You shall have no other gods before Me.
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.
Thou shalt have none other gods before Me.
1. We are in this conduct guilty of the grossest falsehood. We practically deny that Jehovah is possessed of those attributes which alone demand such service from intelligent creatures; and on the other hand, assert in the same manner that the being to whom we render this service is invested with these attributes.
2. In this conduct also we are guilty of the greatest injustice. This evil is likewise two-fold. First, we violate the rightful claim of Jehovah to the service of intelligent creatures; and secondly, we render to a creature the service which is due to Him alone. The right which God has to this service is supreme and unalienable. He is our Maker and Preserver. The obligations arising from this source are not a little enhanced by the fact that the service which He actually requires of us is in the highest degree profitable to ourselves, our highest excellence, our greatest honour, and our supreme happiness.
3. We are also guilty of the vilest ingratitude. From the wisdom, power, and goodness of God we derive our being, our blessings, and our hopes.Learn —
1. That idolatry is a sin of the first magnitude.
2. That all mankind are guilty of idolatry. Covetousness is styled "idolatry" by St. Paul, and "stubbornness" by the prophet Samuel.
3. With these observations in view we shall cease to wonder that mankind have been so extensively guilty of continual and enormous sins against each other. Sin is one undivided disposition. It cannot exist towards God and not towards man, or towards man and not towards God. It is a wrong bias of the soul, and of course operates only to wrong, whatever being the operation may respect. That which is the object of religious worship is, of course, the most sublime object which is realised by the devotee. When this object, therefore, is low, impure, when it is fraught with falsehood, injustice, and cruelty, it still keeps its station of superiority, and is still regarded with the reverence due to the highest known object of contemplation. Thus a debased god becomes the foundation of a debased religion, and a debased religion of universal turpitude of character.
4. Hence we see that the Scriptures represent idolatry justly, and annex to it no higher punishment than it deserves.
5. These observations teach us the wisdom and goodness of God in separating the Jews from mankind, as a peculiar people to Himself.
6. We learn hence also the malignant nature of atheism.
7. We see with what exact propriety the Scriptures have represented the violation of our immediate duty to God as the source of all other sin. Impiety is plainly the fountain of guilt, from which flows every stream. Those who are thus false, unjust, and ungrateful to God will, of course, exhibit the same conduct with respect to their fellow creatures.
(T. Dwight, D. D.)
I. In the first place, we may believe that THE CAUSES, WHATEVER THEY WERE, WHICH INFLUENCED ALL THE OTHER NATIONS OF THE EARTH IN THAT PERIOD, AND LED THEM TO IDOLATRY, OPERATED ALSO UPON THE HEBREW NATION. One of the first errors of men in religion probably was that the Supreme God was too great to trouble Himself with the affairs of this lower world. Hence flowed easily all the other errors. The first idolatry was a mixed idolatry. It did not exclude the true God. It only associated other gods with Him. At last He was forgotten, while they continued to be remembered. Here, then, we may search for one cause of idolatry among the Hebrews. We must also mention the rage of the times as another cause. While the idea was yet new, mankind were universally employed in developing it; and while they were intent on fixing the administration, and marking the different departments of the supreme government, they received every new divinity who was offered to them with all the ardour of a new discovery. The pleasure of the process was correspondent. It gratified the imagination by peopling all nature with ideal beings, and it flattered men's ideas of the various and the vast by showing that their number, their natures, and their employments might be infinitely multiplied. We may join to these considerations the indulgence which this religion offered to the passions.
II. But the Hebrews were not only influenced by causes common to them with all the nations of the earth in that period, BUT ALSO BY CAUSES WHICH WERE PECULIAR TO THEIR OWN NATION.
1. Their local situation. They were placed between two powerful empires, the Egyptian and the Assyrian. The fame of these two powerful nations was well known to the Hebrews, and they aspired to share it. Accustomed to ascribe everything to Divine agency, it would occur to them that the cause of their greatness must be owing to the gods whom they worshipped, and that, if they revered the same gods, they might have the same success.
2. But the chief cause of the repeated lapses of the Hebrews into idolatry lay deeper. We must search for it in their civil constitution and the political parties of their state. The institution of the kingly office produced a material change in the government of the Hebrews. It immediately gave rise to two great political parties, which continued to distract the state from the reign of Saul until the Babylonish captivity. The original government of the Hebrews was a theocracy. This was the legal principle from which their laws and constitution, both civil and religious, flowed. The kings of the Hebrews were not kings in any sense in which that word is now used. The Supreme Being was the real legislator; their kings were mere substitutes of the Sovereign, and were understood to act under His appointments. Whenever a king of bad principles arose, who wished to aggrandise his own power and to free himself from the authority of his superior, the first measure which he would adopt for this purpose would be to withdraw the nation as much as possible from the reverence which they owed to God Almighty. This he could not do better than by introducing a number of other gods and leading the nation to offer worship to them. Men arranged themselves on the one side or the other, not only according to their political views, but also according to their characters and dispositions. Idolatry would attract the young and the inexperienced, who admired the great empires, and would consequently be ambitious of imitating them. Idolatry would also attract all the vicious and the sensual, who were under the dominion of the grosser passions, and world therefore naturally lean to the religion which indulged them. The Hebrew idolaters did not mean to exclude their own God. They only joined other gods with Him. They might probably, too, admit that their own God was the greatest, or even that He was supreme God, and the rest His ministers. By these or other means they might reconcile idolatry to their own worship.
