July 8, 2014 | by: Bob Schilling | 3 comments
We looked last week at The Threefold Division of Biblical Law:
Civil, Ceremonial and Moral.
Then we looked at The Threefold Use of Moral Law:
The law is a Mirror, the law is a Muzzle and the law is a Map.
It Reveals sin, it Restrains sin and it Rules saints.
Today we focus on one of those uses of the Moral Law, the use that we identified last time as the Law’s primary use: instruction and exhortation; its principle use and benefit is as a moral guide, the perfect standard and picture of holiness - the guide of a godly life.
God’s moral law is summarized in the two great commandments:
Matt. 22:37–40, “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
The first summary, given by God, of which these two commandments are but the irreducible, final summary was the Ten Commandments. All that God requires of us in a life of holy obedience falls under one of the Ten Commandments. Every sin can be traced to a transgression of one or more of these summary laws.
I’d like to explain two things in this post. I want to demonstrate the unique centrality and ethical importance of the Ten Commandments, and I want to propose a way of looking at the essence of each of the commandments by singling out the sanctities being highlighted by God in the Ten Commandments.
First of all, The Uniqueness of the Decalogue.
“Decalogue” is the common word used to refer to the Ten Commandments. The prefix, "deca" means “ten” and the second part, "logue" means “word.” “The Ten Words.” Actually that’s exactly what they are called in many of the references to them in Scripture - see Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13, 10:4 and look at the footnote in most versions. You cannot fairly look at Scripture’s testimony regarding these ten words and not see that they are distinguished and set apart as a unique revelation of the moral will of God for His people. They bind all of humanity, of course,
Rom. 3:19, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
But they are given, in context, primarily to God’s redeemed people. In the slightly paraphrased words of R. Kent Hughes,
“The Law was founded on God’s grace. Israel was delivered from Egypt by the sheer, undeserved, free grace of God, and it was to His redeemed people that He gave His summarized law. The Ten Words are the Magna Charta of the spiritual freedom given to a divinely redeemed people” (“Disciplines of Grace: God’s Ten Words for a Vital Spiritual Life” Crossway Books, 1993, pg. 17).
The law was given to those who had already been redeemed. Law and Gospel work together in both testaments, as do Law and Grace. The grace of the gospel has never been opposed to the proper use of the law. How are these Ten Words distinguished from other laws in the Old Testament?
(1) They were uttered by the audible voice of God to the people
Deut. 4:9-13, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And He declared to you his covenant, which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.”
Deut. 5:22–26, “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?”
The other commandments and regulations and statutes God revealed to Moses and over the course of time in the Old Testament to the rest of His Prophets. But these words the people heard audibly – God spoke to them out of the midst of the darkness and fire with a loud voice – and He added no more. Of no other laws from God can this be said.
(2) They were written supernaturally by the finger of God on tablets of stone. Twice
As Deut. 4:13 and 5:22 record, God wrote these ten commandments on two tablets of stone. And remember that Deuteronomy (the word “deuter-onomy” means “second law”) is a second giving of the two tablets – the first tablets were broken at the foot of the mountain when Moses came down to see Aaron and the people worshipping the golden calf (Exod. 32).
Exod. 32:15–16, 19, “Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets…And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”
Of what other laws can we say, the writing was the writing of God? Which other laws did He Himself engrave on tablets of stone? These laws, the Ten Commandments hold a unique and prized place in the legislation of God given to Israel (thus the distinctions made in our previous post regarding the civil, the ceremonial and the moral laws).
(3) They were given with awe-inspiring phenomenon: clouds, darkness, thunder, lightning, trumpet, gloom and tempest – this was no ordinary occasion. These laws were delivered with unique and heightened pomp. “The whole mountain trembled greatly” and “all the people in the camp trembled” (Exod. 19:16, 18).
Exod. 20:18, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off.”
(4) They were designated as the summary of the Old Covenant – they are at the heart of God’s good promise to His people. Deut. 9:9, “…the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you…” Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple hundreds of years later, “And there I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that He made with the people of Israel” (2 Chron. 6:11). The Ten Commandments are the Covenant, in its moral essence. The rest of the law, and in some senses, the rest of the Old Testament is commentary on it. The Ten Commandments were central in the Old Testament.
