In our previous study we saw that God’s commandments are not arbitrary regulations but God’s own revelation of Himself, according to which He requires that we be holy as He Himself is holy. That self-revelation of God is the truth and substance of the law, and thus it is that the law has abiding significance, so that its use cannot be abolished among Christians. 

This, as we saw, is not to deny that the ceremonies and types of the law have ceased, so that their use is no longer an obligation to believers. These ceremonies and shadows were used by God to teach the church of the Old Testament the truth and substance of the law, until the coming of Christ. Now Christ is the great Teacher of the church through His Spirit, and these things are no longer needed. 

We were also able to see that the child of God, the believer, receives this revelation of God in the law through Christ, the Saviour. Without Christ, God’s revelation of Himself in the law can only reveal our darkness unto condemnation and everlasting death. In Christ the law is restored to the man of God as a gift of God’s grace and is profitable to him for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16, 17), and works together with all things for his salvation. 

Thus it is that from the beginning the law was “ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator” (Gal. 3:19). That Mediator was Moses first of all, but he only as a foreshadowing of the great Lawgiver Who shall never depart from Judah (Gen. 49:10). It is from the law, then, that the Christian in Christ knows his sin in all its horror as sin against the living God and is able to confess, “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight” (Ps. 51:4); and thus the law brings him to Christ. And having known sin and found peace and deliverance from sin in Christ, he returns to Sinai and to God’s revelation there in order that his whole life may be organized by that revelation of God in thanksgiving and gratitude. Thus the law becomes also a lamp for his feet and a light upon his pathway (Ps. 119:105) as he offers himself a living sacrifice of gratitude to God. 

It is our duty, therefore, as redeemed and delivered sinners, to search out this revelation of God, to know Him as He makes Himself known there, and to make confession of His great and glorious holiness according to that revelation, not only with our lips but also with our life as we live in obedience to His commandments. But because the Ten Commandments are but a summary of God’s demands, we must search the Scriptures to find out specifically what God tells us about Himself in each commandment, that thus we may know clearly how we are to be holy in relation to Him. 

The revelation which God gives of Himself in the First Commandment is fundamental. Christ’s summary of the whole law in Matthew 22:37-40 is essentially the demand of this First Commandment, that we have no other God beside Him, but worship and love Him alone with our whole being and strength. And since this fundamental demand of the whole law is expressed in the First Commandment, we should not be surprised to find that the truth concerning God which is revealed as the basis of the First Commandment is the most basic truth of the Christian faith, that God is one. Nor is it difficult to see that this truth is indeed the great principle of the First Commandment. 

This truth is taught in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord:” and from it follows the demand, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5). This demand is more clearly set forth inDeuteronomy 6:12-14 where it also becomes evident that this is indeed the demand of the First Commandment: “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him, and shall swear by His name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you.” 

Both the principle and its application remain for the New Testament church, as is evident from Paul’s words in I Corinthians 8:5, 6: “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many), but 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.” 

It ought also to be evident from these passages and from our discussion thus far that there is also a positive requirement in each commandment, even though the Ten Commandments themselves are for the most part negative. This cannot be forgotten. It is not enough simply to refrain from what is forbidden; we must also do that which is required lest we fall short of the glory of God. This is true also of the First Commandment. It forbids that we have any other gods beside Jehovah, but it also requires that we “have” Him to be our God, by worshipping and serving Him always.

There are, therefore, in respect to the First Commandment only two possibilities, either that one be a true worshipper of the God of heaven and earth, or that he be an idolater and worship other gods beside Jehovah. We might imagine that there are three possibilities, that beside the heathen who worship their idols, and the church which worships God, there are also the vast majority of modern men who serve no god, who are either by confession or in practice atheists. This is impossible because of the law’s positive requirement. Anything less than wholehearted worship of Jehovah is only idolatry. An atheist is not a man without a god but a man who is attempting to get rid of the one true God, and though he can never succeed; since God does not leave Himself without a witness, nevertheless, in turning from Jehovah he always becomes an idolater, changing the truth of God into a lie and worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed forever (Rom. 1:25). 

It matters not whether he worships gods of wood and stone or the gods of this modern world: pleasure, wealth, or power. Nor does it matter whether he worships his gods in temples made with men’s hands, or in the temple of his heart and mind when he trusts in and loves the strength and wisdom and works of men. Always and everywhere he reveals himself as an idolater. 

This is not so difficult to understand when we remember that man was created in the image of God. Thus it was that his whole nature was adapted to God and he himself called in harmony with his nature to live in relation to God. Through sin he lost the image and glory of God, but his nature was not changed. He still needs a god, and his nature is still that of a servant, so that when he turns away from Jehovah, he always seeks another master whom he may serve and upon whom he may rely and in whom he may trust for all his needs. 

We might note, too, in this connection that all idolatry is really self-worship. When men worship idols of wood and stone they are really worshipping the work of their own hands, just as they do in these last times when they worship their own pleasures and sensual philosophies. Even when they worship the host of heaven they are not coming nearer to the one true God, but still only serving an image and idol which their own minds have conceived. 

This too is not so strange, for man’s first sin was that he desired to be like God. Now, having fallen into darkness, he imagines in his foolishness that he is God and worships himself and his own words. This self-worship, which lies at the root of all idolatry, culminates finally in the worship of the Beast in the kingdom of the Antichrist. Then the man of sin is revealed, “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4). When all the world wonders after him and worships him (Rev. 13:3, 4), then the cup of idolatry shall be full and the Lord Christ will return in judgment and cast the beast and his worshippers into everlasting fire. 

In all this the foolishness of the sin of idolatry and of all sin is fully revealed. Isaiah in the 44th chapter of his prophecy lays bare this folly. Very graphically he describes the man who grows weary and faint, whose strength fails even as he forms the god to which he will bow down. Again he describes the man who cuts down a tree and burns it in the fire to warm himself and to cook his food. When he finishes he uses the rest to make for himself a god and, falling down to it and worshipping it and praying to it, he says, “Deliver me for thou art my god.” God Himself decries this folly when He says through the prophet Jeremiah, “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). 

Surely, as Psalm 115 reminds us, “They that make them are like unto them” (Ps. 115:8). Those who worship idols are spiritually deaf and dumb, senseless and unseeing, like the gods they serve. They feed on ashes and are utterly deceived so that they cannot deliver their souls or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Is. 44:20). Nor is the idolatry of modern civilized man any more attractive than that of those who bow down to the stock of a tree. To the end of the world sinners will worship in one way or another the work of their own hands, less even than themselves in strength or wisdom. So they feed on the same ashes as the heathen. 

But we also are children of Adam and idolaters. Even now we are always inclined to serve our own lusts, to trust in the arm of flesh and in our own strength for safety, for help, and for satisfaction. We too are always tempted to glorify the things that the world glorifies and to make them our gods. Only by grace are we delivered from the service of these vanities and turned to the living and the true God. By grace alone we seek Him with undivided heart and confess in word and deed that He is the One Lord Who is worthy of all praise and worship.