(John Mackenzie, D. D.)
1. The believing of a God (Hebrews 11:6).
2. Being persuaded that there is but one God.
3. The believing of His Word.
4. Right apprehensions concerning God's glorious attributes and perfections.
5. Thinking and meditating on Him and His Divine perfections.
6. To the acts of our understanding must be added those of our will and affections, and consequently we are to have a high respect and observance of the Divine Author of our being, the glorious God; we are to admire Him, we are to rejoice in Him. But the chief of the affections which are most celebrated in the Holy Scriptures are fear, and hope, and love, of which therefore I am obliged more distinctly and amply to speak.(1) First, an awful fear and dread are due to God, and are the genuine issue of those conceptions which we ought to frame of Him. Fear is a passion that naturally flows from the serious contemplation of the greatness and power of God, and of His impartial justice in punishing offenders. He that hath this fear stands in awe of God, though no punishment should ensue, for he reckons that sin itself is a punishment. Filial fear is founded in love. Having thus briefly displayed the nature of the fear of God, I will in the next place show what are the natural effects and fruits of it. We owe it to this fear that we are not inconsiderate and rash and furious in our prosecutions. And on the other hand, we are kept by it frown security, for it begets watchfulness and circumspection. Hereby we weigh all our actions and undertakings, and ask ourselves whether they will be pleasing to God.(2) To hope in God is another Divine affection which is included in this first commandment. He that hopes in God cheerfully expects that God will support him under and deliver him from evil, and at last glorify him.(3) Again, ardently to love God is another main thing enjoined in this commandment. And truly to love that Being who is most amiable and most perfect is but the natural effect which the contemplation of such loveliness and perfection should produce in us. But there is an outward service and worship which this commandment enjoins also. This is adoration, a religious reverence and homage performed by the body by all external acts of religion. This is a visible expression of the inward esteem we have of a person. So this worship we are now speaking of is an extrinsic sign of that inward reverence, fear, hope, trust, love which were mentioned before. And the conjunction of these is necessary, for first God's image was imprinted on the body as well as the soul, and therefore both must be sanctified, both must be instruments of religion. Besides, they are assistant to one another by reason of that intimate union which is between them, so that they jointly advance the concerns of religion.And then we are to remember that Christ redeemed not only our souls but our bodies; therefore we are to serve Him with both.(1) First, this must be done by our words and speeches. There must be a vocal expressing of the sense we have of God's perfections. The most notable instances of this kind of external and audible worship are these three —
(a) (b) (c) 1. First, atheism is directly opposite to the duty required of us in this first precept of the moral law. This atheism is —(1) In thought (Psalm 14:1).(2) There is atheism of the tongue as well as of the. heart. There are those who openly disavow the belief of a deity, and are so impudent as to proclaim it to the world.(3) There are atheists not only in thoughts and words, but in actions. These are they that acknowledge a God, but yet live as if there were none. They behave themselves as if there were no omniscient eye to take notice of what they do, as if there were no Supreme Ruler to punish their miscarriages. Of these men the apostle speaks (Titus 1:16). 2. Superstition, as well as atheism, is forbidden in this commandment. For this we are to know, that there are two extremes in religion, one in the defect, which is neglect and contempt of God and His worship, profaneness, and even atheism itself; the other in the excess, which is a vain and unnecessary worship, and this is superstition. The former proceeds from a fond conceit of reason without fear; the latter, from fear without right reason. The first is a defiance of religion; the second makes it a sordid thing. The one makes men irreligious and profane; the other fills them with false imaginations and needless terrors. We have seen in the general that superstition is an overdoing in religion; but more particularly to explain the nature of it —(1) It is doing more in religion than is required by God.(2) It is doing that which is in itself commanded, but with a false principle.(3) It is a being over-concerned about things that are merely circumstantial or indifferent. And withal, consider the pernicious nature of superstition. To conclude, this is a base and servile temper, void of all that generous freedom which should attend true religion. It is unworthy of a noble spirit, and unbecoming a true worshipper. It is one of the foulest blemishes that a person or a church can be defaced with. 3. Idolatry is condemned by this commandment. It is having that thing or being for a god which hath no divinity in it.Here, then, is a threefold idolatry forbidden — 1. That which is moral, which is an immoderate affecting or prosecuting of anything that is not our chief good. It is setting our hearts wholly on any finite and worldly object. All wilful sinners, all those that delight in the practice of what is vicious, are such, for they make their lusts their chief good, and so in a manner make them their gods. This is moral idolatry. 2. There is polytheism, or pagan idolatry, i.e. the believing and worshipping of a multiplicity of deities, even among the works of the creation, as of the sun, moon, and stars, etc. As the atheist maintains that there is no God, so the Gentile worshipper is for making everything a god. 3. The last sort of idolatry is that which hath a mixture of the worship of the true God with it. From the sacred history in Exodus 32:5 we may inform ourselves that the Israelites worshipped Jehovah and the golden calf at the same time. They sometimes worshipped the Lord and Baal together, which Elijah objects to them in 1 Kings 18:21. This medley of religious worship you will find among the strange nations which were transplanted into Samaria (1 Kings 17:41). They feared the Lord and served their graven images. ( J. Edwards, D. D..)
