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Lord’s Day 39

Chapter 2: Obedience and Promise (cont’d).

We must constantly remember that this commandment is preached, not to the world, but to the church. It is the law of liberty that finds a response in the heart of the regenerated Christian, whose principal delight is in the precepts of his God. It is certainly not the law to which the apostle refers in I Timothy 1:9, 10: “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” The law is preached to the church of Jesus Christ, to those that live not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. And, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Hence, when in connection with the preaching of the law we speak of obedience, we refer to spiritual obedience, a virtue which is the fruit of the grace of God. This virtue of obedience is not found in the world of the unregenerated at all. There may be an outward semblance, an imitation, of it, an attempt to practice civic righteousness also in this respect. But even this outward imitation of obedience in the world often deteriorates. Fact is that modern education and modern pedagogy, especially since the time of Rousseau and the latter part of the 18th century, must have nothing of parents imposing their will upon the child, and of teachers exercising their authority in the classroom,—an authority to which the child must simply submit. Rousseau and those that followed him proceeded from the false principle that the child by nature is good. The evil that in later life becomes manifest is not due to his nature, but rather to the environment and to the example of others. Hence, the child must be left alone as much as possible. He surely must not be ordered about by precept upon precept. As much as possible the child must learn to follow his own will and his own mind. Parents and educators prostrate themselves before the throne of the child, and ask him, “Lord, what wilt thou have us do?” By all means, you must not simply command the child. You must show him, before you simply demand of him, the reason why he must do a thing. And unless he plainly sees that a thing is reasonable and just according to his own judgment, you must not demand of him to do anything at all. All this denies the very principle of obedience, which is exactly respect for, and submission to authority for God’s sake. This, we repeat, is not found in the world, but only in the church. 

This virtue of obedience must first of all be inculcated in the home. 

For this purpose the parents must look upon their children as principally sanctified in Christ, but nevertheless, as children that have only a small principle of the new obedience in their hearts. Certainly, they do not consider their children as principally good by nature. On the contrary, they confess with the Baptism Form that “we with our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, insomuch that we cannot enter into the kingdom of God except we are born again.” On the other hand, they also confess that even as the children are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so they are again received unto grace in Christ. In the first question they are required to answer when their children are baptized, they “acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore as members of his church ought to be baptized.” They consider their children, therefore, indeed as saints in Christ Jesus, but as very imperfect and sinful saints. And, it is the calling of the parents to instruct their little saints and to train them in the way of obedience. The children must learn to obey their parents in the Lord, and to respect and honor them and be in submission to them for Christ’s sake. 

This is indeed a difficult task. It requires much patience and longsuffering, and therefore, constant prayer. 

The term obedience and to obey in Scripture represents a very concept. The English wordobedience is derived from the Latin obedientia, which evidently has the meaning of “to hearken to a summons, to follow up a call, to submit,” and hence, “to obey.” Principally this is also true of the Greek word in the New Testament that is translated by the nounobedience or by the verb to obey. It also denotes compliance, submission, the hearkening to a command. He whom one obeys is his master, and the one that obeys is a servant, Rom. 6:16: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Scripture speaks of obedience to the faith, Rom. 1:5, 16:26, which evidently means a hearkening to, a compliance with, a submission to the faith of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the same sense it speaks of obedience of the truth, I Peter 1:22. Believers are called in Scripture children of obedience, I Peter 1:14, a phrase that is translated by “obedient children,” and which denotes that believers, as children of God, are characterized by obedience. They walk in obedience, and do not fashion themselves according to the former lusts in their ignorance, but strive after holiness in all their walk and conversation. Paul speaks of the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, meaning evidently that through his preaching the Gentiles have submitted themselves to the gospel in ail their walk and conversation. Rom. 15:18. Of the Philippians we read that they were always obedient, meaning, of course, that they were obedient and submitted to the precepts of the gospel which Paul had preached to them. Phil. 2:12. Abraham, according to Heb. 11:8, “was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance,” and he “obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Here too obedience is presented as the act of hearkening to, and compliance with an authoritative summons, the call of God, and the blind following up of that summons by faith. In Acts 6:7 we read that a great company of priests were obedient to the faith, meaning, of course, that by faith they submitted themselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by the apostles. And in Rom. 6:17 the apostle writes that the Roman Christians “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Supremely obedient was, of course, Christ Himself, of whom we read that He was found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, “and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And in Heb. 5:7 the Scriptures teach us that “in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” And in Luke 2:51 we read that Christ Himself was obedient to his parents: “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” 

