Lord’s Day 34

Q. 92. What is the law of God?

A. God spake all these words, Exodus 20, Deut. 5, saying: I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in hea­ven above, or in the earth beneath, or 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 do no manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, 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, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

Q. 93. How are these commandments divided?

A. Into two tables; the first of which teaches us how we must behave towards God; the second, what duties we owe to our neighbor.

Q. 94. What doth God enjoin in the first command­ment?

A. That I, sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, invocation of saints, or any other creatures; and learn rightly to know the only true God; trust in him alone, with humility and patience submit to him; expect all good things from him only; love, fear, and glo­rify him with my whole heart; so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to his will.

Q. 95. What is idolatry?

A. Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested himself in his word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust.

Chapter 1: The Law and the Christian

Once again in our discussion of the Heidelberg Catechism we meet with the subject of the law of God. The first time was in the second Lord’s Day, where the law was mentioned as the source of the knowledge of our misery. This time the law of God is presented as a rule for our life of gratitude in the midst of the world in every department of life. In the second Lord’s Day the law was briefly presented in the light of its inmost spiritual principle of love: “Thou shalt love the (Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And in the light of that principle of love, we found that man is prone to hate God and his neigh­bor. But in this Lord’s Day and those that follow, up to Lord’s Day 44 inclusive, the law is discussed and expounded in all the details of its ten words. This must not be understood is such a way as if in the se­cond Lord’s Day the natural man is confronted with the law of God. For it certainly is not the natural man, but the regenerated man of God that is ever able to learn to know his misery from the law of God. Nor, on the other hand, must the discussion of the law of God in the present connection be understood as being addressed to the perfect Christian: for the Christian has but a small beginning of the new obed­ience, and continuously the law, besides being a rule of life for the believer in the midst of the present world, also serves the purpose of causing him to in­crease in’ the knowledge of sin and of the need of re­demption. Nevertheless, the Catechism in this con­nection emphasizes the exposition of the law of God as a rule for a life of gratitude to God.

The law of the ten words is recorded in Scripture in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. There are minor differences between these two versions of the law. In Exodus 20 the commandment concerning the sabbath reads as follows: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy;” while in Deut. 5 the text reads: “Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it.” In Exodus 20 the rest of the sabbath day is brought in connection with the rest of the Lord after creation; but in Deut. 5 it is added: “That thy man servant and maid servant may rest as well as thou.” In Deut. 5 it is added to the fifth commandment: “that it may go well with thee,”—words which do not appear in the text in Exodus 20. In Ex­odus 20 the sin of coveting the neighbor’s house is ex­pressed first, while in Deut. 5 the sin of lusting after the neighbor’s wife precedes, and while in the latter text it is added: “his field.” These minor differences, however, have no effect on the contents of the law of God.

As to the record of the law-giving, we find it in Exodus 19, 20, Exodus 24 and Exodus 34. In Exodus 19:19ff., the Lord commands Moses that the people must be sanctified and that they must wash their clothes, “and be ready against the third day, for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mt. Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death; There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live; when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.” On the third day there appeared a thick cloud upon the mount, accompanied by thunders and lightnings and the sound of a trumpet, “exceeding loud,” so that the people that were in the camp at the foot of the mount trembled. Then Moses brought forth the people out of the camp, to stand at the foot of the mount; “and mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by voice. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.” This was the first time that Moses went up on the mountain. And the Lord told him to charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze. And at the same time he must charge the priests to sanctify themselves. Thereupon Moses went down again to speak unto the people. It is after this that in Ex. 20:1, ff., we read that the Lord Him­self spoke the ten words unto the people, introducing them by the well-known sentence: “I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” All these phenomena accompanying the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai ev­idently emphasize the holiness of the Lord, the fact that the Lord dwelleth in a light that no man can ap­proach unto, striking fear into the hearts of the peo­ple.