(b) (c) 1. First, atheism is directly opposite to the duty required of us in this first precept of the moral law. This atheism is —(1) In thought (Psalm 14:1).(2) There is atheism of the tongue as well as of the. heart. There are those who openly disavow the belief of a deity, and are so impudent as to proclaim it to the world.(3) There are atheists not only in thoughts and words, but in actions. These are they that acknowledge a God, but yet live as if there were none. They behave themselves as if there were no omniscient eye to take notice of what they do, as if there were no Supreme Ruler to punish their miscarriages. Of these men the apostle speaks (Titus 1:16). 2. Superstition, as well as atheism, is forbidden in this commandment. For this we are to know, that there are two extremes in religion, one in the defect, which is neglect and contempt of God and His worship, profaneness, and even atheism itself; the other in the excess, which is a vain and unnecessary worship, and this is superstition. The former proceeds from a fond conceit of reason without fear; the latter, from fear without right reason. The first is a defiance of religion; the second makes it a sordid thing. The one makes men irreligious and profane; the other fills them with false imaginations and needless terrors. We have seen in the general that superstition is an overdoing in religion; but more particularly to explain the nature of it —(1) It is doing more in religion than is required by God.(2) It is doing that which is in itself commanded, but with a false principle.(3) It is a being over-concerned about things that are merely circumstantial or indifferent. And withal, consider the pernicious nature of superstition. To conclude, this is a base and servile temper, void of all that generous freedom which should attend true religion. It is unworthy of a noble spirit, and unbecoming a true worshipper. It is one of the foulest blemishes that a person or a church can be defaced with. 3. Idolatry is condemned by this commandment. It is having that thing or being for a god which hath no divinity in it.Here, then, is a threefold idolatry forbidden — 1. That which is moral, which is an immoderate affecting or prosecuting of anything that is not our chief good. It is setting our hearts wholly on any finite and worldly object. All wilful sinners, all those that delight in the practice of what is vicious, are such, for they make their lusts their chief good, and so in a manner make them their gods. This is moral idolatry. 2. There is polytheism, or pagan idolatry, i.e. the believing and worshipping of a multiplicity of deities, even among the works of the creation, as of the sun, moon, and stars, etc. As the atheist maintains that there is no God, so the Gentile worshipper is for making everything a god. 3. The last sort of idolatry is that which hath a mixture of the worship of the true God with it. From the sacred history in Exodus 32:5 we may inform ourselves that the Israelites worshipped Jehovah and the golden calf at the same time. They sometimes worshipped the Lord and Baal together, which Elijah objects to them in 1 Kings 18:21. This medley of religious worship you will find among the strange nations which were transplanted into Samaria (1 Kings 17:41). They feared the Lord and served their graven images. ( J. Edwards, D. D..)
(c) 1. First, atheism is directly opposite to the duty required of us in this first precept of the moral law. This atheism is —(1) In thought (Psalm 14:1).(2) There is atheism of the tongue as well as of the. heart. There are those who openly disavow the belief of a deity, and are so impudent as to proclaim it to the world.(3) There are atheists not only in thoughts and words, but in actions. These are they that acknowledge a God, but yet live as if there were none. They behave themselves as if there were no omniscient eye to take notice of what they do, as if there were no Supreme Ruler to punish their miscarriages. Of these men the apostle speaks (Titus 1:16). 2. Superstition, as well as atheism, is forbidden in this commandment. For this we are to know, that there are two extremes in religion, one in the defect, which is neglect and contempt of God and His worship, profaneness, and even atheism itself; the other in the excess, which is a vain and unnecessary worship, and this is superstition. The former proceeds from a fond conceit of reason without fear; the latter, from fear without right reason. The first is a defiance of religion; the second makes it a sordid thing. The one makes men irreligious and profane; the other fills them with false imaginations and needless terrors. We have seen in the general that superstition is an overdoing in religion; but more particularly to explain the nature of it —(1) It is doing more in religion than is required by God.(2) It is doing that which is in itself commanded, but with a false principle.(3) It is a being over-concerned about things that are merely circumstantial or indifferent. And withal, consider the pernicious nature of superstition. To conclude, this is a base and servile temper, void of all that generous freedom which should attend true religion. It is unworthy of a noble spirit, and unbecoming a true worshipper. It is one of the foulest blemishes that a person or a church can be defaced with. 3. Idolatry is condemned by this commandment. It is having that thing or being for a god which hath no divinity in it.Here, then, is a threefold idolatry forbidden — 1. That which is moral, which is an immoderate affecting or prosecuting of anything that is not our chief good. It is setting our hearts wholly on any finite and worldly object. All wilful sinners, all those that delight in the practice of what is vicious, are such, for they make their lusts their chief good, and so in a manner make them their gods. This is moral idolatry. 2. There is polytheism, or pagan idolatry, i.e. the believing and worshipping of a multiplicity of deities, even among the works of the creation, as of the sun, moon, and stars, etc. As the atheist maintains that there is no God, so the Gentile worshipper is for making everything a god. 3. The last sort of idolatry is that which hath a mixture of the worship of the true God with it. From the sacred history in Exodus 32:5 we may inform ourselves that the Israelites worshipped Jehovah and the golden calf at the same time. They sometimes worshipped the Lord and Baal together, which Elijah objects to them in 1 Kings 18:21. This medley of religious worship you will find among the strange nations which were transplanted into Samaria (1 Kings 17:41). They feared the Lord and served their graven images. ( J. Edwards, D. D..)
( J. Edwards, D. D..)
1. It suggests to us the blessedness of the Divine nature. There is no contrariety, no strife, no division of counsel.
2. Again, this truth invests with authority the demands made upon our service as intelligent and responsible beings. If there were more than one God, the question might be asked, What God are we to obey?
3. Also, we may learn that He demands the homage and affection of our whole nature. The one God requires the whole heart, united in itself in one love. The unity of our nature is secured only by our love to God. There is no other power that can do it. Self-interest may try, pleasure may try, ambition may try, but the nature is still divided; and conscience, instead of expressing its approval, is like Mordecai at the gate, refusing to bow the knee. The unity of Germany was a dream, until the enthusiasm of the different states was aroused by the menaces of a common enemy; and in the fire of that enthusiasm they were welded together into one empire. The unity of man's nature is a dream until, by the fire of God's love, all his powers and faculties and emotions are fused into one. The whole man is to be given to God. There are many who are ready to unite in the confession, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth," who are only uttering words, as a child first lisping his A B C, without attaching any definite meaning to the words, and without the heart's emphasis on the words. Is our belief in God a tradition, or a real living faith? Is He our God? Do we acknowledge His presence? Do we worship Him in truth?
(James Owen.)I. WE ARE OBLIGED TO KNOW GOD. This supposes that our understanding is rightly informed as to what relates to the Divine perfections, which are displayed in the works of creation and providence. But that knowledge which we are to endeavour to attain, who have a brighter manifestation of His perfections in the Gospel, is of a far more excellent and superior nature; inasmuch as herein we see the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or behold the perfections of the Divine nature, as displayed in and through a Mediator; which is that knowledge which is absolutely necessary to salvation (John 17:3). By this means we not only know what God is, but our interest in Him, and the foundation which we have of our being accepted in His sight.
II. We are further commanded TO ACKNOWLEDGE OR MAKE A VISIBLE PROFESSION OF OUR SUBJECTION TO GOD AND IN PARTICULAR TO CHRIST AS OUR GREAT MEDIATOR. His name, interest, and glory should be most dear to us; and we are, on all occasions, to testify that we count it our glory to be His servants, and to make it appear that He is the supreme subject of desire and delight (Psalm 142:5; Psalm 73:25).
III. We are further obliged by this commandment TO WORSHIP AND GLORIFY GOD, PURSUANT TO WHAT WE KNOW, AND THE PROFESSION WE MAKE OF HIM AS THE TRUE GOD AND OUR GOD.
1. We must make God the subject of our daily meditation.
2. We are to honour, adore, and fear Him for His greatness.
3. As God is the best good, and has promised that He will be a God to us, so He is to be desired, loved, rejoiced in, and chosen by us.
4. As He is a God of truth, we are to believe all that He has spoken, and in particular what He has revealed in His promises or threatenings, relating to mercies which He will bestow, or judgments which He will inflict.
5. He is able to save to the utmost, and faithful in fulfilling all His promises, we are to trust Him with all we have from Him, and for all those blessings which we hope to receive at His hands.
6. When the name, interest, and glory of God is opposed in the world we are to express an holy zeal for it.
7. Since He is a God hearing prayer, we are daily to call upon Him, "O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come."
8. As He is the God of all our mercies, we are to praise Him for them.
9. His sovereignty and dominion over us calls for subjection and obedience, and a constant care to please Him, and approve ourselves to Him in all things.
10. As He is a holy, jealous, and sin-hating God, we are to be filled with sorrow of heart when He is offended, either by ourselves or others.
