The following exposition has been lightly modernized and reformatted.
by James Durham
"You shall have no other gods before me." - Exodus 20:3
In this first Commandment, we may consider two aspects: 1. The instruction given. 2. The conditions of the instruction.
The instruction given is negatively phrased, "You shall have no other Gods," di∣recting to the right object of worship, and distinguishing the true God from all supposed gods. Although there is but one God, there are many who are labelled as gods (1 Corinthians 8:4, 5, 6). The conditions added are in these words, "before me," which suggest not only the severity of the sin being prohibited, as it's committed in His presence, and carried out, as it were, in disregard and scorn of God who always sees; but notably to highlight the breadth of the prohibition. It discourages not only outward idolatry, but also that which is inward and hidden, unseen by men and known only to God. Thus, this Commandment mandates not only external worship, but also that which is inward and spiritual before God. Hence, the aim of this first Commandment clearly lies in these two aspects (where it differs from the second), namely, 1. It identifies who is the right object of worship, and guides men towards it. 2. It governs men's internal worship of God, and calls for it, while the second Commandment assumes both these, and provides guidance on the manner of worshipping the true God externally, and regulates these.
This Commandment, like all others, has a positive part that requires something, and a negative part that prohibits something. We'll first address what is required here, and we identify it in these three points.
Firstly, it necessitates the correct understanding of God; for without it, no true worship can be given to him, no accurate thought or conception of him, or faith in him, can be achieved until he is known. He must be understood to be one God in Essence (Deuteronomy 6:4) and three Persons (1 John 5:7). He must be understood in his Attributes and Essential Properties, such as Infiniteness, Immenseness, Unchangeability, Eternity, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Wisdom, Goodness, Justice, and Faithfulness. He must also be understood in his specific works, which demonstrate his Sovereignty and Majesty, like his works of Creation, Providence, Redemption, and everything related to it, like the Covenant of Grace and its terms; the Mediator and his roles. No service or worship can be offered to God, nor can we have any foundation for Faith in him, without some level of distinct knowledge of these.
It demands from us a suitable recognition of God in all these properties: Such as 1. Esteeming him highly above all. 2. Loving him. 3. Fearing him. 4. Believing and trusting in him. 5. Hoping in him. 6. Adoring him. 7. Honouring him. 8. Serving and obeying him. And thus 9. He must be the Supreme end in all our actions, that should mainly be aimed at by us.
It requires such duties as are a consequence of his Excellency, and our recognition of him as such: Such as 1. Dependence on him. 2. Submission to him, and patience under difficult circumstances from him. 3. Faith resting on him. 4. Prayers offered to him. 5. Repentance for wronging him. 6. Communion, and a constant walk with him. 7. Delighting in him. 8. Meditating on him; and such other duties as may be necessarily inferred as incumbent to beings in such a relationship with such a God, whose Excellency and worth calls and invites men to all suitable duties.
Next, it is important that we add some points of consideration to these general principles.
That the Commandment requires all these, and to the highest and most perfect degree.
That it not only requires them in ourselves, but obliges us to further them in all others, according to our roles and responsibilities.
That it requires the diligent use of all means that may assist and further us in these; such as Reading, Meditation, Study, etc.
That these things which in some respect may be given to beings, like love, fear, etc., yet when they are required as duties to God, they are required in a far superior manner, setting God apart and above all others. Therefore, even when the same terms are used, they represent significantly different degrees and kinds of affection or reverence when directed towards God.
In a more distinguished way; so that beings must yield and make room when God competes with them in these respects; and those things which are specific to God, such as relying on him, adoring him, are to be given to no other.
- All these duties are required in such a manner that none of them push out another; instead, they all coexist, each duty maintaining its own place, without causing harm to any other.
Next, we should consider the prohibitive part of this Commandment, for its extent will be best understood by contemplating what is forbidden therein, and how it may be violated. Indeed, in relation to this Commandment, more than any of the others, almost all people consider themselves most innocent; yet upon examination, it will be found that people are most guilty of breaking it. We may view the violation of this Commandment more broadly, as God is wronged in any way concerning what is rightfully his; or more narrowly, as it pertains to what is more accurately termed Idolatry.
When considered more broadly, it is violated in two ways.
It's violated when what is fundamental and essential to God is effectively or practically denied to him; as when he is not acknowledged as Eternal, Omnipotent, one blessed God in three Persons. In this way, people are guilty, either in belief or in practice, when they conduct themselves before God as if they did not believe him to be Omnipotent, Omniscient, etc. In this respect, Titus 1:16 speaks of some who claim to know God, but in their actions, they deny him.
The Commandment is broken when anything unbecoming the Holy Majesty of God is attributed to him; as when it is suggested that he changes, favours irreverence, etc. Thus, in Psalm 50:21, it is said of some irreverent individuals that they thought him to be like themselves. These two forms could be categorised as more general Idolatry; we will speak more about them later.
The third way it's violated (considering the breach of this Commandment strictly) is by attributing that which is due to God, and properly belongs to him, to beings; such as trusting in them, calling on them through prayer, considering them Omnipotent, Omniscient, or believing that they have the influence or power to guide the world. Some attribute these abilities to Stars, to the Heavens, to Fortune, to Saints, to Angels, even to Devils. This is properly Idolatry. And because it is the chief objective of this Commandment, and we are expressly commanded to keep ourselves from Idols (1 John 5), we shall dwell a bit on this.
We will 1. outline some distinctions of Idolatry, 2. demonstrate how people fall into it, 3. identify the specific Idols with which people commit Idolatry, 4. highlight the most subtle and dangerous Idols, 5. provide some guidelines by which you may test this sin of Idolatry, even when it is most subtle.
Firstly, Idolatry may be distinguished into Idolatry against the first Commandment, when worship is not directed to the right, but to the wrong object, and Idolatry against the second Commandment, which violates the prescribed manner of worshipping God. We are now discussing the first.
Secondly, this Idolatry is either doctrinal, or Idolatry in judgement, when one professedly believes such a thing besides God to have some Divinity in it; as pagans do of their Mars and Jupiter, and Catholics do of their Saints. Or, it is practical, when people don't believe in such things, and will not acknowledge any such opinion, yet effectively they are guilty of the same thing, as greedy individuals, etc. The first takes place when in all pagans, Turks, heretics, who by their doctrines and opinions undermine the true God or His worship. The latter includes all self-seeking, ambitious, greedy, and pleasure-seeking individuals who align with the former in their practice, though not in opinion.
Thirdly, it can be distinguished into Idolatry that has a tangible object, like how the Egyptians worshipped beasts, and the Persians worshipped the sun or fire, and that which has nothing but people's imaginations as its object, like those who worship fictitious gods. In this respect, the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 8:4 that an idol is nothing.
Fourthly, we should distinguish between the objects of Idolatry. They are either inherently sinful, like devils, irreverent people, or they are good in themselves, but become corrupted and misused when they are made objects of Idolatry, like Angels, Saints, Sun, Moon, etc.
Fifthly, distinguish between Idolatry that is more gross and openly professed, and that which is more hidden, subtle, and denied. This distinction is similar to the previously mentioned one between belief and practice, and largely aligns with it.
Sixthly, distinguish between heart-idolatry (Ezekiel 14, Exodus 14:11-12, and 16:2-3) and external Idolatry. The former consists of an inward heart-respect to some idol, as these tumultuous people were enslaved to their comfort and appetites in the last two aforementioned places; the latter consists of some external idolatrous gesture or action.
In practical Idolatry, we should distinguish between expressing our affections towards inherently sinful objects, and expressing them excessively towards lawful objects. People are guilty of Idolatry with sinful objects when they love and covet another person's house, spouse, or goods, when things unlawful and forbidden have their heart's attention. On the other hand, people are guilty of Idolatry by making lawful objects idols, such as when they excessively or inordinately love their own means, spouse, house, etc., placing them in God's position, as Nebuchadnezzar did with Babylon (Daniel 4:30). Hence, in the former sense, people make their lusts or sins, whatever they may be, their idols. Gluttons who serve their appetite, drunkards their drunkenness, make their bellies and appetite their idol. For whatever people yield themselves to obey, they become servants to that which they obey (Romans 6:16). An idol is something excessively esteemed, and Idolatry is the transferring of God's due, outwardly or inwardly, to what is not God, whether we consider it as God or not.
Firstly, people commit Idolatry when anything, even any lawful thing, receives too much reverence from them. Their happiness is placed in it and, in effect, they can less bear to be without it, regardless of what they might say verbally, than they can bear to be without communion with God Himself. When people have such an excessive esteem of their spouse, children, houses, lands, high positions, etc., and when these are taken from them, they cry out as Micah did in Judges 18:24, "You have taken away my gods from me, what do I have left?" When all other comforts a person has, including all the Promises and God Himself, seem of little value to them compared to some particular thing they have lost due to some adverse circumstances, it indicates that it had too much of their heart. Test this by two things.
1. when any beloved thing is threatened to be removed, it then becomes apparent how much it is cherished and clung to. 2.look at what is used to compensate for the loss; notice a significant difference between David and his men, or most of them, in 1 Samuel 30:6. When he was in as much loss as they were, they could find no way to compensate for it, therefore they contemplate stoning him, but David found strength in the Lord his God. They had nothing left at all, while he still had his God, in whom he could still find comfort.
Thirdly, idolatry occurs when confidence and trust are placed in anything other than God (excessively, as previously noted in the context of love). Thus, when a person's protection is placed in people, even if they're princes (as in Psalm 146:3), or in crowds, horses and armies, it's a form of idolising them. Similarly, wealthy individuals can make gold their confidence and fine gold their hope, as mentioned in Job 31:24. That is, when people feel secure, not because they trust in God's providence, but because they possess such resources.
For instance, Asa trusted in physicians, not God, specifically regarding the cure of his disease. Or, like the rich man in Luke 12:19 who based his peace of mind on his abundant barns. Some trust in their connection to a prominent person who is their ally. This reliance can be identified through a few indicators:
The means to which people resort in a crisis, such as when they don't hesitate to utilise unethical means.
The distress they express when they are let down.
It's noticeable when their reliance on such a creature impairs their trust in God and His providence. Therefore, it's challenging for people to be wealthy without placing their confidence in their wealth. Thus, Christ spoke of the difficulty of the wealthy being saved.
People trust in their riches when possessing them makes them feel more secure, leading them to become proud and buoyant, as if their possessions added some value to them. This could only occur if these possessions were overly appreciated.
Fourthly, idolatry also manifests itself through fear when individuals or events are feared more than God. This fear may lead people to sin or, at the very least, deter them from their duty, similar to those followers who, out of fear of the Jews (John 12:42), didn't confess Christ. Thus, individuals may idolise their very enemies whom they despise, when they fear the one who can kill the body more than the one who can destroy both soul and body. In this way, powerful figures in the world are often idolised.
Even good and well-qualified individuals can also be turned into idols when people become so dedicated and devoted to them as to refer to them as their teacher and to be, metaphorically, sworn to their words and opinions (as the sectarians in Corinth were, and such are generally to their leaders), when it's not the matter or reason that influences them but the person who teaches such doctrine or holds such an opinion.
Fifthly, this idolatry can be committed through service, when an individual falls under the influence of anything. Thus, anything a person serves in this manner becomes an idol. Every dominant person or mood that an individual seeks to please becomes an idol. In this respect, it is said that one cannot serve two masters, God and Mammon, and if we still serve people, we are not the servants of Christ (Galatians 1:10). This can be identified by:
Observing what individuals are most excessively engaged with, and most eager to fulfil and accomplish.
Noting what they are willing to expend the most effort to achieve.
Seeing what occupies most of their time and labour.
Identifying what overwhelms, overcomes, or intimidates them the most, so much so that they cannot resist it, even if it pushes aside duties to God. When they are so occupied with God's service that it makes them ill-prepared whenever they approach immediate worship, it's a clear sign that such a thing has become the person's idol. There are numerous ways in which individuals fall into the sin of idolatry, and it would be difficult to speak of all the various idols that might be excessively loved, feared, or relied upon, thereby replacing God. I will mention a few.
Firstly, the world is a significant idol. This is the grand materialistic idol that both the covetous and the pleasure-seeking individuals chase after, crying out, "Who will show us any good?" (Psalm 4:6). This idol keeps thousands in bondage and propels them headlong into excess. An intense desire for worldly goods and a reputation on earth is the idol of many.
Secondly, the belly is another idol (Philippians 3:19) - a shameful deity, yet worshipped by the majority of people who strive for nothing more than a share in this life to fill the belly (Psalm 17:14), to earn a living and provide for their families. This group includes gluttons, drunkards, and those who seek to please their palates, who are considered the most indulgent individuals in the world, regrettably plentiful in our days. They live according to the devil's maxim, ready to give everything they have for their life, aiming for nothing more (Job 2:4). Satan thought he had discovered Job's weakness when all his riches were gone. He also tempted Christ to anxiously provide bread for Himself, and this fear of lack enslaves many.