In Exodus 24 we read of Moses ascending the mount for the second time and of the two stone ta­bles which the Lord Himself gives unto the man of God: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written: that thou mayest teach them.” Ex. 24:12. And in Ex. 24:15-18: “And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount. And the glo­ry of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called un­to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.” Of these two ta­bles of stone we read in Exodus 32:15, 16: “The ta­bles were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the wri­ting of God, graven upon the tables.” However, in the same chapter we read of the worship of the golden calf which Aaron formed at the request of the people, and of the fact that Moses, when he had come down from the mount, cast the two tables of stone out of his hands and broke them. Then in chapter 34 we read once more that Moses ascended the mount at the com­mandment of the Lord, after he himself had hewn two tables of stone on which the Lord promised to write the same commandments which were upon 1 he first two tables. This, then, is the history of the ten words which the Lord delivered unto Moses, and through him to the people of Israel. It reveals very clearly that the people as such could never keep the law, in fact, would always violate the covenant of God, and that the true spiritual seed must look forward to Him Who is the end of the law, Jesus Christ our Lord.

As to the form of the law, we may probably re­mark, in the first place, that the tables were of stone, and that the law was engraven upon them by the fin­ger of God. This was probably a symbolic indication that the law could never be wiped out, that the moral law is everlastingly valid. As to the question how ma­ny commandments were written on each table, this cannot be ascertained with any certainty. And as to the division of the ten words, there is, and always has been, difference of opinion. The oldest division is such that it connects vss. 2 and 3, and then presents the words Thou shalt have no other gods before me” as the first commandment. However, the Roman Cath­olics combine what for us are the first and second commandments into one. In this they follow Augus­tine, and that too on the basis that the threat and pro­mise which are connected with the second command­ment undoubtedly belong to the first. In order, ne­vertheless, to retain the number ten, Augustine, and following him, the Roman Catholics, divide the tenth commandment into two, so that the ninth command­ment reads: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house,” while the tenth commandment begins with the words, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” This division of the ten commandments was also adop­ted by the Lutherans. However, it seems rather arbi­trary thus to divide the tenth commandment. And therefore the first mentioned division of the ten words undoubtedly has the preference.

We may also notice, regarding the form of the law, that it suggests completeness. This is suggested al­ready by the fact that the law was engraven upon two tables of stone, so that none of the ten words could e­ver be erased, while at the same time the tables were completely covered on both sides, so that no command­ment could be added unto it. This is also indicated by the symbolic number, ten. For everywhere in Scrip­ture the number ten indicates a completeness or fullness of measure determined by God Himself. The law of God is perfect. It is the full expression of the will of God concerning our whole life in the present world, and that too in every department of it.

Moreover, that there are two tables of four and six commandments respectively indicates, as the Catechism t aches us in Question and Answer 93, that the law covers our relation both to God and to the neighbor. And the relation between these two tables is such that the love of God is the predominating and controlling principle of the whole law. This is very plain from the words of the Lord in Matthew 22:37-44: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” There are, therefore, not two command­ments, the one greater than the other. There is only one great commandment, which controls the whole law: and that is the love of God. Without that love of God there is no love, and without it we cannot tru­ly love the neighbor. We must therefore love the neighbor for God’s sake.

Finally, we must call attention to the fact that the commandments are predominately prohibitive: they tell us not what we must do, but what we may not do. The only exceptions to this general rule are the fifth commandment, concerning our honoring father and mother, and the fourth commandment, that concern­ing the sabbath, in part. This negative, or prohib­itive, character of the law clearly points to our sinful nature, in virtue of which we are always inclined to transgress the commandments of God.

Dr. Geesink distinguishes three different uses of the law. Gereformeeride Ethiek, Vol. I, Page 234. The first is the usus politicus, that is, such a use of the law that causes man as citizen of the state to “discover some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” Can­ons 3, 3: 4. The second is the usus paedagogicus, an expression which he derived from Gal. 3:24, that speaks of the law as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, and is especially designed as a source of the knowledge of sin. The third use is the usus normativus, which means that the law is a norm or rule for the life of the Christian in the world.