11. A sense of our unworthiness and daily infirmities should excite us to walk humbly with God.
(Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)I. The most obvious lesson of this commandment is that IT FORBIDS POLYTHEISM, the worship of many gods. We are not to allow any god to share the throne of Jehovah. Although in former times idolatry was one of the chief perils of the Jews, and was the common religion of ancient Greece and Rome, polytheism is scarcely a peril for us.
II. There is manifestly contained in this commandment AN IMPLICIT DENIAL OF ALL ATHEISM. The command, "Thou shalt have none other gods before Me," rests on the assumption that there is one true and living God. The law therefore forbids atheism as being a denial of God. Now, atheism is really of two very different kinds: one that is purely speculative or theoretical; and the other, and a far more common kind, practical atheism.
1. Of that purely speculative atheism which denies the existence of God there is very little in the present day. There may be exceptional thinkers, both in this country and in Germany, who would commit themselves to a definite denial of the existence of God, but men like Darwin and Huxley, or Tyndale and Herbert Spencer, are never found asserting there is no God. They are too wise and, let me add, too reverent to commit themselves to such an unprovable assertion. The speculative atheism of today calls itself agnosticism. It does not say that there is no God; all it affirms is, we cannot prove that there is one. We know nothing whatsoever about the hidden and mysterious cause which lies at the back of all phenomena; we know that there is something, and this something is the only reality of the universe, but what it is we cannot tell. "The power," Mr. Herbert Spencer says, "which the universe manifests to us is utterly inscrutable." "Such a power," he goes on to say, "exists, but its nature transcends intuition and is beyond imagination." Now, what I desire to say about this modified form of atheism, calling itself agnosticism, is that it is really as deadly a form of atheism as the coarser atheism which openly declared there was no God. The agnostic himself, such a man as Herbert Spencer, may be a man of all moral excellence, for men often live on the beliefs which they have denied, just as, to use Mr. Balfour's striking illustration, parasites often live on the trees which they have destroyed. But agnosticism itself, the assertion that if there be a God we cannot know Him, is as fatal to all human goodness as the denial that there is a God. During the reign of terror the French were declared to be a nation of atheists by the National Assembly; but a brief experience convinced them that a nation of atheists could not long exist. Robespierre then proclaimed in the Convention that belief in the existence of a God was necessary to those principles of virtue and morality upon which the Republic was founded.
2. There is another kind of atheism that is most common, the atheism that we find in the streets, in the homes, in the hearts of a large number of people, and that I have called practical atheism; and this is as sternly forbidden by the First Commandment as the intellectual denial of God. And when I speak of practical atheism I mean the atheism of the heart and not of the head, the atheism of the life and not of the reason, the atheism, in one word, of that man to whose daily life it would make no kind of difference if there were no God.
III. THIS COMMANDMENT FORBIDS ALL IDOLATRY. Coarse and material idolatry is impossible today; but there are other kinds of idolatry than the worship of idols.
1. Consider the idolatry of pleasure; and this may take one of two forms, either the pursuit of sensual pleasure or the passion for amusement. Now, the coarse degrading pursuit of sensual pleasure is not unknown even in the present day. There are those, St. Paul tells us, "whose god is their belly"; and I suppose there are such men to be found in England today, men who have little pleasure beyond the pleasures of the table, whose appetite and taste are as sensitive to the delights of eating and drinking as the ear of the musician or the eye of the artist is to what delights them; and then again, there is the lower form of sensual pleasure, the fulfilling of the lusts of the animal nature; but the common form of the idolatry of pleasure is found in the pursuit of amusement. It is one of the most pressing dangers of the present day. When I see the eager race for amusement today, when I find young men alert and excited if a sailing match or a football contest or a tennis tournament or a cricket match is taking place, willing to give up any engagement so as not to miss their favourite pleasure; and when I see these same young men indifferent to all higher aims — the pleasures of reading, of music, of art, and above all of religion; when I notice how easily excuses are found for absence on Sunday from worship, how readily the house of God is neglected for the cycle ride, or the river, or the seashore, I cannot help saying to myself, the idolatry of pleasure is one of the commonest of all the idolatries of modern life.
2. Another form of idolatry is seen in the love of money, and of all idolatries it is the most frequent in our modern world; for the one idol that never lacks worshippers is the idol of gold. I remember in this city a man dying many years ago who was one of these lovers of money. He had amassed a large fortune, no part of which ever came to any charity; and as he was lying upon his deathbed he sent for his minister, who naturally thought the dying man wished to speak to him of heavenly things, of his own soul, of religion, of God. The minister went to see him, and when he reached the bedside, and almost before he could speak, the poor miserable idolater of money said: "Oh, Mr. —, I am so glad you have come; I want to ask you if you can tell me the price of those shares today," mentioning some company in which he was interested. I am not saying that the desire to grow rich is idolatry, or that a man who bends his energies to make money in the week is sinning against God. He may be sinless in all this, and he is sinless if he desires money, not for its own sake, not for self-enjoyment, but for the use and blessing it may be to others; if he puts God first, and money always second. None the less, there are many in peril of reversing this.
