by James Durham
Reformatted and Updated to Modern English
With a Resolution of Several Momentous Questions and Cases of Conscience.
"Thy Commandment is exceeding broad". - Psalm 119. 96.
The decline of religion in the world today has reached such a level that it is noticed by all who claim any interest in it, and it is complained about by many. By religion, we mean its power in the hearts and lives of people, not merely an outward profession of it, let alone the general pretense made by those who openly deny its power. Its manifestation is not only seen in the fruits of sinful complacency and the wicked lives of people from all walks of life, but it is also becoming evident in its effects in the current state of the world, which is filled with misery and confusion. The wrath of God is revealed in various ways from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, and in many nations, there are visible signs and manifestations of it. There is no peace among them, whether they are coming or going; instead, great distress is upon all their inhabitants. Nation rises against nation, and city against city, for God afflicts them with all sorts of adversities. Regardless of what people may think or plan in these matters, the judgments of God are not simply serving their desires and passions. He contends with the world because of its neglect of the gospel and its opposition to it. Our present respite in enjoying outward blessings does not prove that we are not the objects of His displeasure. All people are in the same condition when they fall into the same sins and the same lapses from the power of religion, for God shows no partiality. It is indeed an expression of divine patience, which if abused through complacency, will lead to a more severe retribution. Meanwhile, the voice of God to us in all the miseries and desolations we hear about in the world is that unless we repent, we will likewise perish. We are not completely without clear warnings among ourselves through various severe dispensations of divine providence. Those who are not completely hardened by the deceitfulness of sin can easily discern God's hand raised in various indications of His displeasure. However, it must be acknowledged and lamented that the security of the world appears to be unshaken, and the flood of sin shows no sign of being restrained in the least.
The reasons and causes of the present widespread departure from the truth, power, holiness, and glory of the Gospel or Christian religion have been investigated and explained in a separate treatise intended for that purpose. However, a few things relevant to the current situation can be observed here. All declines in religion originate in individual persons, although they eventually extend to families, and thus the infection spreads to larger communities, both ecclesiastical and national. This is also the natural progression in the development of the power of religion to which it is opposed. God's testimony to Abraham was that, by walking in the ways of the Lord himself, he taught and commanded his children and household to do the same. If the living power of godliness, as manifested in the life of Christ and the gospel, is not preserved in individual persons, then the profession of the purest religion in churches or the highest pretense of it in public, national acts is of no benefit to the souls of people and does not contribute to the glory of God. The only purpose of outward religious order and profession is lost when they are not applied to generating and promoting holiness or evangelical obedience in individuals. Therefore, if there is still hope for a revival of the power of religion in the world, if we seek to halt the fatal decline it is currently experiencing, we must focus on forming and restoring its principles in the hearts and consciences of individuals. It is through them that it will spread to families and larger societies. All reformation must begin here or through the use of appropriate means. In the following discussion, we have one example among many presented to us as a possible way to achieve this.
The general and unquestionable reason for all sins and failures among people is the neglect of the holy and perfect rule of obedience, or the law of God, without a sincere and conscientious commitment to adhere to it. Without a proper recognition of the authority of God in His law and an understanding that we will be held accountable for our adherence to it, there can be no legitimate expectation of the restoration of the power and glory of religion. There are many ways in which people are led astray from giving due consideration to and faithfully complying with this rule.
First, false and corrupt interpretations of the law enable many to indulge in various lusts and neglect many old duties. The Pharisees of old, by representing the purpose and meaning of the law as pertaining only to external acts and practices, undermined true holiness and religion within the apostatizing Jewish church. Under the pretense of establishing a false legal righteousness, they destroyed the true righteousness of the law. These things always go hand in hand. Those who argue for their own righteousness through works of the law consistently, through false glosses and interpretations, undermine the spirituality and all animating principles of the law itself. To correctly understand the meaning of the law and to seek righteousness by it, or by its works, are entirely inconsistent. Therefore, many people, due to their natural blindness and their dislike of and enmity towards it, have sought to accommodate the law itself to their own lusts and inclinations through false interpretations. This was evident with the Pharisees of old, and the present understanding of many about these things is not much different from theirs. Such interpretations of the law are embraced where there is little regard for the spiritual state of the heart or the internal struggle between the principles of sin and obedience. The scope of the commandment is also greatly stretched by many, and they will scarcely allow anything to be commanded or forbidden in it unless it is plainly expressed in the letter. It is clear how such understanding will gradually weaken the sense of the necessity of universal mortification and diminish the diligence of the mind in striving for a renewed spiritual state of the heart. By such means, a decline from true holiness and piety will be effectively promoted. When people begin to satisfy themselves with the external duties of divine worship and righteousness, which, if left alone, are but lifeless religion, they will not remain conscientiously devoted to even those duties for long.
