You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath…
I. ONE CONDITION, THEN, OF OBTAINING GOD'S MERCY IS OBEDIENCE. But what am I to obey? But I desire to ask whether, at heart, some of you do not:know sufficiently the answer that should be given? Can you say that you know no difference between right and wrong? Is the liar and the man of truth the same to you? May we go together, then, thus far, that we admit the difference between right and wrong? A second step will, I think, be then admitted — to right and wrong we must add the words "ought" and "ought not." In other words, the distinction between right and wrong brings with it the words "ought," "ought not," "responsibility," "duty." Here it may be well further remind you that in this word "duty" lies hid an inexplicable treasure of infinite value — I mean our freedom. In the "I ought" is practically included the "I can." But let me ask you, yet again, whence comes this power to distinguish right from wrong? Here we may differ in words, but in the existence of the power itself many will agree. We may call it moral feeling, moral sense, Divine reason, or use the word to which we have been accustomed — conscience. But, once more, why do we give to this mysterious power so much importance? Why, if this moral feeling, this conscience, is part of ourselves, why not deal with it as we please, and listen or not as it may serve our turn? The real answer, I believe (though all may not be able to give it), is because conscience does not speak as for herself, but as for another. She brings us to a bar of another, whom we fear and may resist, but One higher than ourselves, even God. Here is surely a point worthy of your most careful consideration. II, The text offers mercy for thousands, mercy for all, but on two conditions — obedience and love. Obedience of a kind we may practise to the moral law; but LOVE REQUIRES PERSONALITY. We must, by God's help, rise above the contemplation of the law to the Person of the Lawgiver, and love the law for His sake — "Lord, what love have I unto Thy law!" — and then love Him because He is what He is.
1. The first test I would suggest to you is this — what use do you make of your Bible? The step from obedience to love, we said, implied the step from an impersonal law to the personal Lawgiver, and this, the belief in one Personal God, we said, required for its fulness the aid of Divine revelation. Here, then, is one test — our Bible. Let me say it as plainly as I can: if you neglect the study, the habitual devotional study, of the one Book that above all others makes known to you the one Personal God, you will be in danger of living a mere moral life — fulfilling, in a sense, the condition of obedience, but falling short of the higher condition of love, and a narrow, selfish, unloving, uninfluential humanity will be the result.
2. Let me offer you another test which each can easily make for himself. What is your relation to prayer? Prayer is the test of belief in a Personal God. The man who never prays, never rises above himself, may be moral, may be obedient to the moral law, but he has lost one proof of his belief in a Personal Lawgiver, to whom the law was intended to lead him; has lost one proof that he has a Personal Guide through the perils of his life; has lost one proof that he is preserving the condition of love. If we can pray, we have faith in a Personal God; we may deplore our coldness from time to time, we may even pray from a sense of duty many times, but we have not lost the great condition of love, and we know by experience how our hearts may become again as the rivers in the south — dry water-beds for a season, but in due time flowing like a flood.
3. Let me give you but one more test, by which you may know whether you are fulfilling this condition of love, the great condition on which God's plentiful mercy may be obtained. It is the test of the love of our neighbour.
(Bp. E. King.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: