, giving rise to the craving for a holier one to stand between him and God.
(3) The feeling of need—the soul's longing for fellowship with God; giving rise to the desire for one to mediate in the sense of making peace, of bringing about reconciliation (Job 16:2 l).
II. THE MEDIATION OF MOSES A TYPE OF THAT OF CHRIST, We trace the resemblance:
1. In his willingness to mediate. So did Jesus most willingly undertake to stand between God and sinners (Hebrews 10:5-10).
2. In his acceptance as mediator (Deuteronomy 5:28). So was Christ called to this office by the Father, invested with all the powers necessary for the right discharge of its duties, and accepted in the discharge of them (Isaiah 49:8; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; Hebrews 5:4-11).
3. In the work he did.
(1) Conveying God's words to the people (cf. John 17:6-9).
(2) Conveying the people's words to God (Deuteronomy 5:27). Jesus is in like manner the medium through whom prayer, worship, etc; ascend to the Father (Ephesians 3:18; Hebrews 4:14-16).
(3) Frequently interceding for them, and obtaining pardon for their sins (Exodus 32:11-15; Numbers 14:13-21, etc.). So does Jesus ever live to intercede for us, and advocate our cause (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).
(4) Even, on one notable occasion, offering himself as a sacrifice for their sin (Exodus 32:32). What Moses would have done, had it been possible so to save the people from destruction, Christ did (Galatians 3:13, etc.).—J.O.
The iniquity of the fathers visited on the children.
I. A FACT AMPLY ATTESTED. Borne out—
1. By Scripture instances (Joshua 7:24; 2Sa 12:14; 1 Kings 21:21, 1 Kings 21:29, etc.).
2. By observation and experience. The case of children suffering in mind, body, character, and fortune, as the result of the sins of parents, is one of the commonest and saddest things in life.
3. Science. The law of heredity. (For illustrations, see Rev. Joseph Cook's 'Lectures.')
4. Literature. Especially do the Greek tragedies give expression to, and strikingly work out, this thought.
II. A FACT MYSTERIOUS, YET TO BE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF VARIOUS RELIEVING CONSIDERATIONS. The difficulty is one of natural, quite as much as of revealed, religion. The following considerations relieve it only in part:
1. Every original disadvantage will be taken into account by the Searcher of hearts in estimating personal responsibility (Luk 13:1-35 :48).
2. The final judgment on a man's character will turn, not on inherited tendencies, but on what he has made himself by his own moral determinations (Ezekiel 18:1-32.).
3. The less favorable conditions in which the sins of parents have placed the individual cannot turn to his ultimate disadvantage if he struggle well and persevere to the end (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on Exodus 20:5).
4. It is open to the evil-doer to cut off the entail of punishment by choosing for himself the way of righteousness (Ezekiel 18:15-18). God is reluctant to contemplate the heritage of evil descending further than the third or fourth generation, while thousands of generations are spoken of in connection with the blessing.
5. Experience of the effects of a parent's evil-doing is designed to act as a deterrent from like sins. The child is less likely to imitate the parents' vices, suffering these results, than if entirely exempt.
6. The Law is the consequence of a constitution of society originally intended for the conveyance, not of evils, but of blessings. This is a consideration of importance as throwing light on the equity, as well as on the goodness, of Divine providence. The design of the organic constitution of society is obviously to hand down to succeeding generations the moral gains of those which precede. It is sin which has wrought the mischief, reversing the operation of a constitution in itself beneficent, and making that which is good work death to so many.
Lesson—The tremendous responsibility of parents, and of all who have it in their power to influence the destinies of posterity.—J.O.
I. WHAT? The essential point in the institution is the sanctification to God of a seventh part of our time, of one day in seven. Which day of the seven is observed is indifferent, not in the sense of being left to individual choice, but in respect of any inherent sanctity in one day above another (Romans 14:5). The day is made holy by the Divine appointment, and by the uses we put it to. We sanctify the Sabbath:
1. By observing it as a day of rest from secular toil. The need of a rest day in the week is universally acknowledged. Every effort should be made to extend the boon as widely as possible, and to avoid infraction of the rights of others in connection with it. Our aim should be to lessen Sunday work, not to increase it. Apply to railways, steamboats, post-office work, museums, etc.
2. By devoting it principally to religious uses. It is only by conserving the Sabbath as a day sacred to religion that we can hope to preserve it as a day free from toil. We need, for spiritual purposes, all the opportunities it gives us.
II. FOR WHOM? The answer is—for man. This is shown:
1. From its primeval origin. That the Sabbath dates from creation is implied in the narrative in Genesis 2:3, in the terms of the command (Exodus 20:8-11), in Christ's words (Mark 2:27), in the argument in Hebrews 4:3, Hebrews 4:4, and in the recently deciphered Chaldean traditions. While it may be argued, that if designed to commemorate creation, this is a matter which concerns all men equally with the Jews.
2. From its place in the moral law. It is certainly remarkable, if the Sabbath is a purely Jewish institution, that it should be found embodied in the first of those two tables which by their contents, as well as by the manner of their promulgation, are shown to be of a distinctly moral nature.
3. From the respect paid to it by the prophets (see Isaiah 58:13, Isaiah 58:14). The language here employed is very different from that which prophets were accustomed to use of purely ceremonial institutions.
4. From Christ's defense of it. It is noticeable, and supports our view, that while frequently charged with breaking the Sabbath law, the Savior never once admits the charge. He carefully defends himself against it. He unceremoniously clears away the rubbish which the Pharisees had heaped upon the institution; but the Sabbath itself he never speaks of as a thing to be abolished. He sets it in its true light, and shows high respect for it.
5. From its reappearance in the new dispensation in a form adapted to the genius and wants of Christianity. The name Sabbath is not found in the New Testament, applied to the first day of the week, but the thing appears in that weekly festival of the Apostolic Church—the Lord's day.
6. From the proved adaptation of the Sabbath to the constitution of man's nature. The seventh-day rest is found by experience to be essential to man's welfare. It ministers to physical health, mental vigor, moral purity, and religious earnestness. The Sabbath-keeping nations are by far the happiest, most moral, and most prosperous. These reasons combine to show that this institution is one intended and adapted for the whole human family.
III. WHY? The institution, as seen above, is grounded in deep necessities of man's nature. It is, moreover, a suitable recognition of the Creator's right to our worship and service. But further, it is:
(1) of creation,
(2) of redemption
—in the case of Israel, of redemption from Egypt (Hebrews 4:15); in the case of the Christian, of redemption through Christ.
2. Prefigurative—of the rest of heaven (Hebrews 4:9).—J.O.
Honor to parents.
We prefer the arrangement which regards the fifth commandment as the last of the first table—honor to parents being viewed as honor to God in his human representatives.
I. PARENTS STAND TO THEIR CHILDREN IN THE RELATION OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE DIVINE. They represent God as the source of their offspring's life; they have a share of God's authority, and ought to exercise it; but much more ought they to represent God to their children in his unwearied beneficence, his tender care, his exalted rectitude, his forgiving love. With what intelligence or comfort can a child be taught to think of a Father in heaven, if its earthly parent is wanting in dignity, kindness, truthfulness, or integrity? How many fathers are thus spoiling for their children their whole conceptions of God! And with what anxiety and care should earthly parents study to leave such an impression on their children's minds as will make the idea of God delightful and consolatory to them, while inspiring them towards him with proper feelings of reverence!
II. PARENTS ON THIS ACCOUNT ARE TO BE HONORED BY THEIR CHILDREN. They are to be regarded with affection, treated with respect and deference, promptly and cheerfully obeyed, and, where needful, liberally supported (Matthew 15:4-7; 1 Timothy 5:8). Even the failure of parents to do all their duty to their children does not exonerate the children from the obligation of treating them with respect. Young people need to be reminded that failure in this duty is peculiarly offensive to God. We are told that when Tiyo Soga visited this country, a particular thing which astonished him was the deficiency in respect for parents compared with the obedience which prevailed in the wilds of Kaffraria.
III. THE HONORING OF PARENTS HAS ATTACHED TO IT A PECULIAR PROMISE. Length of days and prosperity. The promise is primarily national, but it has fulfillments in individuals.
1. A special blessing rests on the man who shows his parents due respect. That has often been remarked.
2. There is also a natural connection between the virtue and the promise. Respect for parents is the root at once of reverence for God and of respect for the rights of others. Hence the place of the commandment in the Decalogue. It engenders self-respect, and forms the will to habits of obedience. It is favorable to the stability, good order, and general morals of society. It therefore conduces to health, longevity, and a diffusion of the comforts of life, furnishing alike the outward and the inward conditions necessary for success.—J.O.
I. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS A DISTINCT PART OF GOD'S REVELATION.
1. They were spoken by God's own voice from the midst of the fire (Deuteronomy 5:24).
2. They only were thus promulgated; "he added no more."
3. They were written on tables of stone.
4. They were deposited in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:16). These facts show that they held a distinct place in the Law-giving at Sinai, and that they are not to be confounded with the ceremonial and judicial statutes, subsequently given.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS DISTINCTION. The Decalogue was:
1. An epitome of universal moral truth.
2. Internally complete as such—the first table laying down our duties to God, as respects his being, his worship, his Name, his day, his human representatives; the second forbidding all injury to our fellow-men (injuries to life, property, chastity, character), while requiring by implication the fulfillment of all positive duties, and the regulation even of our secret thoughts.
3. The basis of the covenant with Israel. The foundation on which all subsequent legislation was reared.—J.O.
The element of terror in religion.
I. THE FACT OF TERROR. It is not unnatural that man should tremble in presence of any near manifestation of the Divine. The chief cause of this terror is the consciousness of sin. Guilty man fears his Judge. The text is an instance of this terror, but the same thing has often been witnessed.
1. In presence of unusual appearances of nature. Comets, eclipses, unusual darkness, thunderstorms, earthquakes, etc.
2. Under the powerful preaching of judgment. Felix under the preaching of Paul (Acts 24:25). Massillon bringing the French court to their feet in terror, as he described the Lord's coming. Whitfield's oratory and its effects.
3. In prospect of death. There are few in whom the approach of death does not awaken serious alarms. The effect is most conspicuous in times of sudden danger, as in shipwrecks, etc.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF TERROR. Usually, as here:
1. It extorts confession of the truth. The Israelites spoke of God in juster terms than ever they had done before, or perhaps ever did again. Terror draws from the soul strange acknowledgments. The white face of the scoffer shows how little, in his heart, he disbelieves in the God he would fain have disavowed. The self-righteous man is made suddenly aware of his sins. The blasphemer stops his oaths, and begins to pray. The liar for once finds himself speaking the truth.
