The First Foundation of Righteousness

Surely, the first foundation of righteousness is the worship of God.  When this is overthrown, all the remaining parts of righteousness, like the pieces of a shattered and fallen building, are mangled and scattered.  What kind of righteousness will you call it not to harass men with theft and plundering if, through impious sacrilege you, at the same time, deprive God’s majesty of its glory?  Or that you do not defile your body with fornication if, with your blasphemies, you profane God’s most holy name?  Or that you do not slay a man if you strive to kill and to quench the remembrance of God?  It is vain to cry up righteousness without religion.  This is as unreasonable as to display a mutilated, decapitated body as something beautiful.  Not only is religion the chief part but the very soul, whereby the whole breathes and thrives.  And, apart from the fear of God, men do not preserve equity and love among themselves.

Therefore, we call the worship of God the beginning and foundation of righteousness.  When it is removed, whatever equity, continence, or temperance men practice among themselves is, in God’s sight, empty and worthless.  We call it source and spirit because, from it, men learn to live with one another in moderation and without doing injury if they honor God as judge of right and wrong.  Accordingly, in the First Table [of the Ten Commandments], God instructs us in piety and the proper duties of religion by which we are to worship His majesty.  The Second Table prescribes how, in accordance with the fear of His name, we ought to conduct ourselves in human society.  In this way, our Lord, as the Evangelists relate, summarizes the whole law under two heads: that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” [Luke 10.27; cf. Matthew 22.37, 39].  You see that, of the two parts in which the law consists, one he directs to God.  The other he applies to men. – John Calvin (1509-1564), from Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.11.


Working on Sunday

There is some Sunday work that we cannot claim to be necessary.  A Christian must not pursue that work and, if it happens to be his occupation, he must look for another job.  That is more easily said than done in a society where unemployment is a reality and the majority of the population cares nothing for the Fourth Commandment.  But a Christian knows that one who keeps the Commandment keeps his soul (Proverbs 19.16), even though it costs him a good job.

Therefore, it is very important already when one chooses an occupation to pay attention to whether or not it will require working on Sunday.  A Christian may become a police officer or a nurse, even though those occupations involve working on Sunday.  Even then, we must remain alert and work hard (as much as lies in us) to keep that Sunday work to a minimum.  The story is told of an army officer who refused to attend receptions organized by his superiors on Sunday.  One might well say that such a duty belonged to his job.  Once you join, you’re in all the way.  But this army officer refused to draw such consequences [should this word be “conclusions”? – RZ], and with success.  A colonel who had called him to task for his objections said, afterward, “This officer has a high sense of duty.”  Fortunately, a consistent position in terms of Sunday observance will often still command respect.

Some occupations are, or can become, so problematic on account of Sunday work that one must reflect carefully whether his choice for such an occupation is responsible.

From: The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life by Jacob Douma; translated from the Dutch by Nelson D. Kloosterman (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1996), p. 155.  Dutch original published in 1992.

Authority and Power

Any consideration of authority, whether of parents, employers, government officials, or anyone else, must include attention to the nature of power.  We can easily perceive that the concepts of authority and power are not identical.  A person can possess authority without having the power needed for carrying out his authority.  Think, for example, of the Dutch government during World War II, seated temporarily in London, but without the power needed to exercise its authority in the Netherlands.  Queen Wilhelmina possessed authority, but Hitler had the power.  So, legitimate authority can, in fact, be powerless.  This applies to situations where parents have little power over their children or where teachers are unable to keep order and, for that reason, cannot exercise any supremacy (power) over their pupils.

The reverse also occurs.  We often say that a certain individual is cut out to be a pastor  or a military officer or a politician.  They exude a kind of “power” in the sense of having a particular presence, a special bearing characteristic of a particular profession.  But, one cannot be a pastor without the call of the congregation or an officer without taking an oath or a politician without a party behind him.  Perhaps there is, somewhere, a businessman who can command a platoon of soldiers far better than many an officer, but he lacks the commission and, thereby, the authority.

From: The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life by Jochem Douma; translated from the Dutch by Nelson D. Kloosterman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996), pp. 183-184.  The Dutch original was published in 1992.  The context of Douma’s discussion is his exposition of the Fifth Commandment.

