We have lingered on the Fourth Commandment, because of its complexity in some respects, and the important bearing of its several elements. The remaining commandments are simpler, though not less important. With the exception of the fifth, they are all negatives, interdicts, forbiddings—telling men what not to do. We discover on reflection how large a part of tolerable human conduct is determined by this. Man is capable of doing many things inconsistent with the well-being of his fellow-man. He has more in his power in this respect than any of the animals. His very talents fit him to be more offensive than they; and the desire for his own advantage renders him liable to apply those talents in the hurt and destruction of all who stand in the way of the gratification of his desires. Hence, the very great importance of these interdicts, the observance of which constitutes the difference between civilization and barbarism.

The excellent result of their observance is manifest to all, but the obligation to observe them is only feebly recognized, as the result of wrong views as to the nature of their obligations. Men imagine that because they are good rules of conduct, the obligation to submit to them arises from their intrinsic excellence, and not from the exterior authority prescribing them, whereas it will be found that the obligation to obey them rests on their authority, and that God has enacted them, and not from the character of the things enacted. The things enacted are good, but this is only a secondary phase.

Clear views are very essential here. Uncertain or fallacious views are at the bottom of all the moral laxities undermining society everywhere. If a man imagine he is only bound to obey laws that are agreeable to him, that commend themselves to him, he will insensibly ignore the disagreeable laws and tolerate the agreeable ones if convenient. Obedience as the law of righteousness will be set aside, and the power of the commandments destroyed. Man in that case will be his own law-giver, with the sorry result that there will be no law. Human inclination will be the rule of action, which will draw all into a bog at last. “Thou shalt not” has no power, unless the speaker has authority to forbid. And who has the authority to prescribe limitations to the exercise of created power but the Creator Himself! When this authority is recognized, and God’s authorship of the Commandments is admitted, the Commandments have great power.

We live in an age when it is considered a sign of intellectual weakness to accord this recognition, and when it is looked upon as the fitting part of old ladies and Sunday-school children only, to stand in fear of the commandments of God. Let this be searched to the foundation, and it will be found that the intellectual weakness is on the other side.

The world is clever, but not half clever enough. If it were as knowing as it thinks it is, it would break through the glamours of sophistical philosophy, which its scribes and babblers have so industriously woven around its faculties for the last two hundred years, and stand forth in the clear-sighted perceptions of common sense with the imperative resolution to walk wise and sensible ways on the common road, instead of lying in the ditch like a maudlin inebriate, apostrophizing his superior qualities and sinking deeper in the mire.

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT (“Honour thy father and thy mother”) is the first commandment of the ten having to do with human affairs; and it is an injunction of the positive sort. It is not a prohibition. It is mentioned by Paul as “the first commandment with promise”. Its position in these respects seems to mark it with a peculiar emphasis—as if God set this commandment high among the indications of His will; as if it were said “not to do the things condemned in the remaining commandments is good, but to do this which is commanded is better”. And surely there is no more beautiful sight under the sun than to see intellectual children, young or old, doing honour to father and mother; and nothing uglier in the wickedness that now covers the earth than the habit of making light of parental authority, and of treating father and mother with disrespect. It was one of God’s complaints against Israel that there were among them those that “made light of father and mother”. It must be no less odious to Him to hear the universal flippancies in which father and mother are referred to among “Christianized” Gentiles, in terms the opposite of reverential or even decent.

Carlyle well said that the lack of reverence was one of the fatalest maladies of the present age. Public and private well-being withers for want of it. Instead of reverence, there is conceit and scorn and frivolity. The fountain of all reverence is reverence for God. What is to be done in an age that accounts reverence for God a superstition ? It cannot be cured by argument. It can only be fitly dealt with by those strokes of judgment which belong to the Second Coming of Christ, so nearly due by all the signs. When the proclamation is made, “Fear God, and give him glory, for the hour of judgment is come”, there will be a beginning of events that will strike into the hearts of men that fear that cannot be insinuated by the utmost arts of logic and entreaty in times of safety. “When thy judgments are in the earth the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” When the fear of God prevails, the honour of father and mother will accompany it.