2. It awakens the cry for a mediator. Thus we see it leading men to send for ministers or lay Christians to pray for them, or crying for mercy to the Savior or to saints.
3. It prompts to vows and promises. In their terrified moods, men are willing to promise anything—whatever they think will please or propitiate God (Deuteronomy 5:27). They will repent, will pray, will go to church, will make restitution for wrongs, will abandon vices, etc.
III. THE INEFFICACY OF TERROR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CONVERSION. Terror, when excited by just views of sin, has its uses. It breaks up the hardened crust of indifference, ploughs into the nature, and prepares it for the reception of better teaching. But terror of itself cannot change the heart. It is the message of love which alone can exalt, renovate, and truly convert. Not the Law, but the cross. The Law is only useful when employed as a schoolmaster to bring to Christ. These Israelites soon forgot their terrors, and in less than forty days had made for themselves a golden calf. The jailor's terrors (Acts 16:27) would have wrought death, but the words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," etc. (Deuteronomy 5:31), made him live anew.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 5:28, Deuteronomy 5:29
God's desires for man's good.
A gleam, from amidst the terrors, of the Divine loving-kindness and tenderness.
I. GOD WELCOMES IN MAN THE FAINTEST TRACES OF A DISPOSITION TO RETURN TO HIM. (Deuteronomy 5:27.) This trait in the Divine character is scarcely recognized by us as it should be. We are apt to take for granted that till conversion is absolutely complete—till it is in every respect sincere and thorough, it can obtain no favor in the eyes of Heaven. Scripture teaches, on the contrary, that God wills to recognize in man any signs of turning towards himself, and would fain, by holding out encouragements, ripen these into thorough conversion (1 Kings 21:27-29; Psalms 78:34-40; Jonah 3:10).
II. GOD IS NEVERTHELESS AWARE OF ALL THAT IS LACKING IN HEARTS NOT COMPLETELY SURRENDERED TO HIM. The professions of the Israelites did not deceive him. He knew the superficiality of their states of feeling. They lacked yet "one thing" (Mark 11:21)—the entire surrender of their hearts to him. We have the same discernment in the New Testament (John 2:25; Acts 8:21; Revelation 3:1; cf. 1 Kings 15:3; Matthew 13:20, Matthew 13:21).
III. GOD DESIRES IN MAN THAT THOROUGHNESS OF CONVERSION WHICH ALONE CAN SECURE OBEDIENCE, HAPPINESS, AND PERSEVERANCE. What God desires in man is heart-religion; this has:
1. Its seat in the heart.
2. Its principle in the fear of God.
3. Its outcome in obedience.
4. Its test in perseverance.
5. Its reward in blessedness.
It is God's love which here speaks, but also his righteousness, which is necessarily averse from whatever is unreal, and desires to see goodness triumphant.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Moses here recalls the Sinaitic covenant, and wishes the Israelites to remember that, though given to their fathers primarily, it was also applicable to them. They were in many cases present as children then, and they were represented by their parents. Moses speaks with authority as having been mediator (Deuteronomy 5:5) on the occasion.
There are the following lessons to be learned from the Decalogue as here given:—
I. THE COVENANT IS BASED UPON A MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE. God gives his Law to his people after their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It is intended to be a rule of life for those already redeemed. The gospel precedes the Law—Moses the deliverer precedes Moses the lawgiver; the Lord was first known as the fountain of freedom, and then as the fountain of that Law within whose bounds freedom is to be realized.
II. THIS LAW COVERS OUR RELATIONS BOTH TO GOD AND MAN.
1. The Laws relating to God. These embrace the four which come first, i.e.
(1) the law against polytheism or atheism. This law is broken when we live "without God in the world," ascribing to luck, chance, or fortune what is due to God's providence. It is broken when we worship self, or fame, or ambition Dale's 'Ten Commandments;' Washburn's 'Social Law of God;' and Crosby's 'Thoughts on the Decalogue').
(2) The law against sensuous worship. For the second commandment is broken in so far as our worship is not "in spirit and in truth."
(3) The law of reverence. Any spirit of undue familiarity which leads to the least trifling before God is a breach of this third commandment.
(4) The law of consecrated time. This fourth commandment is an acknowledgment that all time is God's by right, and the seventh portion should be by special obligation. In Deuteronomy the Sabbath is based, not on creation, as in Exodus, but on the deliverance from Egypt. Each great providence increases our obligation thus to acknowledge God. Hence the Lord's day is made commemorative of our Lord's resurrection.
2. The laws relating to man. These embrace the succeeding six, thus:
(1) The law of the family. This is the first commandment with promise (Ephesians 6:2).
(2) The law of social love. For we are to avoid not only murder, but the unholy anger of which it is the manifestation (Matthew 5:22).
(3) The law of social purity. We must be pure in thought, as well as in act, as our Lord has shown us.
(4) The law of honesty. This must be in God's sight and in man's (2 Corinthians 8:21).
(5) The law of veracity. Restraining the turbulent tongue (James 3:6, James 3:9).
(6) The law of contentment. The curbing of covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).—R.M.E.
How Moses became mediator.
The Ten Commandments were a direct communication from God to Israel. But it was too much for their sinful, terrified souls to stand, and so Moses is entreated to stand between God and them, and be the medium of communication between them. The Lord approved of the arrangement, and installed Moses into the office (cf. Exodus 20:18-21). This suggests—
I. THE CRY FOR A MEDIATOR AROSE OUT OF THE FEARS OF MEN. The surpassing glory of God makes such a terrific impression on the hearts of sinners that they cry instinctively for mediation. It is a need of mankind when aroused to a true sense of the majesty and purity of God. Those who question the necessity of mediation are really wanting in the due sense of God's exceeding majesty and glory.
II. THE OFFICE OF A MEDIATOR NECESSITATED MUCH PERSONAL SELF-DENIAL. It was doubtless a great honor conferred on Moses; but it was also a great burden. Thus he declared his own fears in the circumstances. "I exceedingly fear and quake" was his testimony about the experience on the mount. Besides, the forty days' seclusion and fast and all the attendant anxieties and troubles showed that it was most assuredly no sinecure. And these trials of Moses only faintly typify the severe strain and trial borne by Christ, the one Mediator between God and man.
III. THE MEDIATION WAS LAW-GIVING. Moses was to convey "the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments" of God unto the people. It was didactic—its purpose was the conveyance of truth. It was a prophetic office, consequently, which Moses in this instance received. The priestly was made over to Aaron, on the principle of a "division of labor."
And so Christ is the great mediating Prophet. He came forth from the secret place of God to convey to us what God is. He came down from heaven. He testified about heavenly things (John 3:11-13). And in the perfection of mediation, he embodied the truth, and was able to say, "I am the truth" (John 14:6). Jesus was a living Law.
V. OBEDIENCE SHOULD RESULT FROM THE MEDIATION. The whole Law was a "commandment with promise." This is shown in Deuteronomy 5:33. The children of Israel were to conduct themselves obediently as the children of God, and they would realize in all its breadth the promise of the fifth commandment. The Law was a Law of well-being (Deuteronomy 5:29). Obedience was the condition of continued prosperity in the land. And the same arrangements continue. Obedience to God's Law still secures the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. Not, of course, that the saints are always prosperous in this world; were this the case, saintship would be a very mercenary business. But other things being equal, the tendency of obedience is to present as well as future well-being. God makes no promise, but threatening, to the disobedient.—R.M.E.
Some connect this with what goes before, and take it as a sort of epilogue to the preceding discourse; but it is rather to be regarded as introductory to what follows. Being about to enjoin upon the people the commandments they were to obey in the land on which they were about to enter, Moses prefaces this with a general announcement of what he was about to deliver, and with a statement of the reason for such deliverance, and of the benefits that would flow from the observance of what should be enjoined.
These are the commandments. In the Hebrew it is, This is the commandment, i.e. the sum and substance of the Divine enactment; equivalent to "the Law" (Deuteronomy 4:44). "The statutes and judgments" (rights) are in apposition to "the commandment," and explain it.
The reason for this announcement of the Law was that the people might fear the Lord, so as to keep all that he enjoined, they and their children, from generation to generation, and that they might thereby continue long in life, and in the enjoyment of the advantages accruing from the land of which they were about to take possession.
God had promised from the first to the patriarchs that he would make of their posterity a great nation (Genesis 12:1; Genesis 17:6; Genesis 18:18). But the fulfillment of this promise was conditioned by their continuing as a people in the fear of God, and in obedience to his Law. Everything, then, depended on their hearing what Moses had been commanded to teach them, and observing to do it (cf. Le Deuteronomy 26:9, etc.). In the land, etc. This is to be connected with the clause, "that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily;" the land was to be the scene and sphere of their prosperity and increase. Some would render thus: "As the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee a laud," etc; i.e. a place in which thou mayest prosper and increase; the other, however, is the more natural construction and rendering. There is, indeed, no preposition before "the land" in the Hebrew; but nothing is more common in that language than for the accusative of a noun to be used adverbially to describe the place where anything is done. Milk and honey; emblem of fruitfulness and sweetness (So Deuteronomy 4:11); proverbially descriptive of Canaan, as rich in pasturage for flocks, and abounding in flowers whence the bees could extract honey (cf. Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17).
THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. "In the fear of Jehovah all true obedience is rooted (Deuteronomy 6:2, Deuteronomy 6:3); for this is the first and most intimate fact in the relation of Israel and Jehovah (Deuteronomy 5:26). But where the supreme fear of Jehovah hinders men from allowing self to preponderate in opposition to God, there will be no stopping at this renunciation of self-will, though this comes first as the negative form of the ten commandments also shows, but there will come to be a coalescence of the human with the Divine will; and this is love, which is the proper condition of obedience, as the ten commandments also indicate (Deuteronomy 5:10)" (Baumgarten).
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. This is an affirmation not so much of the moneity as of the unity and simplicity of Jehovah, the alone God. Though Elohim (plu.), he is one. The speaker does not say, "Jehovah is alone God," but "Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah" (comp. for the force of אֶחָד, Exodus 26:6, Exodus 26:11; Ezekiel 37:16-19). Among the heathen there were many Baals and many Jupiters; and it was believed that the deity might be divided and communicated to many. But the God of Israel, Jehovah, is one, indivisible and incommunicable. He is the Absolute and the Infinite One, who alone is to be worshipped, on whom all depend, and to whose command all must yield obedience (cf. Zechariah 14:9). Not only to polytheism, but to pantheism, and to the conception of a localized or national deity, is this declaration of the unity of Jehovah opposed. With these words the Jews begin their daily liturgy, morning and evening; the sentence expresses the essence of their religious belief; and so familiar is it to their thought and speech that, it is said, they were often, during the persecution in Spain, betrayed to their enemies by the involuntary utterance of it.