3. The last form of idolatry to which I shall allude is the idolatry of love. There is something so beautiful in human love that it seems hardly possible to speak of it as an idolatry; and yet none the less it may become so. There are those whom Satan could never tempt through the flesh, who have never felt a single sensual temptation, who have no interest, or little interest, in amusement, and very little care for money, and no desire to grow rich; but who, nevertheless, are tempted through the affections, tempted to make an idol of some human love, to put lover or husband or wife or child on the throne of the heart where God ought to be. "Love me," said a wise and devout girl to her lover, — "love me as fervently as you will, but take care you love God better than you love me." She knew too well the peril of this idolatry of the heart. Possibly the commonest form this idolatry takes today is seen in the worship of children. By a bedside a woman once knelt, praying with streaming eyes. On that little bed, cold and still in death, lay her only child. She had literally worshipped it, and now God had taken her child from her. Listen to what that kneeling, weeping, broken-hearted mother is saying, the words are only sobs: "Oh my God, it is hard, Thou only knowest how hard for me to bear it. I thank Thee Thou hast taken my darling to Thyself. I loved my boy too well — I loved him more than I loved Thee; I made him my idol; now Thou hast broken my idol, and I have only Thee to love. My God, forgive my sorrow. I will not love my boy any less. I will love Thee more, more than I ever loved him."
(G. S. Barrett, D. D.)
(G. Campbell Morgan.)
I. THE INSTANCES IN WHICH PRACTICAL ATHEISM DISCOVERS ITSELF.
1. They are chargeable with it who are grossly ignorant of God, being utter strangers to those perfections whereby He makes Himself known to the world, or who entertain carnal conceptions of Him, as though He were altogether such an one as ourselves.
2. When persons, though they know, in some measure, what God is, yet never seriously exercise their thoughts about Him, which forgetfulness is a degree of atheism, and will be severely punished by Him.
3. When persons maintain corrupt doctrines and dangerous heresies, subversive of the fundamental articles of faith and contrary to the Divine perfections.
4. When we repine at His providence, or charge God foolishly, and go about to prescribe laws to Him, who is the Governor of the world and may do what He will with the work of His hands.
5. When we refuse to engage in those acts of religious worship which He has appointed, or to attend on His ordinances, in which we may hope for His presence and blessing.
6. When we behave ourselves, in the conduct of our lives, as though we were not accountable to Him and had no reason to be afraid of His judgments.
II. THE AGGRAVATIONS AND DREADFUL CONSEQUENCES OF THIS SIN. It is contrary to the light of nature and the dictates of conscience, a disregarding those impressions which God has made of His glory on the souls of men. And in those who have been favoured with the revelation of the grace of God in the Gospel, in which His perfections have been set forth to the utmost, it is a shutting our eyes against the light, and casting contempt on that which should raise and excite in us the highest esteem of Him whom we practically disown and deny. It is directly opposite to and entirely inconsistent with all religions, and opens a door to the greatest degree of licentiousness.
III. To consider this commandment as FORBIDDING IDOLATRY: which is either what is more gross, such as that which is found among the heathen, or that which is more secret, and may be found in the hearts of all.
1. As to idolatry in the former sense, together with the rise and progress thereof, in considering the first rise of it we may observe —(1) That it proceeded from the ignorance and pride of man, who, though he could not but know, by the light of nature, that there is a God; yet being ignorant of His perfections, or of what He has revealed Himself to be in His Word, was disposed to frame those ideas of a God which took their rise from his own invention. Accordingly the apostle says, "When ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which, by nature, are no gods."(2) When iniquity abounded in the world, and men cast contempt on the ordinances of God, they invented and worshipped new gods.(3) Hereupon God gave them up to judicial blindness, so that they worshipped the host of heaven, as the apostle says the heathen did.(4) As to what concerns the idolatry which was practised among the Israelites. That took its rise from the fond ambition which they had to be like other nations who were abhorred of God, counting this a fashionable religion.