It is a commandment founded deeply on the reason of things. It ensures the development in the child of the highest faculty of the mind—the faculty of worship—the ultimate purpose of man’s existence. When the child comes into the world, its mind is a blank in all directions. Everything depends upon the exercise as to how development will take place. If the child hears nothing but laughter and scorn and profanity, its higher capacities never will open: it will assimilate its surroundings, and grow up an insipid buffoon. But let it be taught that reverence and obedience to father and mother are duties which must be enforced, it will grow up in that deferential mood and attitude which will readily be transferred to God, when enlightenment opens the understanding in that high direction. The fear of parents is the best education in the fear of God. The commandment concerns the highest well-being of the child.

It is also most reasonable as regards the parents. “Honour to whom honour is due”, saith the word of inspiration by Paul. To whom should honour be paid by offspring if not to those who have been the means of their existence, and who have toiled in the midst of many anxieties and sorrows to open their way and remove their difficulties in the opening sphere of life ? To whom should children deferentially submit if not to those who have gone before them in the struggle with evil, and who necessarily have more of the knowledge that can come only with experience ? What if there are sometimes foolish parents, it is less an evil that the children of these (in all probability no wiser) should honour and obey father and mother, than that a good and a just rule should be relaxed in thousands of other cases where it is for the good of the children that the authority of father and mother should be the unquestioned law of the house. It is the will of God that it should be so, and this is the end of the matter. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”, he did not exclude a feature of His will having so prominent a place in the Ten Commandments and so expressly re-enacted in apostolic teaching. The blessedness of mankind that is coming will arise from the doing of the will of God and the consequent blessing of God in all things. Conspicuous among the blessed ways of that happy day will be the universal spectacle of wise parents reverentially obeyed, and well-trained children in subjection with all gravity. It is a pleasing feature of Jewish life that parents are highly esteemed to their latest breath. Gentile life will never be blessed till a similar state of things prevails amongst them.

The child brought up to honour father and mother will more easily conform to the commandments that follow than the child that is allowed to follow its own inclination. The natural mind, left to itself, Paul truly testifies, “is not subject to the law of God”. This law enjoins in THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT, “Thou shalt not kill”. Nothing is more natural than to kill when anger is roused, or self-interest is obstructed by another. That murder is not common we owe to the modifying effect of this commandment operating in many generations, and to the restraints of human law arising out of it. Everybody allows that killing fellow-creatures is wrong; but there is nothing in the abstract to make it so. It is divine law alone that has created the moral aspect of the act. A man kills vermin without any sense of wrong-doing; so also he freely takes the life of the lower animals when they are required for food. There is nothing physically different in the act of killing a man. It is only God’s interdict that has made the difference. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Law is powerful when its authority is recognized. It builds a stronger wall than stone around human life. Such a law was necessary. Human cleverness and human resentment combined would have destroyed the human race long ago if individual men had been at liberty to kill their neighbour when inclined to do so. The beasts do so, but they are not only incapable of receiving a law, they do not require such a law. They are not intelligent enough to be dangerous to each other except on the limited scale that is needful to check over-propagation.

But there is a higher protection to life than law, and that is love. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Law came first, but the work of God in its second stage aims at securing the objects of the law by bringing about the condition of mind that will spontaneously lead to the performance of the demands of the law. By the second stage we are to understand the fulfilment of the law in Christ, who was not only obedient to the law himself, but gave commandments that lead to its best obedience in all who obey him. The point is illustrated in the very case in question. Jesus, referring to it, says “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill… but I say unto you, Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” So that under the law of Christ, anger becomes the crime that killing was under the law of Moses. The law of Christ is very express on the point. He himself says’” A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. (If ye love me, keep my commandments). By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34 [14–15] 35). And John, his beloved disciple, commenting on the subject, by the Spirit, says in his first epistle, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him… He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth … . Love is of God’ and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 2:4, 11; 4:7, 8).