To the one indivisible Jehovah undivided devotion and love are due. Hence the injunction, Thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. The "heart" is the inner nature of the man, including his intellectual, emotional, and cognitive futurities; the "soul" is the personality, the entire self-consciousness; and the" might" is the sum of the energies, bodily and mental. Not by profession merely is Jehovah to be loved; the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, is to be yielded to him in holy and devout affection. The last letter Of the first word, and the last letter of the last word in this verse are larger than the ordinary size (majuscula), and as these two form the word for witness (עד), the Jews say that they are written thus "that every one may know, when he professes the unity of God, that his heart ought to be intent and devoid of every other thought, because God is a witness, and knoweth everything".
Deuteronomy 6:6, Deuteronomy 6:7
Where true love to God exists in the heart, it will manifest itself in a regard to his will, and in the diligent keeping of his commandments. Hence his words were to be not only in the memory of the people, but laid upon their heart (cf. Deuteronomy 11:18), that they might be ever present to the thought and will. They were also to be inculcated upon their children, and to be the subject of conversation on all fitting occasions between them, the members of their household, and even their casual associates. Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children; literally, Thou shalt sharpen them to thy children, impress them upon them, send them into them like a sharp weapon.
The words of God were to be bound for a sign [a memorial or directory] upon thine hand, the instrument of acting, and to be as frontlets [fillets or bands] between thine eyes, the organs of direction in walking or moving, and so on the forehead, the chamber of thought and purpose; and they were to inscribe them on the posts of their houses, and on their gates. The purport of this is that they were constantly and everywhere to have these commandments of the Lord in view and in mind, so as to undeviatingly observe them. It seems, however, to have been a custom widely prevalent among the ancient Eastern peoples to carry about their persons slips of parchment or some other material, on which were written sentences of moral or religious import; and such sentences they were also wont to inscribe on conspicuous places of their dwellings; usages still to be found among the Moslems (see Wilkinson, 'Ancient Egyptians,' 3.364; Lane, 'Modern Egypt,' 1.358; Russell, 'Nat. Hist. of Aleppo;' Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' 1.216), and the latter of which was not altogether unknown among Western nations (cf. Virgil, 'Georg.' Leviticus 26:0, etc.), of which traces may still be seen in Switzerland, Germany, and on old houses in both England and Scotland. This custom originated, probably, in a desire to have the sentiments inscribed always in mind; but for the most part these inscriptions came to be regarded as amulets or charms, the presence of which on the person or the house was a safeguard against evil influences, especially such as were supernatural. By the Jews this custom was followed; and they regarded it as authorized by the injunction of Moses in this passage. Taking his words literally, they had their tôtâphoth and their mezuzah, the former of which—the phylacteries of the New Testament—were strips of parchment, on which passages of the Law (Exodus 13:2-10, Exodus 13:11-17; Deuteronomy 6:4-10, Deuteronomy 6:13-22) were written, and these, enclosed in a box, were bound on the forehead and left wrist, and worn at prayers by the worshippers; the latter a slip of parchment, on which were written certain passages of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21), and which, enclosed in a reed or cylinder, was fixed on the right-hand doorpost of every room in the house (see arts. 'Mezuzah' and 'Phylacteries' in Kitto's 'Biblical Cyclopedia,' 3rd edit.).
As the Israelites were about to enter upon the possession of a rich and fertile land, where everything for their accommodation and comfort was already provided for them, there was a danger of their being so engrossed with their new possessions as to forget the Lord and his gracious dealings with them. They are, therefore, here warned against the danger to which they would be thus exposed. House of bondage (Exodus 13:3).
Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God. The fear of the Lord—that reverent awe which is akin to love—is the beginning of wisdom and the foundation of piety; where it is in the heart it will lead to serving of the Lord in holy obedience; and they in whom it dwells will swear by his Name, recognizing his presence and omniscience, and not daring to asseverate anything but what they know to be true. Thus, really believing in God and reverently worshipping him, the Israelites would be careful not to go after other gods, or to give to any object that homage which is due unto Jehovah alone, knowing that this he will not endure or suffer with impunity; for he is a jealous God, and them that thus dishonor him he will destroy (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24, etc.). Thus also they should be kept from murmuring against God, and thereby tempting him—putting him, as it were, to the proof, and calling in question his presence and his power, as they had done at Massah (Exodus 17:1-7). Without this genuine religious principle there will be no sincere worship, no true reverence, no real obedience, rendered unto God. But where this dwells in the heart it will influence the whole life, so that the commandments of God shall be diligently kept, and that which is good and right in his sight shall be done.
To cast out, etc.; rather, to the castling out of, etc. The infin, here expresses the carrying out of the action intimated in the words," that it may be well with thee" (cf. Exodus 23:27, etc.; Exodus 34:11).
The injunction to teach the words of the Lord to the children (Deuteronomy 6:7) is here more largely explained. When asked by their sons the meaning and reason of the commandments and institutes which they observed, they were to show them what the Lord had done for his people in bringing them out of Egypt and establishing them in Canaan, and how he had enjoined on them all these statutes that they might fear Jehovah their God for their good always, and for their preservation and safety.
Signs and wonders (cf. Deuteronomy 4:34).
And it shall be our righteousness; literally, And righteousness shall be to us, i.e. we shall be held righteous by God if we observe to do all that he has enjoined (comp. Romans 10:5; Romans 6:16; Philippians 3:6). Before the Lord, i.e. not only in his sight, but according to his judgment, so as to be approved of him (cf. Psalms 56:13; Psalms 116:9).
Obedience to God conducive to the highest good.
The Lord God had launched forth into the world a new nation, the basis of whose constitution was specifically religious. The worship, fear, and service of the one living and true God were the prime duties enjoined on the people, without which no bare morality as between man and man was accepted before him. In this paragraph, however, we get no indications of duty which have not previously been included in the ten commandments. How can we? The whole ground of duty was covered by them. Still, the same truths are ever being thrown into forms fresh and new. The primal laws of duty are not many; they may soon be recounted. But we need "line upon line, precept upon precept," that the very precepts which perhaps we deem commonplace may be graven on our hearts, and there become living powers! In the three verses before us the enjoined duties are summed up in the one phrase, the commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1 : the word is singular, and includes in its meaning both statutes and judgments). Four expressions show how "the commandment" is to be kept.
1. There is to be a fear of the Lord; a fear based on trust, not on distrust.
2. The Divine appointments are to be the rule of life.
3. The nurture and training of the family are to be in entire harmony therewith.
4. This family loyalty to God is to be continuous and unswerving—"all the days of thy life." And in wealth and variety of diction the Legislator points out that in this loyalty of being Israel would find its well-being. Whence we get the topic for our present Homily: That our highest interests are ensured by the fulfillment of the Divine commands. Observe—
I. IT IS SUPPOSED THAT MEN WILL NOT BE INSENSIBLE TO THE QUESTION—"WHAT WILL BE MOST PROFITABLE TO US?" As a matter of fact, they do regard the measure of profit likely to accrue, as something which regulates their movements. Nor is there anywhere in the Word of God any censure passed on this. In fact, even our Savior himself appeals to considerations of profit in Matthew 16:25, Matthew 16:26. So also does the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:8. The working of self-love is recognized without rebuke in the Law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;" and it is even remotely enjoined in the words, "Do thyself no harm." The distinction between self-love and selfishness is very decided, yet is far too little noticed. Selfishness is having regard to our own interests in distinction from those of others; self-love has regard to our own interests in harmony with those of others. The first is sinful; the second is lawful; yea, more, to fight against our highest interests would be wrong. We may demur to the maxim that "utility is the foundation of virtue," and rightly so, if "utility" be taken in the selfish aspect thereof. But if by "utility" we mean "the tendency to promote the highest good over the widest sphere, for all time," then the maxim is lifted up to a higher level, and becomes at least practically wholesome, even if it may be objected to on philosophical grounds. If, then, we do but entertain a right and scriptural view of what our highest interests are, it is lawful for us, and even binding on us, to have a regard to them; and it is to the desire in that direction that the passage before us makes its appeal.
II. IT IS SHOWN HERE THAT THERE IS A COURSE OF LIFE WHICH IS APPOINTED FOR US BY GOD. The appointments of God for us are specified here. We are to "fear the Lord." Evidently this is to be a fear, not of dread, but of love; for see 1 Timothy 4:5. In Psalms 130:4 we read, "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." God forgives, and so takes away the fear of the offender, that the fear of offending may take its place. There is to be dread of sin, but not of God. The fear is to be suffused with tenderness and brightened with joy (Psalms 33:1). See the phrases in this section, even touching in their pathos—"God, thy God," "the God of thy fathers." Yea, it is our own God who lays down our life-rules, and by all the force of his tender love would he win us to obedience.
III. IN FOLLOWING GOD'S APPOINTED WAY WE ENSURE OUR OWN HIGHEST GOOD. (Psalms 130:2, Psalms 130:3.) The elements of good which obedience ensures are:
1. Peace. We remarked above that the fear of God, which we are called on to cherish, is one based on trust. The Christian form of this is reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ in all the aspects in which he is revealed to us as ours. The effect of this is named in Romans 5:1. Then there will be peace of conscience (see Isaiah 32:17; Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:7; Matthew 11:29).
2. Harmony. Our nature will be in self accord when what we are and do corresponds to what we ought to be and do. There will be no schism between the judgment and the affections.
3. Health. Other things being equal, the man who is most obedient to God's laws will have the soundest health in body, soul, and spirit. The gladsomeness and ease of a sound and well-balanced constitution will be his. Hence:
4. Continuance will be a part of the reward—"that thy days may be prolonged" (see Psalms 91:16; cf. Ephesians 6:3; Psalms 36:9, 28, 34). The forms in which the rewards of loyalty to God will show themselves are very varied. The individual will find that godliness has "promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." The family will find that "he blesseth the habitation of the just." The city will find that the keeping of God's commandments is among the things "which belong unto its peace." And "the righteous nation which keepeth the truth" will find that "salvation doth God appoint for walls and bulwarks" (see Isaiah 26:1, Isaiah 26:2; Isaiah 48:17). It is a remarkable instance of the Divine condescension to cur ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, that our God should stoop to teach us what is profitable to ourselves, and that he should deign in mercy to reward with honor and peace those who fear him (Psalms 62:12). Mercifully meeting us on the low ground on which we too frequently stand in looking out for profit, God would raise us up to the higher platform of a pure, self-abandoning self-forgetfulness and love, in which we are content to be nothing, that God may be all in all. For observe—
IV. APPARENT EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE ARE EXCEPTIONS ONLY IN APPEARANCE. Sometimes obedience to God may be attended with a most unusual amount of affliction or of persecution. Take, e.g. the roll of worthies referred to in Hebrews 11:32-39. Can we say it was for their "profit" to serve God? Most certainly we can. For:
1. By their endurance they became witnesses for God, and served their generation in the very way they would most have desired could they have seen as God sees.