David Clyde Jones, in the best book published on Christian Ethics (“Biblical Christian Ethics” Baker Book House, 1994) says,
“According to the Mishnah (the ancient written record [200AD] of Jewish tradition and commentary on the Torah), the Ten Commandments (along with the Shema, Deut. 6:4) were read daily in the temple in the time of Christ.”
This law, remember, especially the summary of it – is the reference of Jesus words, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
(5) They alone, of all laws, were kept in the ark of the covenant
It sounds like these laws might be unique.
And then when you come to the New Testament you still see them treated as binding and frequently referred to, even in the order in which they were first given in the Decalogue:
Matt. 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder (6th), adultery (7th), sexual immorality (7th), theft (8th), false witness (9th), slander (a combination of the 5th, 9th, and 10th).”
Matt. 19:17–19, “And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder (6), You shall not commit adultery (7), You shall not steal (8), You shall not bear false witness (9), Honor your father and mother (5), and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Rom. 13:8–10, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery (7), You shall not murder (6), You shall not steal (8), You shall not covet (10),’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
And notice how naturally Paul appeals to one of the Ten Commandments when giving moral instruction to believers:
Eph. 6:1–3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’”
He even quotes what many would regard as a temporal promise, applicable particularly in Old Covenant Israel – that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.
There is no aversion in the New Testament to Law-Keeping as a moral duty of the people of God. Of course we’re not saved by keeping the law – but we are saved unto keeping the law. The law is the description of the God-pleasing life: 1 John 3:22, “…because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.”
Titus 2:11–14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
The law defines the works that are good. The law is love’s eyes.
John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.”
1 John 5:2–3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
1 Cor. 7:19, “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.”
And lo and behold, Christians are described twice in the last book of the Bible as those, who not only, amidst satanic opposition and persecution, “hold fast to the testimony of Jesus” – but they “keep His commandments,”
Rev. 12:17, “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (see also 14:12).
The Ten Commandments define moral righteousness and are the highway of Christian holiness.
Secondly, in order maximally profit from the instruction given to us in the moral summary of the Ten Commandments, we need to see God’s Law for what it truly is. “The law of the Lord is perfect” (Ps. 19:7). God’s law is sure, it is right, it is pure, it is clean, it is true, it is holy, righteous, good and spiritual (Ps. 19:7-9; Rom. 7:12, 14). And we’re only getting started. Psalm 119 gives us about 150 attributes describing the excellence of God’s law. All the word of God in its moral imperative is God’s law to us, and as Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified in the truth, He then said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Ps. 119:96, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.”
Ps. 119:160, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”
Listen to Paul’s backhanded compliments to the law in his indictment of his fellow Jews who boasted in the law, but did not keep it,
Romans 2:17–20, “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth…”
The descriptions are true, their esteem of the law was right, but their hypocritical failure to be doers of it – put them in the same category as the unconverted Gentiles that they despised and judged.
What do we have in the law?
- The knowledge of His will
- The approval of what is excellent
- A guide for the blind
- A light for those in darkness
- Instruction for the foolish
- A teacher for those who need to learn
- We have in the law - the embodiment of knowledge and truth.
I was first introduced to a way of looking at the law which highlighted ten sanctities being identified (ten sacred areas that God’s law prioritizes) by Professor Greg Nichol’s of the Reformed Baptist Seminary (then called, The Reformed Baptist School of Theology) in Grand Rapids, MI. I later discovered (and he likely referenced this – I just don’t remember) that G.I. Williamson, in his fairly popular exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (originally published in 1970, “The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Study Classes”) had developed a circular illustration distinguishing ten sanctities. Four summarized our duty to worship God (the first table of the law), and six our duty to serve God (the second table of the law). “The whole of life is to be nothing more than this” – The worship and service of God (pg. 191, second edition).
