THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
by Bob Wheeler
We have seen, then, that God is the righteous Judge (Oct. 10, 2015). So, then, what exactly does God require of us in the way of ethical behavior? The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the then commandments” (Q. 41). The answer, however, is a little misleading.
The Ten Commandments reflect something of the character of God Himself. When He revealed Himself personally to Moses on Mt. Sinai He proclaimed Himself to be “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . .” (Ex. 34:6; NKJV). “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, / Slow to anger and great in mercy. / The Lord is good to all, / And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:8,9). It is not surprising, therefore, that He would condemn anything that runs counter to these core values.
“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;
And the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
(Ps. 5: 4-6)
Moreover, when we come to the New Testament, when the Christian message goes out into the world at large, many of the same principles are enjoined upon the Gentile converts as well. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites nor thieves , nor covetous, nor drunkards nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9,10). Thus it becomes apparent that the Ten Commandments really do embody basic moral principles that apply to all mankind.
Yet we must be careful here. If we ask the question, what does our Creator expect from us in the way of attitudes and behavior, it is evident that the answer must entail more than just a negative prohibition on such forms of external conduct as murder, theft and perjury. And when we look at the sum total of Scriptural teaching on the subject it becomes apparent that much more is involved.
The positive requirement of God’s law is not merely that we refrain from injuring one another, but that we love one another. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:7,8). We are to care for each other actively and seek to do each other positive good. What the law does, on the other hand, is to point out what we should not be doing. “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:8-10).
Another way of looking at it is that love is the fulfillment of the law. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ’You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). Thus the Larger Catechism is justified in laying down as a rule of interpretation for the Ten Commandments that “where a duty is commanded the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded . . .” (Question 99).
What we are dealing with here, then, is no mere human law code, but rather with universal moral principles that come to us form none other than Almighty God himself. As such they are absolute and not subject to negotiation or compromise. These are laws by which we will be judged at the end of the world. We would do well, then, to heed them carefully.
While we hesitate to say, then, that the Ten Commandments comprehend the whole duty of man, they do provide us with a useful framework in which to consider the various duties contained in the moral law, and we shall therefore proceed accordingly in our exposition.