2. Their afflictions were the means of purifying their characters, strengthening their principles, and ripening their virtues.
3. In the midst of all, God was himself to them" their exceeding joy;" and what they had in him was, even on earth, an ample recompense for all that they had suffered for him.
4. They had respect to the recompense of reward (Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:16, Hebrews 11:26).
5. Their sufferings are long ago forgotten in the rest of the unseen state where they are "inheriting the promises" (Hebrews 6:12). They had faith to believe them and patience to wait for them, and now they have entered into "the rest." Who need wish to change their lot for the smoothest and most prosperous career of a man "without God in the world?" Virtue may for a while seem "to have the worst of it," but "they that are losers for God shall never be losers by him in the end."
V. OBEDIENCE IS EXPECTED TO BE THE RESULT OF AN INTELLIGENT AND CULTURED FAITH, AND NOT OF A BLIND ONE. Hebrews 11:1, "The Lord your God commanded to teach you." Nowhere has the adage, "Ignorance is the mother of devotion," less warrant than in the Word of God. The priests of a spurious or alien faith may inculcate blind submission. Not so any of the inspired writers, whether legislators, prophets, or apostles. Men were to be taught not only what God required, but why he required it, that they might render him the homage of a heart quickened to love through the truth which reached the understanding and "commended itself to every man's conscience." God appeals to reason (Isaiah 1:18).
Truth and godliness to be perpetuated by means of home training.
In this paragraph, the aged lawgiver rehearses the sum and substance of the Law he had delivered, and is showing what provision God had made in the structure of society for the maintenance and perpetuation of truth and godliness. It is easy to see how very incomplete his work would have been, had he not been guided to make provision for its perpetuation after his death. Doubtless God designs to use various kinds of workers in his field. Some may, like Whitefield, make a great impression while their oratory is swaying its thousands and tens of thousands. Others may be like Wesley, who not only moved the people for a generation by his pulpit power, but also prepared the way by his organizing skill for a great institution which should last for ages. Now, it is not for us to disparage one man because he does not do the work of another, but certain it is that, other things being equal, there is no comparison between the power of a man whose felt influence passes away with his life, and that of one whose works follow him, in the productions of his pen or the creations of his up-building skill. New, it was not by one like Aaron, eloquent though he was, that the continuance of the Hebrew faith and life was to be secured. He gives us no proof of stability or of that kind of power which ensures its own reproduction. That was found in Moses, a man naturally slow of speech, who, in spite of his occasional outbreaks of vehemence, was yet a patient, wise, faithful leader, by whose practical genius provision was made for the permanence of Israel's religious ordinances and life. Moved by the Holy Ghost, he called into existence those great institutions of worship and teaching, by means of which even we down to this day are feeling the impulses which started from Mount Sinai. In the six verses before us, we have what may be called a threefold appointment of God, which in all its essential features is as much in force now as ever. We propose to study it, not so much in its historical and local aspect, as in its bearing on us and on all men for all time.
I. HERE, AT THE BACK OF NATIONAL LIFE, IS SET THE EXPRESSION OF A CONDENSED THEOLOGY. "The Lord our God is one Lord." Time was when this verse was quoted in the Socinian controversy in proof of the unity of God, as against the Trinitarians, though it has in fact no bearing on the matter at all. It refers, not to the nature of the Divine Being in himself, but is rather set over against the faiths with which Israel had been surrounded, of "lords many and gods many." In contrast from polytheism, it declares that there is but one Great Supreme, who is the Lord of heaven and earth. And this is not the basis of Israel's faith alone, but of ours likewise. We know more of God than the Hebrews did, but what they knew we retain. In atheism, the highest intellectual natures never can rest. Deism chills. Pantheism ignores personality. The God of the Bible, as revealed to us, satisfies the cravings of intellect and heart. In Jesus Christ, God is "manifest" as nowhere else. Nor should we leave out the touching word, "the Lord our God." We have one God and Father of all, to whom the vast and the minute are equally distinct, and by whose hand both are moved with equal ease; who, while he rolls the stars along, can take under his special sheltering love the widow and the fatherless; who hears the orphan's moan and dries the falling tear. It is our inestimable privilege to know that infinitely above us, combined with an arm of mighty power, there is a heart of tenderest love, whose great concern it is to heal the wounds, to dry the tears, and obliterate the sins of a bleeding, weeping, guilt-stained world! What a revelation is this to our race! Well might Moses bid Israel "hearken"! For surely this one message to man, that there is a redeeming God whom he may call his own, is our gospel, our life, our joy, our crown!
II. FRONT OF THE CONDENSED THEOLOGY, WE HAVE HERE CONDENSED RELIGION. (Deuteronomy 6:5.) The fundamental truth of theology is to be fruitful in practical godliness. God's revelation of himself to man is meant to be a redemptive power in man. Man has heart, soul, strength, understanding, emotion, will, energy. God would have no schism in our being. Our varied parts and powers are to be in tune. There is no need for us to present the sad spectacle of the heart going one way, while duty and conscience point another. Apart from the dissipation of force which that involves, what reproach and self-loathing such inward discord must ensure! Now, we have one inner faculty, even that of love, which is meant to rule, and does in fact rule, the man. According to the love, so intellect thinks, emotion feels, will decides, life moves. Our text says, let love be all concentrated on one grand object—God! Let him have all (see Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:1, Deuteronomy 11:13, Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:16). Not even in the New Testament have we a greater commandment than this (Matthew 22:37-40). "The love of God which the gospel demands is more intensive and cordial than that which the Law of Moses demands of the Israelites, according to the gradual unfolding of the love of God himself, which was displayed in a much grandee and more glorious form in the gift of his only begotten Son for our redemption than in the redemption of Israel out of the bondage in Egypt" (Keil). Thus closely related are theology and religion—God as revealed to us in Christ—that is theology; our love responding to God's—that is religion. Without the first, in what could the religious faculty find a proper object? Without the second, infinite love is defrauded of its rights! Still, a third question naturally follows: granted that in this interlacing of theology and religion we have both interpreted in meaning and both realizing their aims, what means can be devised to ensure the preservation of both through generation after generation?
III. HERE IS A SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT DIVINELY APPOINTED, TO CONSERVE AND PERPETUATE BOTH.
1. The home is here supposed to be a center in which the conserving forces of truth and godliness are to be themselves conserved. What a profound principle Moses here indicates, viz. that a nation will be good or bad according to its home life! Wonderful! that an infant nation should, at starting, have this truth deep graven in its statutes;—our land will be as our homes are!
2. In the home, our God looks to the parent to give it its character, tone, and influence. A child's religious faith is, in a high and holy sense, to be chosen for him by anticipation, by those who were in Christ before" him.
3. The truths mentioned in sections 1 and 2 are to be in the parents' heart, that they may be poured out anew from thence as rivers of living water. Hence the word in Deuteronomy 6:7, "Thou shalt sharpen them;" coming fresh out of the sanctuary of a living soul, they are to be pointed, quick, and breathing truths.
4. By a variety of ways, the parent is to see his child's spirit early saturated with the truths of God.
(1) By talking of them, in the house and out of it (Deuteronomy 6:7).
(2) By exhibiting them, not only in the literal sense (see art. 'Phylacteries' £), but in a higher spiritual one.
(3) By writing them (Deuteronomy 6:9; see art. 'Mezuzah' £). Thus the child is from the first to be regarded as God's child, to be trained for him. He is to receive God's Word through the avenues of eye, ear, intellect, heart. Divine truth is to be ever before him, night and day, indoors and out. Those who gave him birth and who love him best, are to mold his young life for God; he is to grow up as the Lord's rightful possession, with the view of his afterwards saying, in the spirit of devout surrender, "I am the Lord's!" (Isaiah 44:5).
Note—Whatever was essential in the days of Moses, in the training of children for God as the means of guarding a nation, is not less needful now (Ephesians 6:4). The wider the range of human learning becomes, the more needful it should be rightly directed; otherwise the greater the attainment, the greater the peril!
Dangers ahead! Beware!
The forecast of Moses is here directed to a period when Israel would have taken possession of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6:10). There, their deliverance would be entire and complete. No longer would they he wanderers hither and thither, but would be occupants of a land that they would call their own. Neither from the nation to which they were once in bondage, nor from those which they were called on to supplant, would they fear aught any longer! And yet there is throughout this paragraph a voice of warning, as if danger would attend them still! It would be so. But the danger would be from within rather than from without: "When thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord," etc. Whence, observe—
I. NO AMOUNT OF OUTWARD PROSPERITY CAN DELIVER A MAN FROM HIMSELF! By the time the state of calm was attained, which is here indicated, there would cease to be danger from hostile foes, at least for a while; but there would he perils of another kind, which would attend them even in the Promised Land. If Israel could have left themselves behind, it had been otherwise; but alas! go where they might, they must perforce take themselves with them, with all their liability to err, all the proneness to sin, and all the temptation to doubt or to pride. And not all the spears and slings of warriors could put the people in such peril as the corruptions of their own hearts! And so it is with us now and ever. We carry ourselves about with us everywhere; we cannot escape. There is within each one's heart a "root of bitterness," "a root that beareth gall and wormwood;" and let earthly circumstances be as fair, as easy, and as pleasant as they may, yet, unless we heed the danger within, they can do but very little to ensure our peace. And herein lies the great mistake of monasticism, as even Augustine reminded his hearers. He told them that it was vain for them to attempt to flee out of the world in order to escape corruption, for wherever they might be they would carry the evil within them. Never let us look to outer circumstances alone to ensure our entire rest. Not even a perfect world could bring us that, unless we were first made perfect.