It is only the second, and especially the third use of the law with which we are concerned here. It is to be feared that many a preacher of the law in the church reveals the tendency so to proclaim the law of God as an external code of precepts, that the usus politicus is at least also implied, and that it can be ap­plied to the whole world and to all men. By some this is even done intentionally, proceeding from the assum­ption that the preaching of the law may have a sal­utary effect on the world. Is after all the world not badly in need of hearing and being instructed in the law of God? Is not crime increasing at an alarming rate? Are not all the evils of this world, social, pol­itical, national, and international, due to the fact that the law of God is trampled underfoot? Is it therefore not profitable with a view to the reformation of soc­iety and the renewal of the world to preach the law to the world in general, rather than apply it only to the Christian? But this is a serious error, and certainly not the intention of the instructor in our Heidelberg Catechism. The preacher is not a philosopher. He is not a social reformer. But he is a preacher of the gospel. To that gospel he must be faithful, regard­less of what the wisdom of the world may think of it. That gospel insists that man, the whole world of men, lies in sin and under the wrath of God, which is re­vealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unright­eousness of men. That gospel proclaims that there is no hope for that world and for that natural man, except in Christ and through the cross of Calvary, in the way of redemption and regeneration. The attempt to reform the world and to suggest solutions for its renewal by calling its attention to the moral law is like trying to heal a corrupt fruit tree by painting the trunk; or to use another figure, which it seems to me I read somewhere, is like the attempt to cure the wa­ter in a well by washing the pump handle. From the heart are the issues of life. Make the heart good, and the man will be good. Leave the heart corrupt, and all its issues will be evil. The heart, however, cannot be made good by instructing a sinner in the law. It can be changed only by regenerating grace. And that is the work of God. The preaching of the law, there­fore, must strictly be directed to the church, that is, to the believers in Christ, redeemed by the blood of the cross, regenerated by the Spirit of God, sancti­fied and in principle transformed into a new man, but that at the same time still has the motions of sin in his members. And therefore, it is not the usus politicus, but only the usus paedagogicus and especially the usus normativus that must be applied in the church of Jesus Christ. And that law is spiritual, as we have indicated: the love of God is its principal demand. This central and basic demand of the law is its heart, that throbs in every one of its precepts. It is love of God that the law requires. The love of God must be our motive in serving God alone, in worshipping Him according to His Word, in reverencing His holy name, in keeping the sabbath, in honoring the neighbor in his position of authority, in his person, in his mar­riage relation, in his possessions, in his name, and that must fill our hearts with that quiet contentment that makes us refrain from covetousness. The law of God is therefore not a mere code of precepts that is designed to regulate our external conduct. It demands our heart, our existence, our mind, our will, and all our desires and inclinations. Before a human bar of justice, we are without culpability as Jong as our ex­ternal conduct is not in violation of any human sta­tute, whatever our internal attitude over against such a statute may be. As long as we do not kill or hurt the neighbor, we are free, though we hate him with all our heart. God, however, traces our every action to its deep root in the heart. And whatever our ex­ternal deportment may be, if it does not rise from true love of God in the heart, we stand condemned before the judge of heaven and earth. All that is not of the love of God is sin.

The question may still be faced: is it not a mistake to preach the law to the church and to the believer in Christ Jesus? This question is frequently answered in the affirmative, and that too by especially two clas­ses of the people, and from different considerations.

First of all, there are those who insist that it is in conflict with the freedom of the Christian, that it is contrary to the nature of grace, to confront the Chris­tian with the law once more. The New Testament Christian is the believer in whom the prophecy of Jer­emiah 31 is realized, as quoted in Heb. 8:8-12: “Be­hold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that

I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I re­garded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the cov­enant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” The fullness of time has come, and we are no longer under the tutorship of the law, as the apostle writes in Gal. 4:1-7: “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sins. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son in­to your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; but if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” And in Romans 6:14, the apostle writes plainly: “For sin shall not have dominion o­ver you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” The believer in Christ, therefore, has reached the age of majority. He is no longer a little child that must be told how to direct his every step. He is a fullgrown son, no longer under tutors and governors. Christ has redeemed him from the curse of the law, and through grace he has the law of God written in his heart. Hence, these objectors to the preaching of the law in the church insist that the Christian has no need of a code of precepts and of the warning, “Thou shalt not . . . ,” of the law. To confront the Christian with the law of the ten words is to insult him and to deny the freedom of grace.