In brief, we may say that obedience, the obedience of love, is our part of the covenant. It is a thoroughly covenant conception. But let us remember that all true obedience is submission to authority for God’s sake in Christ. Always obedience is compliance with the gospel of Christ, with the precepts of the Lord our God, with the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. It is the hearkening unto the Word of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, the unconditional surrender to that Word, and the following up of its summons. It is the doing of that Word in all our walk and conversation.

This, then, is also the meaning of obedience when the Scriptures admonish us to be subject unto authorities, whether it be in the home, in church, in school, or in the state. 

The home relation is, of course, fundamental. With it the apostle Paul begins when he admonishes the church to submit and be obedient. In Ephesians 5 andEphesians 6, after he has exhorted wives to submit themselves unto their own husbands, he writes: “Children, obey your parents in. the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise: That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” The same order is followed in Colossians 3. Also there the apostle first admonishes the wives to be in submission unto their husbands. And then he writes: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” Notice that the apostle in this last verse adds the phrase “in all things.” In the book, “The Home Beautiful,” there is a chapter on “The Children’s Part.” In this the author writes: “This obedience is to extend to ‘all things’, the things that are agreeable and the things that are disagreeable. Though he may be unjustly treated, the child is not to rebel. He may know that his parent is unkind or oppressive or even cruel, but his duty is not thereby changed. Wrong on the parent’s part will never justify wrong on the part of the child. There is only one qualification: children are to obey their parents ‘in the Lord.’ If the parent commands the child to commit a sin, of course it is not to obey. Herodias was under no moral obligation to obey when her cruel and bloody mother bade her ask for the head of John the Baptist. No human authority is ever binding when it bids us break a divine law. No true parent will knowingly ask anything of his child that is not right; hence, the law of parental government requires obedience in all things.” 

This relation of submission and obedience to parents lasts as long as the child is in the home. Although it is true, of course, that when the child grows up and becomes a young man or young woman, the relation gradually becomes one of greater freedom, yet this freedom never means that now the child can take the law in his own hands and disobey the parents. This also implies, of course, that as soon as the child marries and establishes his own home, he becomes sovereign within the sphere of his own home. And the father-in-law or mother-in-law may not attempt to encroach upon that sovereignty. This does not mean that even then the child is not called to honor and respect his father and his mother, and even to seek their good advice. But the relation of submission to their authority ceases. There is what is called in Dutch “sovereiniteit in eigen kring,” a sovereignty in its own proper sphere. And that sovereignty must always be respected.

This relation of obedience and submission to authority is maintained, according to Scripture, in all other spheres of life. In Ephesians 6:5-8 the apostle writes: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” Notice in this admonition the strong emphasis on the truth that all submission and obedience, even to our worldly masters, is principally an obedience to Christ. Servants must be obedient to their masters as unto Christ. They must act not as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ. And in their service unto their masters they must do the will of God from the heart.They must perform their service not as unto men, but as to the Lord. And from the Lord they will receive their reward. The same admonition, and with the same emphasis, namely, that all submission and obedience and service must be “as unto the Lord” is repeated inCol. 3:22-25: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth, wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” In I Peter 2 the same admonition is addressed to the church, now, however, emphasizing that even if the servant has to suffer wrongfully, he has no excuse to refuse submission or obedience to his master: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, when ye be buffeted for your faults ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently this is acceptable with God.” This was written, we must not forget, when the relation between master and servant was that of freeman and bondman. The servant was a slave, who belonged bodily to his master. In our present system of society this is, of course, no more the case. Master and servant, employer and employee, stand as free men over against each other. The employee simply sells part of his time and effort to his employer. But this does not mean that during the time and in the place of his employment he does not stand in the position of obedience to his employer. The employer is certainly master in his own sphere, and has authority over his employees. Within the terms of his agreement with the employer he may, of course, quit his position or job. He may even agree with the entire group of employees that work in the same place to refuse to work any longer, because he considers the wages not sufficient or the working conditions too unequal. But when he or they thus quit their job or position, they may not assume the attitude that they still have a claim to the job, or prevent others from working in the same place. This is nevertheless the usual meaning of a strike. The strike is simply a means of coercion on the part of the employees to force their demands upon the employer. And by a strike the former attempt to close up the shop until their demands are granted. To this they have no right. It is rebellion, an infringement upon the authority of the employer, which he has the right to exercise in his own place of employment. It is based upon the principle that might is right. We agree with Berkhof, in his The Christian Laborer in the Industrial Struggle, when he writes, on pp. 25ff.: “Starting from the Christian postulate that in social life generally only the government has the right to use coercion, to enforce its decisions, to compel obedience, we are constrained to say that the boycott, the strike, and the closed shop, as means by which the unions seek to enforce their demands, contain an element that is decidedly wrong, resulting from the principle that might is right, and that every man is his own judge.” And again he writes: “Now I desire to make two strictures on this idea of the strike as a general proposition. In the first place, the laboring men are either laboring under a contract or they are not. If they are, they have no right to strike, except when the employer breaks the contract; and in case they are not, they can lay down their work, but do not retain their right to the job. And in the second place, even if the right is all on their side, they are not, generally speaking, justified in forcing their demands by intimidation or violence.” The strike, as commonly conceived, therefore, is to be condemned in the light of Scripture, which admonishes us that servants shall be subject to their masters. 

The same principle of obedience and submission to authority is applied by Scripture to the state. According to I Peter 2:13-17, then Christian must submit himself to every ordinance of man, not for man’s sake, nor for the fear of man, but for the Lord’s sake. He must submit himself to the king, as supreme; or unto governors that are appointed by the king, because it is the will of God that by well-doing he may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. He must reveal himself in the true sense as standing in the freedom of Christ and in the service of God. The same is true of the well-known passage in Rom. 13:1-6. Because the powers of the government are ordained of God, therefore it is the Christian’s calling to be subject unto those powers and assume the position of obedience with respect to them for Christ’s sake. 

Needless to say, although the authority of the church is of a different nature than that of the family, of society or of the state, although the church does not have the sword power, but the key-power, nevertheless, the member of the church also stands in a position of obedience to the government of the church, and that too, for Christ’s sake, who is the Head of the church not only in the organic, but also in the juridical sense of the word. Hence, when in our churches a member makes public confession of his faith, he promises that he will submit, to the government of the church, and if he should fall into sin, submit also to the discipline of the church. 

It lies in the very nature of authority that submission and obedience to it has one important limitation. Because all authority is principally God’s and because God has conferred all authority in heaven and on earth principally and centrally upon Christ, therefore it stands to reason that as soon as those in authority would demand something of the Christian that is in conflict with the Word of God and the precepts of the gospel, he cannot and may not obey. In that case the principle of Scripture is clearly announced: we may not obey men rather than God. Besides, in such a case those that stand in a position of authority do not function as such, that is, as officebearers, but as mere men. And therefore, disobedience to them is in that case no rebellion against God-instituted authority. 