II. THERE ARE THREE PERILS SPECIFIED HERE TO WHICH PROSPERITY MAY EXPOSE US.
1. The first is that of "forgetting the Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:12). When fields and vineyards and olive yards increase, and our cup is overflowing, then we are apt to lose sight of him to whom we owe all; and this not only in the receiving but in the using thereof (cf. Hosea 10:1). Too apt are we to say in our pride, "My river is my own; I have made it for myself." So also are we apt to let our enjoyments conceal our God from view, and to think only of the mercies, while we forget to glorify God in the use of them. Nor is it any uncommon evil for men to be so set upon the enjoyment of this world's comforts, as to forget almost or altogether that higher world for which they are bound to live, and that future life on which all soon must enter.
2. Another danger indicated is that of undue tolerance of the idolatries which were round about them (Deuteronomy 6:14). One effect of prosperity is easy-goingness; and that, unless checked and guarded, will degenerate into a looseness of principle, whereby, under cover of suavity and amiability, respect for the convictions of others may come to be substituted by our having no very strong ones of our own. Nothing is more common than to see worldly aggrandizement attended by deterioration of moral sensibility.
3. A third danger specified is that of "tempting the Lord" when prosperity meets with a check. This seems to be the danger indicated in Deuteronomy 6:16, by a reference to "Massah" (see Exodus 17:2-7). At this place of sojourn there was a lack of water. The people murmured. They tempted the Lord and said, "Is the Lord among us or not?" As if they ceased to believe in God's presence with them, the moment he made them thus feel their dependence upon him! Strange perversity! Yet how like ourselves! The course of worldly prosperity scarcely ever runs with absolute smoothness for many years together. And the self-will engendered and strengthened in times of ease leads men to repine and complain bitterly the moment that ease receives a check. In times of prosperity men forget God, and then when adversity comes they often complain as if God had forgotten them. How much does God see, even in the people he takes for his own special care, to tax his patience, and to try his long-suffering love!
III. BY WAY OF GUARDING THEM BEFOREHAND AGAINST THESE PERILS, MOSES SHOWS ISRAEL THE DUTIES WHICH THEY ARE DILIGENTLY TO OBSERVE.
1. They are to fear the Lord only (Deuteronomy 6:13).
2. They are to swear by him only (see LXX. and Matthew 4:10), i.e. to cherish a profound reverence for him as the Author of all mercies, and as the sole Regulator of their lives. The honor of his Name is to be supreme.
3. They are to give the supreme affection of the heart to God, so that they may not provoke his jealousy (Deuteronomy 6:15).
4. They are to serve him by constant obedience (Deuteronomy 6:18). By the constant recognition of these four duties, they will do much to guard themselves from yielding to the perils attendant on their growing wealth and ease. Evil is most successfully counteracted by the positive and earnest pursuit of the opposite good.
IV. IF THESE DUTIES WERE LOYALLY DISCHARGED, EARTHLY PROSPERITY AND SPIRITUAL WEALTH WOULD GO TOGETHER. Deuteronomy 6:18, "That it may be well with thee," etc. Whether our earthly circumstances are helps or hindrances to us Godward, will depend much more on what we bring to them than on what they bring to us. And however, on the side of this life, things may favor us and circumstances befriend, it is only as they help us to serve God better that they are really blessings to us: it is "well" with us only when God is well pleased with us. So much stress did Moses attach to the maintenance of unswerving loyalty to God, that he intimates that the possession of the land is secured to them only so far as they are true to their Great Deliverer (Deuteronomy 6:18, Deuteronomy 6:19).
V. SINCE THE TIME OF MOSES, THIS PARAGRAPH HAS BECOME FAR MORE SACRED TO US, BY THE USE WHICH OUR SAVIOR MADE OF IT IN A TIME OF SORE TEMPTATION. It is never to be forgotten, that our Lord repelled the tempter by the words, "It is written," etc. Of the three passages used as weapons for the discomfiture of the evil one, two are taken from this very paragraph (see Matthew 4:7, Matthew 4:10). So that we are warranted in using it as our armory from whence we may fetch the darts which shall make the tempter flee. These precepts cannot be needed by us less than they were by the Son of man. From him let us learn a use of the Divine Word that may serve us in a thousand assaults of the destroyer. For not until we do this can we discover the varied uses to which we may put the Word of God in the actual struggle of life. We, like our Master, have to be made perfect through suffering. Now we may suffer from want, hunger, and privation; and at another time all the kingdoms of the world, in a moment of time, may be set before us, to dazzle by their glare. We need to take to us the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Go wheresoever we may, let our surroundings be easy and prosperous as they may, dangers will attend us everywhere, till we cross the pearly gate across whose threshold sin never comes. At one time it may be that adversity makes us fretful and apt to tempt the Lord, and then at another prosperity may make us slothful, and a sinful indifference may lull us to sleep. Our chief dangers are from within. But here in this holy Book are promises to cheer us when drooping, and warnings to quicken us when sluggish. Here is an arsenal from whence we may fetch our weapons, and a storehouse whence we may draw our supplies. Yea, in this wondrous quiver there are arrows which will be sharp in the hearts of the King's enemies, which shall pierce them to their fall!
The value of history in parental teaching.
The Bible is preeminently a family Book. Israel's national life was supposed to find its centers of strength and permanence in godly homes. It would not be easy to find words which should overrate the importance of such a principle as this. That a young nation should at the outset of its existence have this laid down as a first law of its life: "The land will be as its homes are;" is an indication of the Divine guidance which was vouchsafed to him on whom, under God, the foundation of its national life depended. In the paragraph before us there are seven lines of thought suggested.
I. AS YOUNG LIFE COMES NEWLY INTO BEING, IT FINDS ARRANGEMENTS IN LAW AND PRECEPT READY TO HAND. Parental life holds a great trust in charge, to be committed to those who shall come after; that though one generation passeth away and another cometh, there may be no break in the continuity of holy thinking and living, from age to age. The Hebrews had their Law, which, as a revelation from God, was in advance of aught possessed by the rest of the world, and in which was couched the germ of larger truth that was to follow. There might be more light thrown upon it; there was never to be a forfeiture of it. Hence there were special reasons why parents should guard it intact for all the ages that were to follow.
II. YOUNG LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO BE AN INQUIRING LIFE. (Deuteronomy 6:20.) It is not supposed that the children will lend themselves to either of two extremes: they will neither wildly tear up and obliterate "the old paths," nor will they walk in them heedlessly and without inquiry. The course here indicated is that which any sensible, well-disposed youth would naturally follow. He would ask," What mean," etc. However a spurious priesthood may demand a blind and uninquiring faith, the Word of God never does anything of the kind. Reason is made for reverent inquiry, but it may be neither deified nor stultified. And what can be more charming than the honest, eager inquisitiveness of the young, asking for the reasons which govern the faith and worship that they find at work before their eyes? Specially delightful is such inquiry, when the parent is well able to give his answer.
III. THERE IS AWAITING THE YOUNG INQUIRER THE STORY OF A GREAT DELIVERANCE. (Deuteronomy 6:21, Deuteronomy 6:22.) The rescue from Egypt always formed the grand historic background of Israel's life. Here was a disclosure of Divine love and care, the like of which had never been known. The great institution of sacrifice revealed provision for pardoning love. The precepts for the individual, the family, the nation, told what sort of a people God would have them be; while the oft-recurring strains, "I gave Egypt for thy ransom," "I brought thee up out of the land of bondage," would evoke all their national ardor, and create and foster an historic pride. The life-histories, too, of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would tell of the blessedness of having God as their God: and these, instilled into the heart with all the sweetness of fond parental love, would lead the young Israelite, when the teaching was sanctified by God's grace, to say right joyously, "This God shall be my God forever and ever!" Yes! the young life ever coming on earth is not to be left to grope its way. The light from the past is to be handed down for the ages to come, that sire and son and son's son may rejoice in the same God, and ensure a blessed continuity of holy faith and consecrated life.
IV. THE GREAT DELIVERANCE WAS EFFECTED THAT THE RESCUED PEOPLE MIGHT RE A NEW NATION WORTHY OF GOD. Deuteronomy 6:23, "That he might bring us in, to give us the land which he swore unto our fathers." And in this new relation they were to be witnesses for God (Isaiah 43:10). They were to be a distinct, compact people, with faith, laws, and polity, higher than the rest of the world, holding in trust for mankind, till the fullness of times, much precious truth which was to find its outcome in a great, world-wide deliverance which should overshadow all; while the Israel of God was to merge into a spiritual Israel, made up of all who are Christ's, known as a "peculiar people, zealous of good works."
V. IN THIS CONTINUED LIFE, WORTHY OF GOD, WOULD THE JUSTIFICATION OF ISRAEL'S FAITH AND OBSERVANCES BE FOUND. "It shall be our righteousness," etc. (Deuteronomy 6:25). It is scarcely possible to regard these words as having reference to any doctrine of justification by faith; for though, even as far back as Abraham's days, that was a doctrine, yet it was not formulated till the times of the gospel, by Paul. The meaning of the phrase seems to be: "This will be our justification of our position and claims; we claim to be a people of God, above all the nations that are on the face of the earth, and we shall vindicate that claim, not by words only, but by being what we profess to be." Thus would the parent quicken his child, and stimulate and inspire him to be all that his glorious faith bade him be—"holy unto the Lord his God!"
VI. IN THIS ARRANGEMENT, THE DIVINE BENEVOLENCE WAS AS MANIFEST AS GOD'S REGARD FOR HIS OWN HONOR. Deuteronomy 6:24, "To fear the Lord our God, for our good always." The glory of God and the good of man are in harmony. So has God constructed the universe, so cloth he carry on his government, as to ensure that" they that honor him, he will honor." "All things work together for good to them that love God." "Great peace have they which love God's Law; and nothing shall offend them." "Godliness is profitable unto all things." "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
VII. NOT ONLY WOULD ISRAEL, BY OBEDIENCE, ENSURE ITS OWN GOOD, BUT ALSO ITS CONTINUANCE IN THE LAND. Deuteronomy 6:24, "That he might preserve us alive." Repeatedly do we read that the prolongation of Israel's days in the land depended on their loyalty to God. The land was given them, not for their own sakes merely, but for God's. If they continued there, faithfully witnessing for him, the land would be continued to them; if not, they would have to quit, and give up the possession thereof to strangers. This is precisely the principle on which God governs the nations now. No nation can preserve itself in being by any other policy than that of obedience to God. Disloyalty to God and the right is the surest possible policy of decomposition. Even attempts at self-preservation which violate God's laws will fail of their end. And is it not of vast significance that these are the principles by which the young life of a nation is to be molded? Whatever allowance must be made for changing circumstances, however true it may be that no nation now holds exactly the same place in the world that Israel did, yet it is also true that all the more substantial part of the seven lines of thought here indicated is unchanged and unchangeable. Christian parents are inheritors of the truth of God: they hold it in trust for their children: they, as they grow up, will inquire concerning it: its historic basis is the great deliverance effected by the Lord Jesus: Christians are now God's peculiar people: they are redeemed that they may be holy, and that in holiness they may train succeeding generations: and just in proportion as through them loyalty to the truth and to God is leavening their posterity, are they bringing honor to the cause they espouse. Hebrews were to be conservative. Christians are to be also aggressive. We are to be "the light of the world," and "the salt of the earth." By the light of God's love we are to scatter men's darkness, and by the salt of God's truth are we to stay its corruption. And just so far as our nation is imbued with righteousness and truth, will it have within it the guarantee of its own perpetuation. The best defense is the armor of light. Without righteousness and the fear of God, not all the pretence and brag—not all the fleets or armies at command, can ever guard a nation from decay. "If the salt have lost his savor … it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men."