On Not Tinkering With the Moral Law

What are the degrees of consanguinity and affinity within which marriage is prohibited?  These pentateuchal passages (Leviticus 18.8; 20.11; Deuteronomy 22.30; 27.20) not only inform us of the prohibited degrees, they also provide the limits within which we are to confine prohibitions.  The disposition has been widespread to add to the list of prohibited degrees.  But this tendency is but an example of the iniquity of human thought when it seeks to be a legislator.  After all, when we examine the Mosaic provisions and compare them with the restrictions which ecclesiastical and political tradition would impose, it is not the severity of the Mosaic provisions that impresses us, but their liberality.  We may not take from God’s law.  When we do, we arrogate to ourselves God’s prerogative and we pervert the perfect law of liberty.

From: Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics by John Murray (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), pp. 52-54.

The Fourth Commandment

The observation that there is little respect for or observance of the Christian Lord’s Day anymore will hardly come as a revelation to anyone.  The Western world, in general, and the United States of America, in particular, both having become increasingly secularistic, materialistic, and hedonistic in their orientation, have also become increasingly hostile to the so-called “blue laws” on the books of civil government.  Efforts abound to bring about a repeal of these laws that mandate societal observance of the sanctity of the first day of the week.

Such pervasive contemporary disdain for Lord’s Day observance is not surprising when one considers the fact that only relatively few Christians, themselves, show any real concern for the sanctity of the day.  Evidence would suggest that many Christians feel no obligation even to attend established Sunday worship services.  And Sunday shopping and Sunday attendance at athletic events, theaters, and other entertainment attractions have become a common practice for Christians as well as for non-Christians.

This desacralizing of the day even among Christians is traceable, at least in part, to the widely-held opinion that the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue is not, and never has been, normative for the New Testament church, much less for the world.  If Christians are to regard any day differently from the other six days of the week (and even this is denied in some quarters), it is urged that they are to observe the “Lord’s Day,” not the Sabbath, and that they are to do so because of such New Testament verses as Hebrews 10.25 and Revelation 1.10 and not because of the normativeness of the Fourth Commandment for mankind today.

Such teaching, however earnest and well-intentioned, in my opinion, is dangerous in the extreme, for not only is proper Lord’s Day observance undercut by such teaching, but also, by implication, the normativeness of God’s entire moral law for Christ’s church and society is rendered suspect inasmuch as the Fourth Commandment is a tenth part of God’s “royal law,” itself a unitary whole.  Accordingly, to the degree that the normativeness of any single part of God’s moral law is denied for this age, just to the same degree the current trend toward the grounding of morality in humanistic rather than divine law is strengthened.

From: Contending for the Faith: Lines in the Sand that Strengthen the Church by Robert L. Reymond (Fearn: Mentor, 2005), pp. 165-166.

Hope for the Human Race

There is a soul in some men yet – even yet – and God’s sky is above us and God’s commandment is in us.Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish man of letters, in a letter to his brother, John, dated August 6, 1830.

Obeying the Third Commandment

We should be moderate in the use of food, drink, and clothing.  We should glorify God for those things and receive them with thanksgiving.  First Timothy 4.4-5 says: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.”  To use God’s gifts correctly, we must use two means: God’s Word and prayer.

First, we must search God’s Word for His ordinances, which teach us that God has made His faithful ones heirs of heaven and earth, with everything in them.  He has done this that we should live soberly and acknowledge Him as the author of all good.  Scripture says we should “live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2.12-13).

Second, we should pray, calling upon the name of God before and after receiving God’s gifts.  In so doing, we are asking for a blessing on God’s provision and thanking Him after our hearts have been quickened by His gifts.

It follows, then, that people who use God’s gifts with bad consciences, despise God’s Word, and do not believe it or live accordingly are unbelieving, godless, unrighteous, and greedy people.  They despise the first means of God’s provisions, the Word of God.  Those who do not heartily call upon God before and after using God’s gifts are nothing more than pigs that are being fattened for the day of slaughter.  Their table shall become a snare before them (Psalm 69.22).

