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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




The exposition of the commandments in order is now to be proceeded with, and in this chapter a brief outline of the contents of the first table of the law will be given. This table contains four commands, and in these man's duties to God are set forth. It is important to note the fact that in the decalogue the duties of man to God are mentioned first, and that his duties to his fellowmen are stated afterwards. The order of the facts is the same as in the Lord's prayer, which has petitions that terminate upon God before those which relate to man are announced. The plan of treatment to be followed in this exposition divides the decalogue into two tables, with four commands in the one and six in the other. Romish theologians combine the first and second and divide the tenth, making thus a rather arbitrary arrangement to serve their own peculiar purposes. Both Catechisms call attention to what is known as the preface to the commandments. This preface is in these words: I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. The Shorter Catechism says that this teaches us that because God is the Lord, and our God and Kedeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments. This statement the Larger Catechism enlarges considerably. It says that this preface manifests God's sovereignty over us, as the eternal and immutable Jehovah, and as almighty God. It further teaches that God, having his being in and of himself, gives being to all his words and works. It indicates, still further, the important fact that God is a covenant God, in covenant with Israel, and so with all his people. It hints that as he brought Israel out of his bondage in Egypt, so he delivers us from our spiritual thraldom. Hence, we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments. Thus the preface becomes a solemn introduction to the very weighty commands which follow. After this preface the substance of the several commands, together with reasons annexed to some of them, will be taken up in their order.

This chapter has the large task of seeking to expound the first table with its four important commands. The Catechisms both agree in saying that the sum of these four commands, which set forth our duty to God, is that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind. This is virtually our Lord's summary, and is entirely complete. In this exposition the plan of the Catechism will be followed by stating the commands in order, by setting forth the things required and the things forbidden, and by explaining the reasons annexed, where there are such.

I. The First Commandment.
This command is very brief and to the point: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." This indicates in unmistakable terms what the proper object of worship is. It is the one living and true God, the triune Jehovah, who is the creator of all things and the preserver of all the works of his hands, and who is high over all and blessed forevermore. He alone is the sole object of worship.

1. The Duties Required by this Command. In general, it requires us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and to worship and glorify him accordingly. The Larger Catechism expands this statement by saying that we are to think, meditate, remember, highly esteem, honor, adore, choose, love, desire, fear, believe, trust, hope, delight, and rejoice in God. Further, we are to be zealous for him, call upon him, give him thanks and praise, yield all obedience and submission to him in the whole man, be careful to please him in all things, and sorry when we in any way offend him. We are also to walk humbly with him all our days. These are the positive duties here enjoined.

2. The Sins Forbidden by this Command. In general, we are forbidden to deny, or not to worship and glorify the true God as God, and the giving the worship and glory to any other which are due to him alone. Expanding this statement under the guidance of the Larger Catechism, atheism, or the denial of God in any way, is forbidden. In like manner, every form of idolatry, or the having and worshipping of more gods than one, or putting a false god in the place of the true God, is condemned. The failure to vouch or confess God as our God, or the omission of anything due to God, is also forbidden here. Even ignorance of God, forgetfulness of his claims, false opinions and unworthy and wicked thoughts about him, are to be set aside. So, also, all profaneness and hatred of God, as well as self-love and self-seeking, are placed under the ban. Further, all inordinate setting of mind and heart on other things, and taking them off from God, in whole or in part, is to be avoided. Unbelief, heresy, despair, hardness of heart, pride, carnal security, tempting God, carnal delights and Joys, blind zeal, luke-warmness, deadness of spirit, apostasy from God, all fall under the condemnation of the terms of this commandment. Specially forbidden here, also, are praying or giving any religious worship to saints, angels, or any creature, all compacts with the devil, or heeding his suggestions, making men lords of mind and conscience. So, also despising God, grieving God, grieving his Spirit, discontent under God's dispensations, and ascribing the praise of any good we have, or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature is absolutely forbidden.

It is added, by way of further explanation, that the words "before me," in this command teach us that God, who sees and knows all things, takes special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other gods, or with our giving to any other the honor and service which he alone may justly claim.

II. The Second Commandment.
This command is much longer in its terms than the first, and has some important reasons attached to it. It is as follows: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments."

