Deuteronomy 5:6

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."


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.


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.

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

(J. P. Newman, D. D.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(James Owen.)

I. HE MAKES WAY TO THE OBEYING OF HIS LAWS BY PROPOUNDING HIS SOVEREIGN POWER: I am the Lord thy God, I am Jehovah, the only true God; I am self-existent, and I give being unto all things. My essence is eternal and unchangeable; I do what I please in heaven and earth; My power and dominion are infinite. This is a very suitable introduction to the commandments. It is a prevalent motive, a powerful argument to induce us to yield obedience to whatever God shall be pleased to propound as our duty. Besides, "Thou signifies the equality of the obligation; God speaking to all the people as to one man, that every person may think himself concerned to obey, and that no man may plead exception. This Lord, this Jehovah, who here speaks, is God over all; His authority and sovereignty are unlimited.

II. Not only the sovereignty, BUT THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS MENTIONED HERE AS AN ARGUMENT OF OBEDIENCE — "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." We have by the gracious undertakings of Christ been brought out of the house of bondage, delivered from that captivity and slavery wherein Satan and our own guilt had involved us. This Divine philanthropy, this transcendent beneficence, together with all the other blessings, mercies, and favours conferred upon us, are forcible engagements, yea, strong allurements to obedience.

( J. Edwards, D. D..)

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


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

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

3. The number of the commandments is significant. There are ten, and ten is the only complete number. After we count ten we begin again, for ten completes the number of the primary digits.(1) The law God gives to His people is a complete code of moral goodness. "The law of the Lord is perfect," as the Psalmist sings; it lacks nothing; it is full, and rounded, and complete; and if we keep this law we shall be perfect men.(2) The natural division of the number ten into two halves of five each suggests, I think, a second truth. If ten be the symbol of completeness, five must necessarily be an incomplete number, for it wants the other five to make it complete; and so the one half of the Decalogue is incomplete without the other. No one who is religious without morality is a good man; no man who is moral without being religious is a good man.

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


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

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

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

IV. Notice the significant fact that THE LAW OF GOD WAS NOT GIVEN TO HIS PEOPLE UNTIL THEIR REDEMPTION FROM EGYPT WAS COMPLETED. This is the Divine order — redemption by the passover sacrifice, and shedding of the blood of the innocent lamb, then the giving of the law. This was the order in Judaism, and in Christianity the same significant order is preserved. We are first redeemed by the precious blood of Christ from the curse and power of sin, from death; and then we are bidden to keep the law of Christ. The Divine order is not, "Do this and live," but, "Live and do this": redemption first, obedience afterwards. This order is not an arbitrary and unmeaning one. It lies in the eternal necessities of our being. Can a dead man do anything? Can a corpse obey a single command? Can it even hear one? And if we are "dead in trespasses and sins," our first need is not a law, but a life: first deliverance from the doom of sin, first redemption, and then, and not till then, the sinner, saved from the prison house of death, falls at his Lord's feet and cries, "Lord, I am Thy servant, I am Thy servant, Thou hast loosed my bonds."

(G. S. Barrett, D. D.)

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

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

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

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

2. Freedom and holiness go together.

(James Matthew, B. D.)

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

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

(P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

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

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

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


IV. That as where a duty is commanded THE CONTRARY SIN IS FORBIDDEN AND WHERE A SIN IS FORBIDDEN THE CONTRARY DUTY IS COMMANDED: So, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included.

V. That WHAT GOD FORBIDS IS AT NO TIME TO BE DONE; WHAT HE COMMANDS IS ALWAYS OUR DUTY, and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times.


VII. That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves we are bound, according to our places, TO ENDEAVOUR THAT IT MAY BE AVOIDED OR PERFORMED BY OTHERS, according to the duty of their places.

VIII. That, in what is commanded to others, we are bound according to our places and callings TO BE HELPFUL TO THEM, and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden.

(Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

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