2. That idolatry which is sometimes found among Christians.(1) Self may be reckoned among those idols which many, who make profession of the true religion, pay a greater regard to than to God. This we may be said to be guilty of; in which respect we are chargeable with heart idolatry — When we reject or refuse to give credit to any of the great doctrines contained in Divine revelation, unless we are able to comprehend them within the shallow limits of our own understandings. This is no other than a setting up our own understanding, which is weak and liable to err, in opposition to the wisdom of God, and, in some respects, a giving superior glory to it. When we are incorrigible under the various rebukes of providence, and persist in our rebellion against God, notwithstanding the threatenings which He has denounced or the judgments which He executes. This also discovers itself in our affections, when they are either set on unlawful objects, or immoderately pursue those that would otherwise be lawful; when we love those things which God hates, or covet what He has expressly forbidden. There is a more subtle kind of idolatry, whereby self enters into religious duties. Thus when they attempt to perform them in their own strength, as though they had no occasion to depend on the Almighty power of God to work in them that which is pleasing in His sight. And we are further guilty of this sin when, through the pride of our hearts, we applaud ourselves when we have performed some religious duties, and expect to be justified thereby; which is a setting up self as an idol in the room of Christ. And lastly, when self is the end designed in what we do in matters of religion, and so robs God of that glory which is due to His name.(2) There is another idol which is put in the room of God, and that is the world. When our thoughts are so much engaged in the pursuit of it that we grow not only cold and remiss as to spiritual things, but allow ourselves no time for serious meditation on them, or converse with God in secret. When the world has our first and last thoughts every day. When we pursue the world, without depending on God for His blessing to attend our lawful undertakings. When our hearts are hereby hardened, and grow cold and indifferent in religion, or when it follows and disturbs us in holy duties, and renders us formal in the discharge thereof. When the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world have a tendency to quiet our spirits, and give us full satisfaction, though under spiritual declensions and destitute of the special presence of God, which is our greatest happiness. When we fret at the providence of God under the disappointments we meet with in our secular affairs in the world. When we despise the members of Christ because they are poor in the world, are ashamed of His Cross and refuse to bear reproach for His sake.(3) There is another instance of heart idolatry, namely, when we adhere to the dictates of Satan, and regard his suggestions more than the convictions of our own consciences, or the Holy Spirit. Satan's design in his temptations is to turn us away from God, and when we are drawn aside thereby we may be said to obey him rather than God.
(Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)I. OUR RACE must have a God. We cannot escape the sceptre and the supervision of the Creator.
II. NATIONS must have a God. The words of this law were addressed to the people of Israel. Neither kings nor senates nor majorities can avoid national responsibility. Constitutions may not recognise Him, but the Divine administration is not dependent upon human enactments.
III. THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL must have a God. The law of the universal holds the unit. I must have a God. Not one soul can drop out of the all-embracing government of God.
IV. There are TWO WAYS of having a God. First, by the necessity of His government, which will not surrender one soul to any other authority; and second, by the voluntary choice of the soul who takes the God who is king by right of creation, to his heart as Father and Redeemer, delighting in Him as his all-sufficient portion.
V. Man may have MANY GODS.
1. Through the perversion of the religious faculty, as when the powers that must worship something, having lost the perception of the true, invisible God, are directed towards visible things, first as symbols and then as substance — sun, moon, stars, statues, stones, birds of the air, beasts of the field, and loathsome reptiles of the ground.
2. Through the prostitution of all the faculties, as when the powers given us by the Creator to be used exclusively for His glory (which invariably includes our highest good) are employed with selfish aims, God being forgotten. Then are the objects of our love and delight the "gods" we serve.
VI. Man should have but ONE GOD — the one Lord God — JEHOVAH.
1. Because of what this one God is: the Self-existent, the Almighty, the Eternal, the Unchangeable, whose throne is from everlasting, and whose power and glory are only equalled by His holiness and justice and love and mercy.
2. Because of what this one has done. He is our Creator, and has preserved us. But more than this, it is He who has redeemed us.
3. Because of what man needs. Honour, ease, friendship, wealth, power, are all insufficient to meet the wants of the immortal mind of man. In the midst of all their best benefactions man cries out for something better. Man, made for God, is in misery without God.
4. Because of the train of miseries which must follow in the service of many gods, or of any but the one God. In the Hebrew the expression "before Me" signifies "before, upon, or against My face." He who has any other than the true God, thereby —(1) Hides God's face from himself, so that He does not see God, nor look toward Him, nor rest assured of God's presence. He is full of doubts and uncertainties. The world is dark, for His face is hidden from which the light shines.(2) He hides himself from God's face — from the smiles of approval and the words of blessing. No "well-pleasing in My sight" comes with its sweet inspiration and consolation to his soul. He is seen by the Almighty as through a thick cloud, and the Almighty delighteth not in him.(3) His idolatries "before" or "against the face" of God antagonise God. He defies his Maker. He calls for His vengeance, and when the thrones of the idols perish before the indignation of the Almighty, all who bow at these thrones shall also perish.
VII. Man in "having" God has ALL THINGS. He has infinite resources of wisdom, power, and grace at command, according to the "exceeding great and precious promises" of God, who is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." He has peace, deep and abiding. He has joy, full and unfailing. He has hope, clear and unquestioning. He has love, fervent, abounding, and all-controlling. He has "all things" of this world, and the "better things" of the world to come.
VIII. Let us look at this "word" of the law — the first of the "ten words" IN THE LIGHT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. First, there were "ten words," or commandments. They were prohibitory, monitory, and minatory. "Thou shalt not" rings through the code of Sinai. In the New Testament these are reduced to "two." "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Nay, we find them all in one. One law! One word! and this one word is Love.