It will be observed that this command indicates the true mode of worship, just as the first pointed out the only object of worship. The right manner in which the true God is to be properly worshipped is a matter of much importance, for many who believe in the one true God err in the mode in which they worship him. This command, therefore, is of much practical value.

1. The Duties Required. In general, this command requires us to receive, observe, and keep pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed in his word. The Larger Catechism says, further, that particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ, the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word and the administration of the sacraments, are to be regarded as parts of worship. Under this command, also, the observance of the government and discipline of the church, and the maintenance of the ministry thereof, are said to be required by this command. Religious fasting, swearing by the name of God, and making lawful vows to God, are also to be approved. All false modes of worship are to be disapproved, detested, and opposed by the requirements of this command. And all monuments of idolatry are to be removed as far as possible. Here the sphere of foreign missions is open before our eyes.

2. The Sins Forbidden. In a general way, this command forbids the worshipping of God by images, or in any other way not appointed in his word. The Larger Catechism further explains this to include the forbidding of the devising, using, or approving in any way, any religious worship not instituted by God himself. So, also, the making of any representations of God, or of any of the persons of the Trinity, either in the mind or by any outward image or likeness of any creature whatever, and the worshipping of such image as God, or worshipping God by means of it, is condemned. The making of any false deities, and all worship or service of them, is forbidden also. Further, all corruption of worship of the true God by superstitious devices, all human additions to the worship of God, or the omission of what is enjoined in the Scriptures by God, whether invented by ourselves or received by tradition from others, no matter how ancient or widely observed, are condemned by this command. Finally, in connection with the mode of worship, all simony and sacrilege, all neglect and contempt for the worship and ordinances required by God's word, are equally forbidden by the scope of this commandment.

It will be seen that the exposition given in the Standards, both of this command and of the first, is pointed against the doctrines of Rome. The first is directed against its idolatry, and the second against the use of images, and its unscriptural additions to religious worship. But the Standards do not enter into any controversy upon these questions, so that the present explanation need only point out the fact above indicated in regard to the attitude of the Standards in relation to Rome.

3. The Reasons Attached to this Command.
These reasons are found in the latter part of the command, and are summed up under three heads in the Catechisms.

First, There is God's sovereignty over us. He is our creator, and we are dependent upon him for our being, and all our blessings. He is also our moral governor, and has a right to require of us whatever is in harmony with the conditions of the moral government under which we are placed. That we should worship him in the way he appoints, and in no other, naturally follows from this. Secondly, God has propriety in us. He has made us with the moral nature which we possess; and, having giving it to us, it is proper that the return of homage and service which that nature can make should be given to him. This divine ownership of us is a strong reason for the claim which God makes upon us for worship. And, Thirdly, God has a zeal for his own proper worship. This being the case, all false worship, or anything which does not honor the requirements of God, as to worship, must be distasteful to him, who will have no other to even share the homage which he alone claims exclusively for himself. And he will surely punish those who hate and dishonor him, and richly reward those who love and worship and serve him aright.

III. The Third Commandment.
This command is a brief one, with a pertinent reason attached to it, and it is as follows: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." This command indicates the suitable spirit or temper in which the worship should be rendered. The name of God, and all that is implied therein, is to be hallowed in our hearts. This clearly points to the inner spirit which should prompt us to worship.

1. The Duties Required by this Command.
In general, this command requires the holy and reverent use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works. The Larger Catechism adds some things of importance, after those above-named from the Shorter Catechism are mentioned. The ordinances to be noticed are the word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows and lots. The works named are those by which God makes himself known. All these things are to be holily and reverently used in thought and meditation, in word and writing. Then, along with these, there is to be, on our part, a holy profession, and an answerable conversation, which is to be for the glory of God, and the good of ourselves and others. Thus, the inner spirit and the outer form of worship are to be in harmony.

2. The Sins forbidden by this Command.
In general, this command forbids all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known. This comprehensive statement is further explained in the Larger Catechism. It forbids the not using God's name as required, and also the abuse of that name in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane way, or a superstitious or wicked use of the titles, attributes, attributes or works of God. It also forbids all blasphemy, perjury, sinful cursing, oaths, vows and lots, the violation of lawful oaths and vows, and the fulfilling of those which are unlawful. It likewise forbids murmuring at, and misapplying of, God's decrees and providences, perverting in any way the word of God, holding of false doctrines, abusing the name of God to charms, or sinful lusts, or practices, reviling or opposing God's truth, grace and ways. And, finally, it forbids the profession of religion in hypocrisy, the being ashamed of religion, or making one's self ashamed of it, by inconsistent walk and conversation, or by backsliding from the ways of God. This fully exhibits the false spirit in religion which this command condemns in such a forcible way.