Here’s how G.I. Williamson stated the Ten Sanctities, corresponding to the Ten Commandments:
I. The OBJECT of true worship
II. The MANNER of true worship
III. The ATTITUDE of true worship
IV. The TIME of true worship
V. Obedience to God-given AUTHORITY
VI. Respect for God’s image in man: LIFE
VII. The sanctity of MARRIAGE
VIII. The sanctity of PROPERTY
IX. The Sanctity of SPEECH
X. The rule of CONTENTMENT
Professor Greg Nichols tweaked the descriptions and offered this rendering:
1. The sanctity of God’s Being
2. The sanctity of God’s Worship
3. The sanctity of God’s Name
4. The sanctity of God’s Day
5. The sanctity of God-ordained Authority
6. The sanctity of Life
7. The sanctity of Marriage
8. The sanctity of private Property
9. The sanctity of Truth
10. The sanctity of the Heart
I hadn’t thought of the commandments like this prior to Greg Nichol’s instruction. What made sense to me was that, if indeed, the Ten Commandments summarize moral duty (and work backward from the two-fold summary of which it is said, “On these two commandments hang the all the law and the prophets,” Matt. 22:40 – then certainly they all hang on the ten as well), and if the law of God, at its moral center is eternal (stated as such in Psalm 119 and reflective of the unchanging character of God) – than these laws must highlight something at their essence that is eternal and comprehensive. The more a person reads and exposes himself to the riches of past gifts to Christ’s church (i.e., the writings of theologians, the creeds and confessions) the more you see that most modern men derive much of their thought from the building blocks of former generations. So in this case, simply reading through the Westminster Larger Catechism (1648) or others prior to it like the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) – you see these “sanctities” teased out.
And then turn to the Systematic Theologies: The early Puritan “Body of Divinities” by Ussher or Watson; the later famous Systematics by Hodge or Dabney – all of these in their explanations of the Ten Commandments end up distilling essential sanctities. The first rule or principle that the Larger Catechism gives for rightly understanding the Decalogue is this (Q. 99):
“That the law is perfect, and bindeth everyone to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto the entire obedience forever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty and to forbid the least degree of every sin.”
All duties and all sins will find their place under some part of the Ten Words.
Before I mention my proposal for ten sanctities that are highlighted in the Ten Commandments – which obviously are just slightly altered versions of the Williamson and Nichols proposals listed above, let me quote a couple of paragraphs from what increasingly is becoming one of my favorite volumes of Systematic Theology – that by Robert L. Dabney. First published in 1871 and going through nine editions, this work by the eminent Southern Presbyterian is a gold mine. A. A. Hodge, the esteemed son of his more famous father, Charles Hodge, said this of Dabney that he was “the best teacher of theology in the United States, if not in the world.” Dabney writes these words:
“Antinomians, who, in fact, sought to exclude the law from their system, asserting that since it is no longer a term of life, since it has been fully satisfied both in its perceptive and penal demands by the believer’s divine substitute, it can have no binding force upon, no application to him. But the view I have given of the Law, as the necessary and unchanging expression of God’s rectitude, shows that its authority over moral creatures is unavoidable. If God reveals Himself to them, He cannot but reveal Himself as He is. Just these precepts are the inevitable expressions of a will guided by immutable perfections. It is therefore simply impossible that any dispensation, of whatever mercy or grace, could have the effect of abrogating righteous obligation over God’s saints. God’s mercy through a Redeemer’s satisfying justice, may lift off the curse of the law for transgression; but it is impossible that it should abrogate rightful authority. The Law then must remain, under every dispensation, the authoritative declaration of God’s character.” (353)
“Many…in order to support favorite prejudices, strenuously assert that the moral law, as given to the Jews, was an imperfect rule, and was completed and perfected by Jesus Christ. We grant, indeed, that Christ freed this law from the corrupt glosses of tradition, and that He showed the true extent of its application. But we deny that He made any change or substantial addition. We admit that He carried it farther in the way of detail, but we deny that He corrected anything of its principle. These errorists pretend to claim this as an honor to Jesus Christ and His mission, and as evidencing His superiority over Moses. They hereby do Him dishonor. For the decalogue is as much Christ’s Law as the Sermon on the Mount. He was the authoritative agent for giving both…Second: It would be dishonorable to a perfect God to suppose that He would reveal to His chosen people, as a rule of righteousness, a law which allowed some sin. Then all the holiness produced under that law was spurious.” (357)
“Third: God forbade that the law should receive addition (Deut. 4:2; 12:32). Fourth: Christ honored this law, declaring it everlasting and unchangeable, and said that He came not to destroy, but to fulfill it. Fifth: Christ says that on His abridgment of this law hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:40). And last: St. Paul, having resolved the precepts of this decalogue into the one principle of love (Rom. 13:9), verse 10 says” ‘Love is fulfilling of the law.’ This is said by this minister of the new dispensation. And both the Old and New Testaments assert the perfection of this Old Testament law (See Ps. 19:7; Rom. 7:12; Ps. 119:96).” (357)
“…Christ’s new commandment (John 13:34) was only ‘the old command renewed,’ only a re-enactment with an additional motive: Christ’s love for us. Christ in His Sermon on the Mount, then, and other places, rebukes and corrects, not the law itself, but the erroneous and wicked corruptions foisted upon it by traditions and Pharisaic glosses. The moral law could not be completed, because it is as perfect as God, of whose character it is the impress and transcript. It cannot be abrogated or relaxed, because it is immutable as He.” (357).