Secondly, the separation of the duties of the law from the grace of the gospel will have a similar effect. It will quickly lead to a pretense of morality that opposes true evangelical obedience. There is no way that the entire rule of duty can be rendered more ineffective and useless to the souls of men. If the reconciliation made in Christ between the law and the gospel is taken away, it will only become a lifeless letter. And as soon as this notion takes hold, it becomes evident in its consequences. Every attempt by people against the grace of God will result in the destruction of morality among themselves.
Such understandings, when combined with abundant temptations that cater to the desires of all kinds of people, can only promote the interests and prevalence of sin and Antichrist in the world. It is evident that there is a great neglect and contempt of the holy rule of obedience in most people, accompanied by a profound ignorance and misunderstanding of its purpose and meaning in many. Therefore, a sincere effort to explain and uphold its authority and significance, as well as to apply it to the consciences of professed Christians, guiding and urging them towards consistent obedience, can be considered timely and, by the blessing of God, exceptionally beneficial. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ, upon observing the harm that had befallen the Church due to the false interpretation of the Law imposed by the Pharisees, commenced his prophetic ministry by vindicating it from their corrupt interpretations and restoring its original crown of purity and spirituality, so it is acknowledged that the endeavours of this worthy servant of Christ in the work of the Gospel, the author of the following exposition of the Decalogue, are both timely and worthy of acceptance. Just as other efforts are necessary for all those upon whom it is incumbent to care for the advancement of holiness in the Church and to impede the progress of sin insofar as lies within their power, it is clear that, for the aforementioned reasons, this particular approach is specifically timely and beneficial. I am convinced that every devout, humble, and open-minded reader will acknowledge the significant benefits that can be derived from this work. Some may readily perceive how far short their self-prescribed measure of duties falls from what is indispensably required of them, while others may gain a clear understanding of the comprehensive framework of obedience in its principles, content, manner, and purpose that they sincerely strive to attain. Moreover, there are several aspects of this discourse that, in my view, exhibit a notable degree of excellence.
The author's intention of teaching with clarity and simplicity is evident throughout the entire book. This makes it accessible to even the least knowledgeable individuals, which is the greatest strength of such discourses in terms of their structure and organization. Since the sole purpose is to guide the practice of all types of Christians, any ornamental language or anything that deviates from simplicity, sobriety, and seriousness is irrelevant. Therefore, while the topics discussed require continuous engagement from the wisest, most knowledgeable believers, the style and delivery are tailored to the understanding and capacity of even the least knowledgeable among them, ensuring that everyone can benefit from it.
Specific instances and cases pertaining to daily practice are presented, explained, and resolved in a clear and comprehensive manner, making the entire book a complete Christian guide for living in obedience to God. The pious reader can select any particular duty or category of duties to test the validity of the instructions, and if I am not mistaken, they will recognize the wisdom and profound experience from which these plain directions arise. For example, if one considers what is revealed about public prayer and the potential mistakes people may make in that regard on pages 52 and 53, or focuses on matters that personally concern them, they will find unaffected clarity, concise explanations, and sound judgment evident throughout the text.
Additionally, the entire discourse consistently emphasizes the importance of the heart and inner principles of obedience, while addressing the opposing actions of the flesh and various temptations. As a result, these discourses, though delivered with plain language, will be truly understood only by those who have developed their faculties to discern between good and evil to some extent.
This book provides a comprehensive testimony, not only against the immoral lives of many individuals who are called Christians, but also against the shallow and careless profession of faith that too many content themselves with. These individuals claim to possess a greater understanding of and adherence to the truth and power of religion. By following the guidelines set forth in this book, those who are genuinely committed to obedience can examine themselves and identify any areas of decline they may have experienced in this challenging time of temptation that has befallen the world. Furthermore, they can receive guidance in their Christian journey, aiming to bring glory to God and find comfort for their own souls. It is my sincere hope that all of this may be achieved.
To you, Christian reader,
I am your servant in the work of the Lord,
Table of Contents
To the Right Honourable Marquess of ARGILE.
TO THE CHRISTIAN READER.
TO THE READER.
TO THE CHRISTIAN READER.
Preface of the Ten Commandments
The First Commandment
The Second Commandment.
The Third Commandment.
The Fourth Commandment.
The Fifth Command.
The Sixth Commandment.
The Seventh Commandment.
The Eighth Command.
The Ninth Command.
The Tenth Commandment.