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Obedience the end of Law.
All the machinery of law is abortive, unless obedience be the result. As a mother teaches her children, giving them "line upon line," frequent repetition and variation, so Moses patiently taught Israel. He was "faithful in all his house."
I. SEE THE INTERNAL EXCELLENCE OF GOD'S LAW. It has so many qualities of merit, that no one word in human language can express them all. They are "commandments," which word indicates the just authority from which they emanate. They are "statutes," implying their fixed and permanent character. They are "judgments," a description which denotes thoughtful deliberation, patient forethought, and sagacious decision. No greater benefactor can men have than a wise legislator. These Laws, if reverently observed, would have been "health to the marrow," and life to the nation.
II. THE DESIGN OF GOD'S COVENANT WAS HEARTY AND COMPLETE OBEDIENCE. It was unprofitable for God to command, or for Moses to teach, unless the people obeyed; just as it is futile for the husbandman to plough his land, pulverize the clods, sow the seed, water his crops, if no harvest ensue. The end which God had clearly in view—the only end worthy of him, was not Israel's possession of Canaan, nor prosperity there; the final end was obedience. The land was selected to be a theatre for practical righteousness. The land would be forfeited if righteous obedience did not abound. And obedience, to be acceptable, must be real. External conformity to law would not suffice. The whole soul must yield compliance. There must be harmony between man's will and God's. Obedience would foster reverence, and reverence would strengthen love. There is action and reaction amid the forces of the soul.
III. PIOUS OBEDIENCE IS ENTAILED. It is a moral inheritance passing from father to son. Formal and superficial obedience will not reproduce itself in others, will not bear seed of the true kind. But genuine, vital piety is contagious. If bad qualities are communicated, surely good qualities are also. Else truth would be feebler than error, virtue feebler than vice. Thorough, straightforward, transparent, cheerful piety is the greatest power in the world. For our children's sake, and for our children's children, let reverent obedience brighten and beautify our life!
IV. PIOUS OBEDIENCE PRODUCES PRESENT FRUITS. Its rewards are not wholly reserved for the future. On earth some advantages are reaped.
1. Length of days is a result. "Thy days may be prolonged." A green old age is a beautiful thing. "The wicked shall not live out half their days."
2. Numerous progeny is a result. "Ye may increase mightily." A growing population is universally regarded as a token of material prosperity. "They of the city shall flourish as grass of the earth." Success in all enterprise is announced as an effect. "It shall be well with thee."
3. Robust health, domestic comfort, national peace, prolific harvests, security, contentment, honor,—these are among the fruits to be anticipated. Obedience is an investment of moral capital, which brings largest and safest results.—D.
Love, the root-principle of obedience.
Attention is summoned for the reception of central truth, viz. the unity of the Godhead. At that period, this doctrine was in great peril. All the Orientals believed in "lords many and gods many." Science here confirms Scripture. The unity of design, running through all natural law and force, indicates clearly unity of the Creator. To know the true God is, for honest minds, to love him. But rebellion of heart has engendered repugnance towards God—dislike, hatred, enmity.
I. THE SOURCE OF ALL AUTHORITY IS A BEING OF ESSENTIAL GOODNESS.
1. He is sole Monarch, incomparable and unapproachable. He dwells alone, higher than the highest creature. The disparity between him and an archangel is immeasurable,
2. He is absolutely perfect. Every attribute and quality that is essential to perfection is found in him. "He is light," having no dark shade anywhere.
3. He is the Source of life: Jehovah—the Living—the Life-giving. All we have, and are, and hope to be, is derived from him.
4. He has deigned to come into intimate relation with us. He has made a voluntary compact with us. He calls us his people. He allows us to call Lira our God. We have a proprietorship in him.
II. THIS GOD DESERVES THE CENTRAL PLACE IN OUR HEARTS. Because of the moral beauty and essential goodness of our God, he is incomparably most worthy of human love. To give to any other a higher place in our affection than we give to God, would be an outrage against righteousness, fitness, and self-interest. For all these faculties and susceptibilities of the human heart have been fashioned by God himself, and have been fashioned for this very purpose, viz. that we should bestow our worthiest love on him. If this eternal design be frustrated, there is violence, disharmony, misery within. Such love is commanded. It is a duty as well as a privilege. Though we cannot instantly and summarily command our love, we can indirectly. We can fix our thought on the worthiest object of love. We can contemplate his charms. We can appreciate his goodness. We can assure ourselves of his love. It is to be an intelligent, reasonable, practical love.
III. THE LOVE OF THE LAWGIVER PRODUCES LOVE TO HIS LAW. Law is a projection of God's thought, a mirror of his mind, an overt act of love. The true child will highly esteem every known wish of its father. To have practical direction from an unseen father will be treasured as a choice token of that father's regard. If children, we shall hide every word of our father in our memory and in our love. Every wish of his heart will be a visible feature in our life. It may be painful to the flesh, but it will be pleasant to the soul. To the dutiful child, obedience is a luxury, a banquet of joy. "Oh! how I love thy Law!" exclaims the pious Psalmist. "Thy Law is within my heart." Thy Word is to me as honey, as the droppings of the honeycomb.
IV. LOVE IS THE MOTIVE-POWER OF SPEECH. The tongue is the servant of the heart. We speak freely and fluently of that which is dear to our hearts. The child will speak freely of its toys anti games, the farmer of his crops, the artist of his works. If men esteemed and valued God's Word, they would spontaneously converse of it, morning, noon, and night. It would be a painful restraint upon our desire if we withheld our speech. This precept of Moses need not be an external law imposed upon us from without; it may become the living law within, "the law of the Spirit of life."
V. LOVE CONSTRUCTS ITS WHOLE LIFE ON THE MODEL OF GOD'S LAW. The hand will become the instrument of righteousness. On it will be written God's Word, viz. industry, honesty, restraint, generous kindness, helpfulness. God's Word will be our ornament. Instead of gold and jewels upon the forehead, "our adornment will be" modesty, chastity, cheerfulness, moral beauty. God's Name will be indelibly inscribed upon our foreheads. Oar domestic affairs will be ordered by the Divine will. We shall write his Word on the posts of our houses. Every home in which love dwells will be a temple. Order, active piety, frugality, peace, mutual service, will be the principles conspicuous in godly homes. And our municipal and political life will be conducted on the same line of obedience. Legislation, justice, taxation, commerce, literature, art, will all be consecrated to God's glory. As the flowers of earth send their fragrance heavenward, so from every act of ours a fragrance of homage should ascend to God.—D.
The peril of prosperity.
Secular prosperity is hazardous. Unless the ship have ample ballast in the hold, a strong gale, however favorable, will be likely to capsize the ship and bury her in the caverns of the sea. The greater our earthly abundance, the greater our need of religious principle.
I. WISE MEN INHERIT THE FRUIT OF OTHERS' LABORS. Under the leadership of God, the Hebrews inherited cities which the Canaanites had built, and vineyards which the Amorites had planted. If we knew all the facts of the case, we should admire this as an act of righteous wisdom. We do know that the iniquity of the Amorites was a cup full to the brim. The Hebrews, with all their faults, were a superior race. Similar displacements have gone on in all the lands of the world. It is an instance of the "survival of the fittest." Redeemed men are destined to be the lords of the earth. The Church shall possess and rule the world. "All things are ours." This inheritance of Canaan, with its cities and cattle and wealth, ought to have produced a deep sense of gratitude. All the Hebrews enjoyed they owed to the bountiful hand of God.
II. SUDDEN PROSPERITY IS A SEVERE STRAIN ON PIETY. The sense of daily and hourly dependence upon God for material food is an advantage; it is a constant incentive to gratitude and faith. Poor human nature cannot bear much indulgence. Poverty is more conducive to piety than wealth has ever been. Hence our Lord chose a state of poverty as most suited to his mission. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!" So long as men continue in the flesh, they prefer a visible God to an invisible. So they say to gold, "Thou art my god." To be singular in religious belief and practice is always an arduous effort. The example of others has always been a sore temptation. Unless we can persuade them by the three of our superior faith, they are sure to bias us injuriously. Our safety lies in a stalwart and fearless piety.
III. TO FALL FROM THE FAVOR TO THE FROWN OF GOD IS IMMEASURABLE AND COMPLETE. It would have been better for their peace and their reputation not to have inherited the land, than to be ejected from it again. It is a tremendous calamity, having been lifted high, to be thrown down. The effect of disloyalty among the Hebrews would not simply be a replacement in their former state; it would be destruction from the face of the earth. In the realm of morals, we cannot descend to a station we had occupied aforetime. If there is declension, retrogression, fall, it must be to a lower level than float we formerly held. The penalties imposed by righteousness are complete and remediless. We may well "stand in awe and sin not." It is perilous in the extreme to "try" God's patience—to make experiments on the long-suffering of God. Suddenly, he "whets his glittering sword, and his hand takes hold on judgment."
IV. HOPE IS AN INSPIRATION OF STRENGTH. Although Moses has addressed to them these cautions, and pointed out these perils, he will not think so meanly of them as to forecast their fall. He will cherish in his own breast the bright hope of their loyalty. He will call into exercise their own best principles and aspirations. He confidently predicts their wise and upward course, and sketches before their eyes their future greatness and security. Herein is wise generalship. If hope kindles her lamp in the human breast, all is not lost. This is Heaven's cordial for a fainting soul.—D.
The parental office.
In the Mosaic economy, the parental office is made prominent, and parental influence is pressed into service. All God's arrangements for training mankind dovetail into one another.