What then, has God ordained as the tenfold summary of the sanctities of human life to guide and direct all that we do? Consider this list of Sanctities exalted by the Ten Words. The first four have to do with God directly, the second four with God indirectly, as we live in relation to one another in His world:
1. The Sanctity of God’s Primacy - No other gods
2. The Sanctity of God’s Exclusivity - No idols
3. The Sanctity of God’s Identity - Take not His name in vain
4. The Sanctity of God’s Worship - Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy
5. The Sanctity of Authority - Honor your father and mother
6. The Sanctity of Life - You shall not murder
7. The Sanctity of Unity - You shall not commit adultery
8. The Sanctity of Contentment - You shall not steal
9. The Sanctity of Truth - You shall not bear false witness
10. The Sanctity of the Heart - You shall not covet
If you were to keep these things as unalterable Guides / Rules / Standards of conduct, you would please God in every way, and be of most good to your fellow man.
God has first place in everything – exclusively. His names reveal who He is and He is a God to be forever worshipped by His collective people.
What if you held in highest esteem: submission to all lawful authority? And what if all lawful authorities were just and benevolent and fair? What if first principles in your life included the sanctity and dignity of all human life? What if more people had these governing concerns? Would life be different? What if the maintenance of unity was of first importance – without sacrifice of the unalterable sanctity of truth? What if all people were content, and from the heart strove to love God and love their fellow man in every tangible way possible? Such a world would be, and such a world will be – heaven on earth.
Think of this tenfold-list of first things. Consider every area of life as governed by one of these considerations.
Remember that the summary of the law doesn’t eliminate the law – it includes it.
Loving God with one’s heart, soul, mind and strength is to have no other gods, to serve no idols, to glorify His name and worship Him in Spirit and in truth. To love our neighbor as ourselves is “to do no wrong to our neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). To love your neighbor is to honor authority, to revere life, to uphold the sanctity of unity – the best expression of which is marriage – the preeminent picture of the union of Christ and His church. To love your neighbor is to be faithful, to be grateful and content with what you’re given, thereby never stealing anything that is your neighbors. To love our neighbors is to stand for truth, to not bear false witness and to obey all God’s commands from the heart. Even to covet anything that is our neighbors is to not love them as God has commanded us. Love doesn’t eliminate these particulars, it includes them. They don’t become unnecessary, they flesh out what loving really looks like and hopefully in time they become habitual. But since their depth is so deep and the width so comprehensive, we shall ever stand in need, not only of our Redeemer who kept them first for us, but we stand in need of their reminder and instruction.
An elevator manual might say as part of the instructions for the construction of an elevator – “do not overtighten any bolts” (I’m an ex-elevator mechanic, so this is my old turf). But even auto mechanics know that various bolts have their individual torque settings – the amount of twist or tightness they’re to be set at. You might need to look up in the manual the particular torque setting that a specific bolt is suppose to have. The summary says it all: “Don’t overtighten any bolts.” And whoever doesn’t overtighten any bolts has fulfilled the law for all the bolts, – but sometimes we need to go from the summary to the specifics – in fact we need to do so often.
Jer. 31:33, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Ezek. 36:26–27, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.”
Think on these things. Practice these things.
"For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(2 Peter 1:8)
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