The question must still be asked: what is the meaning of the promise that is attached to this fifth commandment, “that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

Ursinus, in his “Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism,” insists that the meaning of this promise is that they who obey their parents shall have a long life upon the earth. He answers various objections to this interpretation as, follows: 

“But long life does not seem to be a blessing, in view of the miseries which are connected with this present state of being. Therefore it is a useless promise. Answer: That a long life seems not to be a blessing, comes to pass by an accident; for in itself it is a great blessing, although it is connected with much misery and suffering. To this the following objections are brought forward: 1. A good connected with great evils is rather to be deprecated than desired. A long life now is connected with great evils. Therefore it seems, on account of this accident, rather to be deprecated than to be desired. We reply, that a good is to be deprecated, if the evils connected with it are greater than the good itself. But God promises to the godly, in connection with a long life, a mitigation of the calamities to which we are here subject; and a long enjoyment of his blessings, even in this life. Then, too, the constant worship and praise of God in this life is a blessing of such great value, that the various calamities to which we are here subject. are not worthy to be compared with it. Objection 2. But the wicked and disobedient are also often blessed with a long life. Therefore it is not a blessing peculiar to the godly. Answer. A few exceptions do not overthrow a general rule; for the wicked and disobedient, for the most part perish prematurely and suddenly. ‘The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pluck it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.’ ‘Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.’ (Prov. 30:17, 20:20) Again: temporal blessings are bestowed upon the godly for their salvation, and are therefore evidences of God’s favor towards them; whilst they are conferred upon the ungodly partly that they may be rendered inexcusable, inasmuch as they have been in this way called to repentance, and partly that the godly and the elect, who are mixed with them, may enjoy these things. Objection 3. But many obedient and godly children die at an early age, and do not live to enjoy the blessing of a long life. Therefore the promise is not universal. Answer. We may here reply as we did to the former objection, that a few exceptions do not destroy the force of a general rule. The godly, for the most part, have the truth of this promise verified in their case. Promises of temporal blessings, too, must be understood as making an exception respecting chastisements and the cross. And still further, an early translation to another and better life, even a heavenly life, is a most ample recompense for a long life.” 

Anyone will admit that it can hardly be said that these arguments of Ursinus hold water. The fact remains that if this promise added to the fifth commandment actually refers to a long life in this world, it certainly cannot be said, in the light of the universal facts of life and death, that the promise is fulfilled. It simply is not true that those that obey their parents and are in subjection to authority live longer in the world than the ungodly and disobedient. 

Dr. Kuyper, in his E. Voto, and others following him, have clearly recognized this fact. And therefore they attempt another interpretation of this promise that is added to the fifth commandment. Writes Dr. Kuyper, E. Voto, IV, 44ff. (I translate): “Now this promise would not have a hold upon your conscience if it must be explained exclusively in the sense that an obedient child would become old, and a naughty child would die young. This cannot be the essential significance of these words for us, who see in these words a promise given by God; for everyone knows how God the Lord continually calls obedient children early to His heaven, while he allows naughty children to become very old.” And thereupon he himself offers an interpretation that to us is still less acceptable than that of Ursinus. He interprets that this promise added to the fifth commandment is addressed, not to the individual Israelite, but to the people, to the nation as a whole, and that it refers to the long existence of Israel as a state, as a commonwealth in the world. He figures from the exodus to the destruction of Jerusalem, and computes that Israel as a state existed 1,500 years, while even the mighty Roman Empire existed only approximately 1,000 years. He adds that the only state that existed longer than that of Israel was that of the Chinese: But he insists that this is all the more proof for the correctness of his interpretation, because the Chinese as a whole were always characterized by obeying their parents and keeping the fifth commandment. All kinds of objections can be urged against this interpretation. In the first place, it is not true that Israel as a state existed 1500 years. The ten tribes existed as such only a few hundred years, while the independent existence of the kingdom of Judah virtually ceased with the, captivity. After the return from the captivity Israel was virtually a plaything of the nations. Besides, it is not true that the law is addressed to Israel as a nation, but throughout it is addressed to the individual Israelite. Nor could this promise be applied to the new dispensation, as if those states that were characterized by obedience to and submission to authorities existed the longest in the history of the world. But the main objection is after all that the law is not a code of common grace, applied equally to the people of God and to the heathen, as Dr. Kuyper’s interpretation would have it. But God’s promises are always and only to the elect, and the law of God is spiritual. The promise of the fifth commandment is only for those that keep this commandment in the spiritual sense, from the heart, from the motive of the love of God, and principally obey this commandment as well as all others for the sake of God in Christ. For them, and for no others, are ail the promises of God, and it is also this promise that is added to the fifth commandment. 

