EXPLANATION OF THE LAW OF GOD IN GENERAL.
Q. What is the law of God?
A. It is the manifestation of his will to man, declaring what he requires of man to do and to avoid, in order to please Him and save his own soul.
Q. In what light might we consider the law of God?
A. First, As our rule and guide, given to direct us in our pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world, and to conduct us to true happiness both here and hereafter.
Second, As our judge, because it is by this law that we will be judged at the last day, and be either rewarded with eternal happiness, or condemned to eternal misery, according as we have obeyed this law, or transgressed it in our present life.
Q. When did God give his law to man?
A. First, at the creation, by what he called the light of nature, or of reason; why which he imprinted in the heart of man the sense of right and wrong, and knowledge of good and evil, and gave him that inward monitor, his conscience, moving him to do the one and avoid the other. By the sin of Adam, and the subsequent corruption of our nature, this light was greatly diminished; and, as the world advanced in years, the wickedness of man becoming greater and greater, it was still more and more darkened, so as in the generality of mankind to be almost extinguished; for which reason, when the posterity of Abraham were grown into a great nation, and God took them under his particular protection, to preserve them from the general corruption, he made a second publication of his law to them.
Q. Where do we find the law of God clearly expressed?
A. In the ten Commandments. Exod. xx.
Q. When were they given?
A. They were first given by the Almighty to the Israelites, through the ministry of Moses, upon their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt, and were afterwards ratified and confirmed by Jesus Christ. hence our Savior reduces them to two: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, etc.; this is the greatest and first commandment; and the second is like unto this, thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. Mark xii. 30, 31.
Q. How are the ten commandments divided?
A. Into two tables: Of which the first consists of three commandments and contains all the duties we owe to God; and the second contains the other seven, in which are laid down all the duties we owe to our neighbours and ourselves.
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THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
First Commandment: Thou shalt not take to thyself any graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing in heaven above, nor in the earth beneath, nor in the waters under the earth: thou shalt not adore them nor serve them.
Second Commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Third Commandment: Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath Day.
Fourth Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother.
Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.
Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.
Eight Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
Tenth Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.
Each one of the ten commandments, whether it be expressed by way of command to perform some good, or a prohibition to commit some evil, contains both a command and a prohibition.
Q. Why do you say the first table contains only three commandments?
A. Because, though some people divine the first commandment into two, and by this means make four in the first table; yet in reality it is only one and the same; for when God says, "thou shalt have no other gods but me," he plainly forbids to worship any other being whatsoever as God, but himself alone; and when afterwards he says, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven thing. &c. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: for I am the Lord thy God," he only explains in particular what he had before declared in general terms, and forbids the worship of idols as gods.
Q. But what need was there for this particular explanation?
A. Because as the worship of idols was prevailing every where, and the people of Israel were steeped in this sin, God thought it proper, by the above explanation, to caution them in particular against this detestable breach of it.
Q. How then do you make out all the ten commandments if all be joined in one?
A. Whose who divide the first command into two, are obliged to join the two last into one; for "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife," and "Thou shalt not covet they neighbour's goods," which they join in one, are manifestly two distinct commands.
Q. How can this be shown?
A. Because they forbid the internal acts of two different and distinct sins; the one a sin of lust, the other a sin of injustice; and, as the external acts of these sins are forbidden by two distinct commands, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and "Thou shalt not steal," because they are two distinct sins so the inwards acts, or desire of these vices being equally two distinct sins, equally require to be forbidden by two distinct commands.
Q. Are we strictly obliged to obey the law of God as found in the ten commandments and the gospel?
A. Yes; First, God, who is a lawgiver, is our sovereign Lord and Master, who created us out of nothing, and gave us all we are and all we have, who has the most absolute dominion over us, and can do with us whatever he pleases; consequently, we are wholly at his disposal, and, therefore, are strictly obliged to do whatever he requires of us.
Second, We have seen above, that he has made our obedience to his law one essential condition of our salvation; and, consequently, if we refuse this obedience, we shall be punished with eternal misery.
Third, Because the scripture assures us, that "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with the angels of his power, in a flame of fire, yielding vengeance to them who know nt God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction," 2 Thess. i. 7.
Q. re we obliged to obey the whole law in order to be saved?
A. We are; for the holy scripture says, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all," James ii. 10; that is, he becomes a transgressor of the law in such a manner, the observing of all the other points will not avail him to salvation.
Q. Are we able, by the strength of nature alone, to keep the commandments of God?
A. By our own natural strength alone, without the help of God's grace, we are not able to keep the commandments, nor, indeed, so much as to think a good thought towards our salvation. Thus the scriptures declare, "that we are not sufficient to think any thing of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God," 2 Cor. iii. 5. "And no man can say, the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost," 1 Cor. xii. 3.; that is, no man can say it, so as to be conducive to his salvation. And our Savior himself, to show our total inability of doing any good of ourselves, and without his divine assistance, says, "Without me you can do nothing," John xv. 5.; and he confirms the same truth by the similitude of a vine, and its branches, saying, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me," verse. 4.
Q. Are we able to keep the commandments by the help of God's grace?
A. Yes, we are; and God, who requires us to keep his commands, is never wanting on his part to give us sufficient grace for that purpose. The truth of this is shown.
First, The scriptures are full of the warmest exhortations to all to keep the commandments, which certainly would be unbecoming the divine wisdom, if it was impossible to keep them with the help of God's grace, or if that grace was ever refused us.
Second, God every where obliges man to keep his commandments, under pain of eternal punishment.
Now, it is totally inconsistent with his justice, and makes God a cruel tyrant, to say he would punish us for breaking his commandments, if it was impossible for us to keep them.
Third, We read of several in the scripture who actually did keep them perfectly, and are highly praised on that account, such as Abraham and job, and particularly the parents of St. John the Baptist, of whom the scripture says, that "they were both just before God, walking in ALL THE COMMANDMENTS and justification of the Lord, without blame," Luke. i. 6.
Fourth, God himself declares, in the very first command, that he shows mercy to thousands of those that love him and keep his commandments," Exod. xx. 6.
Fifth, St. Paul assures us, that God is never wanting on his part to give us all necessary assistance to keep them, saying, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able to bear, but will make also, with the temptation, issue," (that is, a way to escape)" that you may be able to bear it." 1 Cor. x. 13.
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