I. THE DUTY OF A PARENT TO PROVOKE RELIGIOUS INQUIRY. No greater folly can be perpetrated than the attempt to repress inquiry. Inquiry is the king's highway to wisdom, and who dare block it up? God loves to hear honest inquiry. To afford instruction is the delight of the Divine Spirit, but what instruction will be valued if no spirit of inquiry is awake? Some questions which we ask can never be solved; they are beyond the range of the human mind. Some questions God will not answer, because they are vain and useless. But honest questions, with a view to practical obedience, God delights to hear. You can do the young no better service than encourage their minds to inquire after religious facts. "What mean these things?"
II. THE DUTY OF A PARENT TO ANSWER FULLY CHILDREN'S QUESTIONS. It is childish folly to attempt to conceal our lowly origin. There is no real disgrace in an obscure parentage. To have been formerly enslaved, or imprisoned, or oppressed, through man's injustice, is an honor, not a stigma of reproach. There is no real shame, except such as proceeds from wrong-doing. It will do us good, it will do our children good, to see the "rock whence we were hewn, the hole of the pit from which we were digged." It will foster humility, gratitude, contentment, trust. It will lead us afresh to adore the Divine goodness, and to count ourselves and our children the servants of this mighty God. Never let true Israelites forget that all they have they owe to God! Unto this state of happy privilege a Divine hand has brought us.
III. THE DUTY OF A PARENT TO OPEN UP GOD'S BENEFICENT INTENTION. If any man is too indolent to investigate truth for his own sake, he may be provoked to do it for his children's sake. We should have such a firm conviction that every arrangement and command of God was "for our good always," that we can demonstrate it to our children. Our knowledge of God and of his practical dealings should be so broad and clear that we might see and feel that his care for our good was paramount. This is the first and loftiest end he seeks—not our enjoyment, but our good. Not to demonstrate his power, or his consistency, or his determination to conquer,—these are not his foremost aims, but "our good always." His costliest deed of condescension was the yielding of his Son to death. And where shall we seek the moving principle? In his own future glory merely? No! In his love for the world! Yet his glory, and man's real good, are but the separate threads that make one cord.
IV. THE DUTY OF A PARENT TO PROMOTE HIS CHILDREN'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. "It shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments." No more conclusive argument can parents use; no loftier end can they contemplate. To become righteous—this is to be the lofty ideal we set before our children. But commensurate with the grand acquisition must be the care that we promote it by proper and practicable methods. It is impossible for guilty men to regain righteousness by their own efforts or merits. But real righteousness is provided for us by the bounty of God, and is offered to us in Christ as a free gift. "He hath brought in everlasting righteousness, which is for all and upon all that believe." Our ambition for our children must be the highest—not that they be richly dowered, or learned, or placed in earthly rank, but that they may be internally and thoroughly righteous.—D.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
I. CHILDREN WITH THEIR PARENTS ARE INCLUDED IN THE COVENANT. This has been a general principle in God's dealings with his servants. We have it affirmed, both in the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7-15) and in the later covenant with Israel (Deuteronomy 29:10-12). It was signified in the rite of circumcision. The Israelitish child was regarded as within the covenant, a genuine member of the theocracy, till by a personal act of apostasy—if unfortunately it should be so—he severed himself from its blessings. Similar language is used of the children of Christian believers (Acts 2:39; 1Co 8:1-13 :14). Received into the Church by baptism, they are recognized with their parents as interested in the promise; they are expected, on coming to years of discretion, freely to appropriate the obligations of the Christian life; and they are, in case of refusal, justly regarded as apostates from Christ.
II. THE STANDING OF CHILDREN IN THE COVENANT ENTAILS SERIOUS OBLIGATIONS ON THE PARENTS.
1. Religious instruction (Deuteronomy 6:6, Deuteronomy 6:7, Deuteronomy 6:20; Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:14, etc.). The children had not been personally at Horeb. They had not seen the mighty works of God in Egypt and the desert. It was the duty cf. parents to acquaint them with the history, and to instruct them in their duties.
2. Religious training, which is education in act, as instruction is education in word (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 21:18; Proverbs 29:15, etc.).
3. Religious example. The parent is to be one who loves the Lord for himself (Deuteronomy 6:5). The Word is to be in his own heart (Deuteronomy 6:6). Only thus will he teach with effect. All this has its counterpart in the duties of Christian parents (Eph 4:4; 1 Timothy 3:4; 2 Timothy 3:15, etc.).
III. THE STANDING OF CHILDREN IN THE COVENANT ENTAILS SERIOUS OBLIGATIONS ON THE CHILDREN. Where parental duties had been fulfilled, the Israelitish child was under the most sacred obligations to choose and adhere to the God of his fathers, and to serve him in the way prescribed. There was in this no interference with freedom, for when God proposes covenant relations to a human being, while it is his privilege, it can never be aught else than his duty to accept them. In the Christian Church, a like obligation rests on the children of believers. The baptized child is bound to serve God, and, if properly instructed (Matthew 28:19), it cannot evade the responsibilities thus laid upon it. Great is the guilt of a child brought up in a Christian home if wantonly it apostatizes.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:5
The great commandment.
I. THE GROUND OF IT. A just view of God. The view given in Deuteronomy 6:4 is as comprehensive as it is sublime. It embraces two parts mutually complementary.
1. God's absoluteness and unity—"Jehovah one."
2. God's personal relation to Israel—"Your God." The two are combined:
3. In the covenant name—"Jehovah."
This, on the one hand, denotes God as the Eternal—the ever-living, the self-existent, and therefore self-consistent One. On the other, it gathers into its rich significance the love, and truth, and faithfulness of centuries of gracious revelation. It will not awaken love to God to think of him merely as absolute Deity. It is the discovery of what else is contained in the Divine essence; above all, the revelation of his love, grace, and covenant-keeping faithfulness, which attracts affection. While, without the revelation of God as one and absolute—exclusive, self-subsisting Deity—it would be impossible to raise the demand for love to the requisite moral height. In Jesus Christ the revelation of God reaches its highest point. Only the Son could reveal him in the fullness of his glory and love.
II. THE HEIGHT OF IT. It requires not merely that God should be loved, but loved with all the powers of our being, and with all the energy of these powers.
1. With clear intelligence—"mind".
2. With undivided affection ― "heart."
3. With entire self-surrender—"soul."
4. With strenuous energy—"might."
The right view of God is obviously presupposed in the command to love him. The command would be unmeaning as addressed to a polytheist, a pantheist, an agnostic, or even to a deist disbelieving in revelation. But this view of God being given, the demand, as obviously, could not be placed lower. God as Creator and Savior cannot accept a place in our affections lower than the supreme one. He will have this or none. It is due to our morally perverted state that this demand should ever be felt by us to be unreasonable. Pure beings would not feel it to be so. They would delight in the exercise of love to God, and find it natural and easy. The angels, Christ, the just made perfect, love the Father thus. Nor ought the height of this demand unduly to discourage us. Love to God is truly begotten, though not yet perfected, in every heart which has made choice of God as its supreme Portion, and cleaves to him with constancy. God has the ruling place in such a heart, and it needs but growth to raise our love to its required purity and vigor. What is left unattained on earth will be attained in heaven.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Deuteronomy 6:20-25
The religious education of children.
A matter much insisted on in these addresses (cf. Deuteronomy 11:18-22). We learn—
I. THAT THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF CHILDREN IS GOD'S WAY OF PERPETUATING VITAL RELIGION. Without this, religion would soon die out; with it, a holy seed will be kept up in times of greatest declension.
II. THAT THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF CHILDREN DEVOLVES PRIMARILY ON THE PARENT. The Church, Sunday schools, etc; may assist, but nothing can relieve the parent from this duty, or compensate for his neglect of it (Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 1:5).
III. THAT THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF CHILDREN IS TO BE CONDUCTED WITH GREAT CARE AND FAITHFULNESS.
1. Very diligently (Deuteronomy 6:7). It is to be gone about most painstakingly and systematically. "In thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." There is need for specific teaching at regular times, but the text indicates a broader view of this part of parental duty. An element pervading the whole life, blending with all occupation, insinuating its pleasant influence in all our intercourse with our children.
2. Very particularly (Deuteronomy 6:21-25). A specimen is given of the careful instruction parents are to study to impart.
3. Taking advantage of a child's natural curiosity (Deuteronomy 6:21). The principle of curiosity is strong in children. It early manifests itself in reference to religion. The Bible, with its delightful variety of story, parable, proverb, etc; is peculiarly adapted for the instruction of the young.—J.O.
Deuteronomy 6:8, Deuteronomy 6:9
God's words to be valued.
The usages to which allusion is made suggest—
I. THE DUTY OF A HIGH VALUATION OF GOD'S COMMANDS. Only precepts highly valued would be treated as described.
II. THE NECESSITY OF TAKING MEANS TO SECURE THE KEEPING OF GOD'S COMMANDMENTS IN REMEMBRANCE. We may keep the injunction in spirit:
1. By frequent reading of Scripture (Psalms 1:2; Psalms 119:11-16).
2. By frequent converse with others (Malachi 3:16).
3. By frequent recalling of God's words to our thoughts (Hebrews 2:3).
4. By the use of such expedients as experience suggests—a privately, marked Bible, etc.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF CARRYING GOD'S COMMANDMENTS INTO EVERY DETAIL OF LIFE. Hands, eyes, doorposts, etc.-our working, seeing, home occupations, etc.—J.O.
The creature displacing the Creator.
I. THE PRONENESS OF THE HEART TO ADMIT THE WORLD INTO GOD'S PLACE. (Deuteronomy 6:12.) The tendency is universal. A result of the Fall, in subverting the original constitution of man's nature. That result twofold:
1. In giving to the worldly and sensuous principles in the soul an undue predominance; while:
2. Destroying that love of God, and sense of dependence on him, which would counteract their operation. There may be no "going after other gods" in the sense of Deuteronomy 6:14, yet the first commandment may be broken by making the world itself our god—giving it the place of the true God in our affections. The principle of worldliness usually operates secretly. The heart is "secretly enticed," does not perceive the progress of its declensions (Hosea 7:9), fights against the admission of it (Re Deuteronomy 3:17).