Consequently, the obligation to love is one of the obligations of the truth, and the failure to love is coming short of the truth. The love demanded is even greater than the love of the brethren, which is an easy thing where men are brethren in deed and in truth. It goes beyond the loving of those who are lovable. It is called for in directions where nature fails to yield it; “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). At first sight it might seem impossible to love by command; but experience disproves this impression. While it is true that mere injunction in the abstract will not enable a man to overcome his antipathies, it is also true that the edict of one who is loved has power to constrain against natural inclinations. “Love him for my sake” is an appeal of which we all know the power in human connections some time or other in life. The power is in the ratio of our love for the person speaking. If Christ says this, the same principle holds good. We shall find it easy to do what he commands if his love is strong in us, and if we have him before our eyes in the sense of Paul’s exhortation to “let Christ dwell in our hearts by faith”. Hence the secret of triumph lies in knowing Christ and forming that intimacy with him that results from daily familiarity with the word of his truth. Knowledge comes before love. How can we love anyone of whom we are ignorant ? To know the lovely is to love, but if you know not the loveliness, the loveliness exists in vain for you. Where or how can we become effectually acquainted with the loveliness of it, but in contact with the record in which the loveliness is displayed ?

When we begin to know” the love of Christ that passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:19), we shall find ourselves beginning to be able to do what he commands, even when it goes against the grain. We shall be able to do good to them that hate us, and certainly to refrain from rendering evil to them who do evil to us. To have the heart open to love in all directions for his sake brings even now “the peace of God that passeth all understanding”, and will at last be requited by such a harvest of love as shall surpass our utmost dreams, in the day when God shall root the wicked and the unloving out of the earth, and suffer only His own tried and loving family, who will be united in Him to one another by everlasting bonds of incorruptibility and life that will never pass away.

It might not seem as if THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT yielded any such insight into the wisdom of God. It is far otherwise when we consider all things. Sexual affinity is the one thing above all our other faculties requiring the powerful regulation of law. It is a necessity in the present state of existence, and, in its right employment, a source of pure blessing, whether we consider the individual benefits it confers, or the immortal race that will finally people the earth as the result (in part) of its action. But, left to itself, there is no more potent blaster and destroyer of the human species. It is like fire—one of the most useful servants of man, but requiring the most rigorous confinement in grates and bars. Nothing but the stern and imperative restriction of law is equal to its management, Apart from law there is no guidance. “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” If God had not laid down a law, there would have been nothing but a human sense of expediency to regulate the most powerful of human inclinations—which all experience and all history show to be futile. But the law of God having spoken, sin is created when the limits of the law are transcended, and thus a powerful barrier is put up against the torrent of human passion—that is, where the law is revered, which it is by all the children of God, for those who do not revere His law are not His children (as all Scriptures declare).

The Psalmist said, “Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” There is no more common cause of sorrow in our eyes than the almost universal disposition to get rid of divine law in this matter by sophistries born of lust, and to substitute plausible theories that undermine morality and lead men and women to destruction. There are “great swelling words” and small insinuating suggestions; there are elegant poetisings and romancings, and vulgar indecencies and profanities; there are pretentious and sententious philosophical theories, which even ladies shame their sex by countenancing, and there are disgusting flippancies of unblushing fools, all of which are to be classified under a common heading of ignorant rebellion. The rebelliousness is self-conceit, for the law of God is plain and express. The ignorance may not be so apparent, but it is the true root of the mischief. Either there is a want of conviction that God has spoken—the most common because due to neglect of the sources of conviction —which is one form of ignorance; or there is a want of confidence in the wisdom of what He has communicated, which is another form of ignorance.

To knowledge, the matter stands in a perfectly plain position. Two principles cover the whole ground. 1. The adjustment of male and female is just as purely mechanical as the adjustment of food to the mouth. 2. The intervention of the law of God, and this alone, imparts a moral character to the relation. When this is perceived, there is no room for the defiling sophistries by which the simplest matter of right and wrong is obscured, and men and women nonplussed to their own destruction. Remove law, and there is nothing but the deceitful winds and currents of inclination which draw to perdition. Let law remain, and we have a simple rule which is light and life, a safe anchorage, and a sure foundation. It is fortunately not a matter in which human will has any jurisdiction. Whatever men may think or do with the law, the law is there, reiterated a hundred times in the Scriptures both of the prophets and the apostles. It is the law of God whether men know it or not. It is the joy of those who are enlightened. These have a very short and decisive answer to all demoralizing theories and speculations on the relations of the sexes: “Get thee behind me, Satan”, they say to libertinism in every shape and form—whether free love, promiscuous use, harlotry or temporary marriages by so-called “affinity”. “It is wrong because God forbids it, and for no other reason, and there cannot be a moment’s compromise with what is wrong.” Marry whom you will, but once married, man and woman are one flesh by Divine law, and” What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”. “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whore-mongers and adulterers God will judge”, to their utter destruction (Heb. 13:4).