We therefore understand this promise as being ultimately fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth. Of this the land of Canaan, to which the promise refers, was a type, according to all the Word of God. This is evident especially from Heb. 11:8-10: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And although they never received the land of Canaan in their own personal possession, they nevertheless died in faith, “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from which they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Indeed, the meek shall inherit the earth. But it is not the earth that is found in this world, but the new earth, under the new heavens, in the new creation, where the tabernacle of God shall be with men. Such is the hope of the elect. And to this hope principally and ultimately the promise that is added to the fifth commandment refers: “That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” The law is not a matter of common grace, but it is the law of liberty, which only those can perform that stand in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free. And even as the law is not a matter of common grace, so neither is the promise. It is not for all men, but only for the elect, for the believers in Christ Jesus. And it always ultimately refers to the final realization of God’s eternal kingdom and tabernacle on the new earth and under the new heavens, where we shall see God face to face, and know Him as we are known. 

Lord’s Day 40

Q. 105. What doth God require in the sixth commandment? 

A. That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, by myself, or by another; but that I lay aside all desire of revenge: also, that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger. Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder. 

Q. 106. Rut this commandment seems only to speak of murder?

A. In forbidding murder, God teaches us, that he abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge; and that he accounts all these as murder. 

Q. 107. But is it enough that we do, not kill any man in the manner mentioned above? 

A. No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies. 

Chapter 1: The Meaning of the Sixth Commandment 

The Heidelberg Catechism is rather elaborate in its discussion of the sixth commandment. While it devoted only one question and answer to the preceding, that is, to the fifth commandment, it devotes no less than three questions and answers to the sixth, “Thou shalt not kill.” 

In Question and Answer 105 it elaborates rather in detail on the sin of murder itself, on the meaning and implication of this sixth commandment. It explains that the sin of murder consists in dishonoring, hating, wounding, or killing my neighbor: that this may be done either in thoughts, words, gestures, or in deeds, either by one’s self or by another. Besides, it tells us that this sixth commandment also demands that we lay aside all desire of revenge, and that we hurt not ourselves, nor willfully expose ourselves to any danger: And it concludes by saying that the magistrates are armed with the sword to prevent murder. 

In the next question, the Catechism calls attention more particularly to the spiritual side and the spiritual roots of murder, and insists that also these are really murder in the sight of God. God abhors the causes of murder; such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge. 

And finally, in Question and Answer 107, the Catechism calls our attention to the positive element in this sixth commandment. The positive opposite of murder is spiritually that we love one another, that we love our neighbor as ourselves, and that in that love we assume the attitude of patience, peace, mercy, meekness, and all kindness towards the neighbor. We must, according to the sixth commandment, always seek the welfare of our neighbor, prevent his hurt, and do good even to our enemies. 

This, therefore, that we love the neighbor’s person and do good to him, is the positive element of the sixth commandment. This commandment deals emphatically with the person of the neighbor. Just as the seventh commandment deals with the neighbor’s marital relationship, the eighth commandment requires respect for the neighbor’s goods or possessions, and the ninth commandment requires of us that we love the neighbor as ourselves in his name, so the sixth commandment demands that we love the neighbor in his person.