II. THE PECULIAR CONNECTION OF THIS TEMPTATION WITH PROSPERITY, (Deuteronomy 6:10, Deuteronomy 6:11.) Not, indeed, so peculiarly connected with it, but that the poor man may fall into the same snare. But riches unquestionably constitute a temptation which few succeed in resisting (cf. Deuteronomy 8:11-19; Proverbs 30:8, Proverbs 30:9; Matthew 19:22-27; 1 Timothy 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Timothy 6:17, etc.). The temptation is the greater:
1. If worldly possessions are very abundant (Deuteronomy 6:11).
2. If the prosperity, is sudden (Deuteronomy 6:10, Deuteronomy 6:11).
3. If it is freely enjoyed (Deuteronomy 6:11)—"hast eaten, and art full" (Deuteronomy 8:10).
III. THE SAFEGUARDS AGAINST THIS TEMPTATION. There are safeguards. Bible examples show that riches may be used with glory to God, happiness to self, and good to mankind (Abraham, Joseph, Job, Daniel, etc.). Among the foremost we would place the cultivation of a thankful spirit (cf. Deuteronomy 8:10)—the remembrance of God as the Giver of what we have; also the remembrance of God's past mercies to us (Deuteronomy 6:12, Deuteronomy 6:13). Other safeguards are:
1. Serving God with our possessions (Deuteronomy 6:13). The serving will include serving with our wealth, using what he has given for his glory, as good stewards, and not luxuriously and wastefully spending all on self (Luke 12:15-21).
2. Making public acknowledgment of God (Deuteronomy 6:13). The spirit of this command is kept by being willing, on all proper occasions, boldly and without shame to avow God to be our God. The man of wealth who will do this is carried at one stroke above half the dangers of his position.
3. Non-conformity to the world's ways (Deuteronomy 6:14). It is not easy to avoid being led away by fashion, love of appearance, social custom, etc. The good man will beware of the snare, and keep aloof (Romans 12:2).
IV. THE PENALTY OF YIELDING TO THE TEMPTATION. (Deuteronomy 6:15.) God's wrath is kindled and destroys the transgressor.
1. He is destroyed spiritually.
2. He may be temporally (Psalms 37:35; Psalms 73:18, Psalms 73:19).
3. He will be eternally.—J.O.
Wealth has its temptations; so has poverty. It incites to unbelieving murmurs, and to a spirit called here "tempting the Lord."
I. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN. The peculiarity of it deserves to be carefully studied. It is apt to be taken for granted that "tempting God" means simply provoking him to anger. This, however, is a sense of tempting scarcely applicable to the Divine. God can be provoked to wrath, but he is not "tempted" thereby (James 1:13). "Tempting," in the sense of the text, means "putting to the proof," "imposing tests." Professor Tyndall's famous proposal of a prayer test would have fallen under this description. That this is the right view of the sin is plain from the narrative, and from allusions in the Psalms. "They tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7). "They tempted God in their hearts … they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" (Psalms 78:18-20). In this view of it the appositeness of the Savior's quotation of the passage becomes more obvious (Matthew 4:7).
II. THE OCCASION OF THE SIS. A result of the want of food and water. Poverty suggests this class of doubts, and inspires the thought of putting God to some test of his faithfulness. But the temptation may originate in other causes—in intellectual doubt, in a sign-seeking spirit (Matthew 16:1), in downright presumptuousness.
III. THE EVIL OF THIS SIN.
1. Its root of unbelief. It is a "limiting of the Holy One of Israel" (Psalms 78:41).
2. Its querulous impatience. Instead of trusting God, waiting upon him, and seeking light and help in a proper spirit, it flies in God's face, accuses him of unkindness, and complains of his injustice.
3. Its daring presumption in presuming to lay down rules to the Almighty, to which he is required to conform. God brings us into situations of trial, not that we may apply tests to him, but that he may test us—test our faith, our patience, our humility. For those who come successfully through the trial there is the great reward of having dark things at length cleared up, and of being purified and strengthened by the struggle. Failure, on the other hand, exposes to severe chastisements.—J.O.
As contrasted with Pauline sayings, the text is an illustration of the maxim, "On the outside of things look for differences, on the inside for likenesses" (Hare). The form is that of the Law, the spirit is that of Christ, whose gospel is the key to the Law's utterances.
I. A REQUIREMENT WHICH ONE ONLY, VIZ. CHRIST, HAS PERFECTLY FULFILLED. "This is the name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). He "is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4). How? In the strictly legal, as in the strict ideal sense, righteousness requires an absolutely perfect fulfillment of every one of God's commandments. The Jewish covenant required no less. The Jews were to live in their righteousness, i.e. in perfect keeping of the whole Law. But in point of fact, no Jew ever rendered perfect obedience. In many things, like others, he offended, and the covenant footing was only maintained through daily pardon of daily offences. Christ is our Redeemer from the curse thus entailed by transgression (Galatians 3:13). As the Lord's righteous Servant, and Fulfiller of the Law, he has implemented the condition of acceptance in such a way that his obedience carries with it results to others as well as to himself (Romans 5:17-21). In him the believer is justified. He claims him as the Lord his Righteousness. Christ has for him at once fulfilled the Law's precept, and abolished its penalty. Sinful in himself, in Christ his sins are covered, and justification is obtained (Romans 3:22-27; Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
II. A REQUIREMENT WHICH BELIEVERS IS CHRIST ARE ENABLED TO FULFILL, THOUGH IMPERFECTLY, YET ACCEPTABLY. The utmost that the Jew could render was that imperfect but sincere obedience which is still the mark of the true believer. The believer's duty is to render a perfect obedience; his privilege is that, falling short of this, his sincere though faulty obedience will be graciously accepted for the sake of Christ. In harmony with his calling, it was to be the Jew's aim to realize the righteousness which the Law set before him. But in his inability to do this the weakness of the Law revealed itself, and in contrast with this weakness (Romans 8:3) is the power of the gospel, enabling the believer to triumph, and to bring forth fruit unto holiness, the end of which is everlasting life (Romans 6:22). This also is a "righteousness of faith," as springing from faith, and rendered possible through it. It is his righteousness, yet in a deeper sense not his, but Christ's, for it is the work of Christ living in him (Galatians 2:20). It is not the ground of acceptance, but a result of it; not a title to heaven, but meetness for it. It is itself a gift of grace, part of Christ's salvation (Matthew 5:6; Ephesians 5:9, Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 2:12, Philippians 2:13; 1Pe 2:24; 1 John 3:7-10; with Romans 6:1-23; Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:1-39.).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The essence of the Decalogue is love.
Moses here applies the Decalogue to their present circumstances. He wishes them to enter Canaan in an obedient spirit. He knows that the well-being of the commonwealth depends upon it. To assist them in the understanding of the Law, he sums it up in one all-embracing principle of love. God as the supreme object is to receive the homage of the entire nature of man.
I. MOSES INSISTS ON THE UNITY AND ABSOLUTE CHARACTER OF GOD. This would distinguish Israel from the polytheists around them. "Jehovah our Mighty One is one Jehovah"—the uncaused, self-existent One in his absolute unity and strength. All perfection is thus briefly attributed to him.
II. GOD CAN BE THE OBJECT OF LOVE. His unity is not an unsocial thing. Within his being there are social qualities demanding, and from all eternity receiving, satisfaction. Hence we believe in what Jon. Edwards called a "social Trinity." Our social nature is the reflection of God, since we were made in his image. His unity does not imply that in the by-past eternity, before anything was made, he was alone. It was the fellowship of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"—three Persons in the one Godhead. The Trinity makes God lovable, for it is the condition of the satisfaction from all eternity of his social qualities.
III. GOD DESERVES THE LOVE OF OUR WHOLE BEING. Heart, soul, and might are to be enlisted in this service. Our love to him should be intellectual and also emotional; it should be passionate and strong; an all-embracing energy of our nature.
All our faculties are appealed to by the Divine nature.
1. Our understanding is enlisted by God as the Infinite Mind. All our intellectuality finds its counterpart and culmination in the infinite intellectual powers which God possesses and exercises. We rest upon his superior intellectual power.
2. Our affections are enlisted by God as the Fountain of affection. God is a Heart of unspeakable tenderness as well as a Mind of infinite grasp. And so he elicits the love of the heart as well as of the mind.
3. Our will is swayed into passionate devotion by God as the Infinite Will. If the spectacle of will in resistless benevolence commands the homage of our powers, then God entrances our whole will-power into passionate devotion.
4. Our strength is enlisted by God as the embodiment of vital energies and powers in their highest form. So that as a matter of fact, God fits into every fold of human nature and elicits its loving and adoring homage.
IV. LOVE MAKES LAWKEEPING DELIGHTFUL. The Law is not a pain to any who love the Lawgiver. Love is the essence of true loyalty. It makes service freedom. It is this which we must cultivate daily, and then life becomes delightful.—R.M.E.
Family training is to propagate the Law.
The Law has as its essence love. In the family, love's home and circle, this Law is to be propagated. And here we are to notice—
I. PARENTS ARE TO IDENTIFY THEMSELVES WITH GOD'S CAUSE. The Jews were directed to wear portions of the Law upon their persons. This is the sign of identification with it in a rude age. The idea is parental profession, a glad identification of themselves with the Lord's cause.
II. THE HOME IS ALSO TO BE CONSECRATED AS A GODLY HOME. God's Law was to be written on the posts of the house and on their gates. This, like the last, meant the identification of the house with God's cause. Now, there is as much difference between an ungodly home and a godly one as between an unconverted person and a converted one (cf. Pressense's 'La Famille Chrenenne,' a most admirable course of sermons).
III. THE CHILDREN ARE MANIFESTLY MEANT TO BE THE COMPANIONS OF THE PARENTS. The little ones are to have their parents' society at home and abroad, at morning and night (Deuteronomy 6:7). The mistake made by many parents is not making themselves sufficiently companionable. It is companionship that after all determines the bent of children.
IV. THE HOME TRAINING IS TO BE RELIGIOUS. God's Law is to be brought, in, morning, noon, and night, as the great interest. Of course, if parents are to do this as God intends, his Law must be a great personal interest to themselves. They must delight in it and love it, and make it a matter of study continually.
V. AMID THE SECULARITIES OF EDUCATION THE HOME MUST BE THE MAINSTAY OF RELIGION. With the parent the responsibility of training and interesting the children in religion eventually rests. To the well-ordering of Christian homes, Church and State must alike look as the last refuge. The adjustment of rival interests in education is well-nigh impossible, and so it becomes all the more needful that the home should be made to supply the religious element, whatever course educational arrangements and legislation may take.
VI. PROSPERITY MUST NOT ENGENDER ATHEISM. This is the warning here given to Israel. God might be forgotten amid the success and prosperity of Canaan. For it is prosperity, not adversity, which as a rule engenders atheism. The prosperity of the prodigal led him away to the far-off land of forgetfulness of God, while his adversity brought him back (Luke 15:11-32).—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26