Still others misuse God’s gifts to the annoyance of their weaker brethren.  They give more attention to their pleasures than to God’s glory and scriptural love.  Although all things are permitted, in moderation, they do not edify God in what they do.  We should be somewhat lenient to our neighbors for, as Romans 15.2 says, that may be useful for their edification.  The apostle Paul led the way in this by his example (1 Corinthians 8.13).

From: The Practice of Faith, Hope, and Love by Godefridus Udemans; translated from the Dutch by Annemie Godbehere; edited by Joel R. Beeke; Classics of Reformed Spirituality series (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), pp. 269-270.

Godefridus Udemans (ca. 1581-1649) was a Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian from the Dutch province of Zeeland.

On the Decalogue

Continuing our general inspection of the Decalogue, we may, at this point, briefly note certain introductory facts which should be carefully borne in mind in the proposed study.  First, though given to the Hebrews as a body, and for the purpose of uniting them more closely in their political and social lives, the commandments are, each and all, personal in form – addressed directly to the individual conscience and, evidently, intended to develop, in each and all, the sense of individual responsibility.

Second, while these commandments are, in form, negative, pointing out to each person addressed what he must not do, they are, also, positive in their scope, enjoining, in each instance, those personal duties which stand over against the sins prohibited.

Third, while the negative and positive prescripts of the Law relate, primarily, to outward action, they also include, by implication, the inward purpose and spirit and demand, from every subject, not merely an external morality, but also an inherent righteousness – an appropriate state and disposition of the soul, in view of these requirements.

Fourth, the motives brought to bear in order to prevent indulgence in sin and to encourage fidelity to duty are chiefly drawn, in the first instance, from the present rather than the future life – that the degree of development in the persons first addressed rendered them susceptible to this type of appeal and, further, that, to the Hebrews as a corporate nation, none but motives drawn from the present life could apply.

Fifth, the end in view and the proper tendency of the whole Law was, as Calvin has well said, a perfection in righteousness – the forming of the entire life of the individual, and of the nation, also, after the example of the divine purity.  In other words, its primary purpose was not to convict and condemn, but to educate, to direct, to sanctify.

Sixth, while the Law was thus adjusted to the moral condition of the individual Hebrew and to the needs of the Hebrews as a nation, its precepts are adapted to the necessity of mankind universally, and its right to control is as wide as humanity, under all dispensations alike and through all time.  The theory that the Jehovah who issued these commands was merely the God of the Hebrews, as distinct from other nationalities – that, in this transaction, He was acting provincially rather than as the God of all mankind – is sufficiently confuted by the obvious applicability and authoritativeness of the Decalogue as a code of laws designed for the whole world.  The race can never outgrow this code or revolt successfully against its holy supervision.  As Dean Stanley has said, in terms which are true of all Christian nations as of the English people, its precepts are embedded in the heart of the Christian religion.  Side by side with the prayer of our Lord, they appear, inscribed on our sanctuaries, read from our altars, and taught to our children as the foundation of all morality.  As Luther well declared in the preface to his Larger Catechism, whosoever has thoroughly examined and studied the Ten Commandments understands the whole Scripture and is able, on trying occasions and emergencies, to excel in wisdom, counsel, and consolation.

From: Theology of the Westminster Symbols: A Commentary Historical, Doctrinal, Practical on the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Presbyterian Churches by Edward D. Morris (Columbus: The Champlin Press, 1900), pp. 522-523.

Edward Dafydd Morris (1825-1915) was Professor of Church History (1867-1874) and Professor of Systematic Theology (1874-1897) at Lane Theological Seminary.

No Commandments for You!

The real reason that we can’t have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse: you cannot post “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not lie” in a building full of lawyers, judges, and politicians.  It creates a hostile work environment.George Carlin (1937-2008), American comedian

The First Commandment

The First Commandment is everywhere interwoven in the New Testament reconciling of faith in the deity of Christ with the virile monotheism of the Old Testament.  The command may not be repeated formally, indeed is not.  But what more impressive acknowledgement of its validity can be found than in the fact that the passion for monotheism fills the inspired Christian writings, and that the Son is everywhere represented as the unveiled Creator-Redeemer God of the Old Testament?  Paul dismisses the eating of idol-meat with reference to this point: “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.  For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth…to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Corinthians 8.4ff).

From: Christian Personal Ethics by Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), p. 330.