As in the case of murder, so in this. The law of Christ lifts the matter a stage higher, and kills disobedience in its very inception. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Hence Christ not only forbids adultery, but forbids the thoughts and feelings that lead to it. Doubtless, many an earnest mind has groaned under the stringency of this law; and some may even have been disposed to murmur with certain unsuccessful disciples in the days of Jesus. “This is an hard saying, who can hear it ?” But the fruits of victory are so sweet that the wisdom of law is more than justified. What could more powerfully tend to the development of pure-mindedness than the deprecation of impure thoughts ? and what is nobler and sweeter, and what more fitting as a preparation for exaltation to immortal life, than that “holiness both of body and spirit” which such a law tends to engender ? In this respect it is like the command to bear injuries unresentfully: it is a powerful self-circumcision which chastens and subdues the natural man, and leaves room for the growth of that new man “which after (the image of) God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

“THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.” This, THE EIGHT COMMANDMENT, is well known to all the world. As a rule of human conduct it seems very much a matter of course, but on reflection, it will appear that this is only the result of familiarity. Apart from law, there is no reason why one man should not take what is in another man’s possession if he can, like the beasts of the field. This is what men are seeing in the wrong sense. Atheism obliterates divine law, and then reason acting on wrong premises, provokes anarchy and socialism. But atheism is folly and falsehood. God is the only sufficient explanation of the universe of wisdom and power in which we live and which exists in Him. His spoken word is the only rational basis of law for man. The eighth commandment is part of His spoken word. It bears the impress of its origin. It was a consummate legislative achievement to invent a name for the wrongful act of taking, and to prohibit the act under that name. To have said “Thou shalt not wrongfully acquire”, or “Thou shalt not take what is in the use of another”, would not have been nearly so telling. It would have meant the same in effect, but would not have invested the act with the obloquy attaching to a single deprecatory term.

The commandment is a recognition of personal possession as the basis of society. No other basis can be conceived as a practical one. If the sum total belonged to all, as in the schemes of socialism, there would be no scope for individual character and responsibility, and human character would dwarf to a workhouse level. If nothing were allowed to belong to any, each would take and keep by force what he could get, and the conflict of individual graspings would reduce life to a chaos and the world to a desert. The simple but wise and powerful law that each man shall have the right to possess what he can lawfully acquire, modified by those other laws that require him to consider his neighbour and to contribute to the well-being of the whole, is the sure basis of social order and civilized human life. It only requires to be regulated by infallible and just authority to make the earth an abode of joyful life. This will be realized in the Kingdom of God and not before. How far individual possession will be a feature of immortal life in the perfect age beyond, has not been fully revealed. There appears to be a hint in that direction in the use of the word “inherit”, as applied to the Kingdom of God, taken in connection with the intimation that “he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully”, and that those who are faithful in the use of the unrighteous mammon shall have “true riches” confided to their keeping. Any way, we know that all will be well when “the tabernacle of God is with men”.

“THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR”; this command by its own force places truth-speaking on the basis of moral obligation. To say what is not true seems in itself a cowardly and a mean thing scientifically and artistically considered. It is an offence against the laws of harmony and correct adjustment. But by this command (which occurs in many forms throughout the Scriptures), it becomes wrong and criminal and hateful. Truth-speaking is as noble as lying is contemptible. “All liars shall have their portion in the lake of fire which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8).

“THOU SHALT NOT COVET… anything that is thy neighbour’s.” This is the finishing excellence of all these beneficent commandments. A man might worship, observe the Sabbath, revere parents, and refrain from murder, adultery, theft and lying, and yet have an avaricious eye on all that was around him. What a blemish would this be in an otherwise beautiful character. Disinterestedness comes in as a polish on all the precious stones.

Well might Moses extol the law, of which, though described by his name, he disclaimed the authorship. Well might he say: “Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people … . What nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I have set before you this day ?” This encomium is applicable to the whole law, but especially to the Ten Commandments, which are its kernel.

It will be our duty, in future chapters, if God permit, to pass the general body of the law under review, in the two aspects expressed in our general title—1, as a rule of national life, and 2, the enigmatic enunciation of Divine principles and purposes.