IX. God led Israel out of bondage, but not out of the pains of DISCIPLINE AND TRIAL. He brought them out of Egypt to learn this law, but led them to Sinai by way of the Red Sea and the desert of Sin, and the perils of Rephidim, and through the midst of the fierce Amalekites. Thus are God's people led today to the heights where His law is revealed. The way is dark and desolate and full of danger, but He who leads us has lessons for us to learn: lessons about Himself; lessons which we are slow to receive and prone to forget; but He bears with us and brings us on our way — His way — sustaining and comforting and aiding us.
(J. H. Vincent, D. D.)
(J. P. Newman, D. D.)Luther: "thy God" — a word of blessing — "thou shalt have none other gods before Me." It would seem as if the command must be self-evidently rational. But it means that we ought above all to fear, love, and trust God. God says: "Give Me thine heart" — thy whole heart. We keep this command when we —
I. FEAR GOD SUPREMELY.
1. Each commandment is like a coin stamped on both sides. On the one side the image is forbidding, even terrible. It delineates the prohibition, "Thou shalt not." The other is beautiful — it gives the precept. Look at the first commandment on its two sides — the one shows the idolater, the other the child of God.
2. When men fear aught else but God they are idolaters. They bow before images of terror, e.g. want, sickness, death, the judgment of men, etc.
3. But we ought to fear God because "He is a great God"; "He commands and it is done," etc. He sends sickness and health, etc. In His hands are life and death. He is Judge. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Therefore "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
4. But to fear God for this reason only would be not to fear Him, but His rod. This is a slavish fear: such "fear has punishment." But if children of God we must avoid what would offend Him. "How shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" Let this fear ever be yours in every circumstance and condition in life. A proud sceptic wrote: "A poor miserable life it is to be constantly in fear! What will they ever accomplish who are always asking the question, 'Is this right that I have undertaken what I am doing?' How weakly and fearfully do such take their stand in a world where courage and quick decision are needed in order to achieve anything, who plague themselves with puerile scruples of conscience and stand ever in dread of an unseen Judge!" No, we say. The man who fears God is freed from every other fear. And true courage, endurance, etc., are to be found only among God-fearing men, e.g. the Swiss at Lempach praying. "They pray for mercy," said an Austrian, "but from God, not from us, and what that means we shall soon experience." The apostles: "We must fear God rather than men."
II. LOVE GOD SUPREMELY.
1. When men love any person or thing more than God they are idolaters as much as those who serve idols, e.g. Mammon.
2. Others do not cherish mammon in their hearts. On the contrary, they squander what they possess to minister to their lusts and appetites. "Whose end is destruction."
3. Others cry out, "I deserve to have honour among my fellows, their esteem," etc. Ask yourself, do you esteem this more than the honour that comes from God?
4. Others cry, "My wife, child, etc., is the being most dear to me," etc. Try your heart as to whether they have a higher place in your heart than God, and whether, therefore, you are an idolater.
5. If you would escape from this idolatry hear what God says: "My son, give Me thine heart." Hear what David says of Him: "I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength," etc. (Psalm 17:1, 2). If He is all this to us we must love Him.
III. TRUST GOD SUPREMELY.
1. Manifold are the troubles and dangers we meet on the way through life; and in view of this not only heathens but Christians trust in dead idols. When men put their trust in aught but God they become idolaters.
2. When a poor man trusts in a rich friend alone; a sick man thinks only of the skilled physician, an embarrassed man trusts to his own unaided wisdom, or a dying man declares, "I have at all times lived righteously, I shall not be condemned," they are idolaters. "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom," etc.
3. Rather give God your heart, and rest all your hope in Him. In trouble look to Him as the true helper and be confident. Though the last handful of meal and drop of oil be reached, etc., trust, and all will be well. Remember His word, "I am the LORD THY GOD." This heavenly Father will feed, help, etc., in due time; and even when His ways seem dark, remember His wonders of old.
(K. H. Caspari.)
1. What dishonour it did to Jehovah, the one God! What must have been the impression on the minds of the heathen when their idols were preferred by Israel to their own Jehovah!
2. Such conduct was strongly interdicted, as involving in it the foulest ingratitude.
3. Idolatry stood not alone. The worship given to these other gods was, in itself and in its accompaniments, made up of all that was otherwise odious in God's sight. How just the designation of these idolatries by Peter, "abominable idolatries."
(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)John 3:16 as earnestly as I could, then asked the people what they thought of my sermon. Immediately all eyes were turned towards the chief. He rose, and coming to the front, gave one of the finest orations it has ever been my lot to hear. He was a natural orator, and every time I heard him I was always filled with admiration. His speech was to the effect that for years he had lost faith in the pagan gods. When he saw God in nature, how He provided for His people, he said, "Surely that God cannot be pleased with the idle beating of a drum or the rattling of a conjurer's wand." And pointing to the conjurers and medicine men who skulked on the outskirts of the crowd, the only ones who did not welcome me, he exclaimed, "These medicine men can tell you that for years I have had no god; but this God whom you speak of, shows by His grace and goodness that He is the only living and true God, and Him only will I serve. That chief was worthy of the words he spoke, forever after he was an earnest and consistent Christian, showing forth the power of the Gospel.
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