3. The Reason Annexed to this Command.
This reason is really a single one, to the effect that, even if those who break this command escape punishment from men, they will not be allowed to escape the righteous punishment of God. Because he is the Lord our God his name is not to be profaned or abused by us, because if we do so with impunity and without penitence, there is in store for us only the fearful looking-for of judgment. The authority of God as moral ruler assures this result.

IV. The Fourth Commandment.
This is another of the longer commands, and it is now set down at length as follows: "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it."

This command evidently sets forth the time of worship. It enjoins that a suitable season of time shall be set apart for the worship of almighty God. Thus, in these four commands we have the object, the mode, the spirit, and the time for worship all presented by divine authority.

1. The Duties Required by this Command. These duties are all summed up under three heads. There is to be a holy resting and religious worship for the whole day. The duties enjoined, in general, are that men shall sanctify and keep holy to God all such set times as he has appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven. This was the seventh day from the beginning until the resurrection of Christ, and it is to be the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament is called the Lord's day.

This holy day is to be kept or sanctified by a holy resting all that day, not only from such works as are at other times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful. In addition, we are to make it our delight to spend the hours of the day, except so much as may be taken up by works of necessity and mercy, in the public and private exercises of the worship of God. In order that we may do this aright, we are to prepare our hearts and order our business affairs beforehand, that we may be free that day for its holy duties and privileges. The charge of keeping the Sabbath aright lies specially upon the governors of families, and other superiors who are bound to keep it themselves, and to see that those under their charge also keep it. This raises the difficult question as to how far the civil magistrate should enact and enforce the Sabbath law. It is clear that the Standards announce it to be the duty of such authorities to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath-day, but the way and the degree in which this is to be done are not prescribed.

2. The Sins Forbidden by this Command. In a general way, the omission of the duties pertaining to the Sabbath, the profaning of the day by idleness, the doing of that which is sinful, and all unnecessary thoughts or words or works about our worldly employments or recreations, and all careless and negligent performance of the duties of the day are condemned. Both work and neglect of worship are forbidden in the case of all men, so that merely resting from work or recreation is not the right keeping of the Sabbath, if worship be neglected.

The Seasons Annexed to this Command. These are four in number, as set forth in the exposition of the latter part of this command in the Catechisms. First, God allows us six days of the week for ourselves, and hence we should be ready to give him the seventh which he claims. Secondly, He challenges a special propriety in the seventh day, and his demand in this case is most reasonable. Thirdly, His own example is a strong reason, for he rested the seventh day, and, Fourthly, He blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it, so that he who observes it will be blessed. The word "remember," the Larger Catechism says, is worthy of some attention in this connection in regard to proper Sabbath observance.

It is to be observed that the Standards do not argue the question of the perpetuity of the Sabbath law. They very properly assume its perpetual obligation upon all men. Nor do they define carefully what are works of necessity and mercy, so that each conscience is, to a certain extent, left to make its own interpretation, always, however, in harmony with the teaching of the word of God. Whilst the Sabbath law, as expounded in the Standards, is very strict, it does not prescribe in a minute way the details of its observance as the later Jews did. Hence, in no proper sense can the teaching of the Standards be called Jewish, or even puritanical, in any bad sense.

As to the perpetual obligation of the Sabbath, it is enough to say that it is a law of nature, and hence ever binding; that it existed, and was observed, prior to the formal giving of the decalogue at Sinai; that it is part of a revealed moral code, and immutable; that it has not been revoked by anything in the New Testament; that our Lord enforced it by word and example; and that the physical, mental, moral, and religious needs of mankind demand both the bodily and mental rest, as well as the season for worship, which the Sabbath law provides. This is one of the commands for which Christians of every name need to take a firm and faithful stand at the present day.

This completes the exposition of the first table of the law. It gives information in regard to the object, the mode, the spirit, and the season for worship. It is evident that, if these four commands are carefully observed, they will be found to be useful means of grace, building the believer up in his most holy faith, through the blessing of God promised to accompany these commands when faithfully obeyed.

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