Thirdly, another significant idol, which in some way encompasses all others, is one's life - their honour, credit, reputation, good name, and applause in the world, along with their own will, opinions, tenets, and judgments. Individuals are often so stubborn about these that they won't give up even a little for a lot of their well-being. Thus, individuals are said to live for themselves (2 Corinthians 5:15) in contrast to living for God, when self-regard influences them to become lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2,4) and lovers of their pleasures more than God, and self-willed (Titus 1:7, 2 Peter 2:10). Alas, who is free from this?
Fourthly, individuals of exceptional abilities or those who have done or could do some considerable good or harm to someone, or who have some extraordinary qualities beyond others, often become significant idols. Due to the fear, love, or trust people place in them, they are often made into great idols.
Fifthly, lawful contentments such as houses, spouses, children, to which individuals are often too attached, and with which they are often too preoccupied, can become idols. Even things that are intrinsically minor can sometimes gain undue importance and thus become idols.
Sixthly, self-righteousness can be an idol. A person's prayers, their repentance, their blameless conduct - these can, and often do, garner more confidence and bear more of the weight of their eternal peace than they should. The Jews, for instance, laid the great stress of their salvation on this idol (Romans 10:3).
Seventhly, outward religious practices in their purity, external forms, and profession of religion can be idolized when individuals rely on these and do not pursue the power behind them. This was the case with the Jews who extolled the Temple of the Lord, the covenant between God and them, and their external relationship with Him (Jeremiah 7:4, etc.).
Eighthly, any gift of God bestowed upon individuals, such as beauty, strength, wit, or learning, can become an idol when those who possess them place too much importance on them or think too highly of them. Even grace itself, the sense of God's love, and inner peace can replace Christ and be sought more than Christ Himself at times. When these gifts are depended upon and delighted in, while God is neglected, or when they are missed and God is not delighted in, then they become idols.
Ninthly, ease, tranquility, and personal contentment often become significant idols. This is the case when an individual is so dedicated to their comfort that they cannot tolerate being disturbed. This was the case with the man in Luke 12:19, who said, "Soul, take your ease." His comfort was his idol, and he rested on it, making it the goal of all his construction and accumulation of wealth. But his riches were also his idol, as he based his expectation of rest on what he possessed. Similarly, many idle individuals who structure their lives to avoid trouble, even if they are not productive and spend what they have, make the pursuit of an easy life the focus of all their actions. When this preoccupation with comfort overshadows them as their ultimate goal, often leading to the avoidance and neglect of many necessary duties to avoid trouble, it becomes a prevailing idol.
Tenthly, wandering fancies and chimeras can become idols. These are cases where the mind takes pleasure in itself, delighting in entertaining these illusions, and pursuing them with a plan to find satisfaction in them. These are things that may never have existed, nor perhaps could exist, except in the individual's imagination. Such mental wanderings are described by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 6:9 as "the wanderings of the desire," in contrast to the "sight of the eyes" that others find pleasure in. This is seen when people expend their creativity and inventiveness on crafting romances, passionate love stories, stage plays, comedies, masquerades, balls, etc., or, in a more subtle yet frequently practiced way, when people construct imaginary narratives of revenge, delight, or prominence for themselves.
The means and secondary causes, such as physicians, armies, ministers, celestial bodies, and natural causes (which some refer to as Nature), through which God often works, are frequently so trusted and relied upon that they become people's idols. In fact, in recent times, many people have become increasingly interested in and infatuated with practices such as judicial astrology and palmistry, while to a great extent, the scriptures have been neglected and set aside.
When asked which idols are the most subtle, the answer is:
An idol is most subtle when it lurks in the heart and primarily resides in a person's mind, aims, and internal satisfaction. People may internally attribute too much to such a thing, yet externally, there may not be much to reveal this.
Idols are most subtle when they exist in things to which some degree of fear, love, delight, etc., is permissible, such as in lawful things, which can be lawfully loved, feared, and sought to some extent.
Idols are more subtle when they lie in negatives, such as in omissions or ease, than when they lie in something people positively seek after, or in the commission of something forbidden.
Idols are particularly subtle when they masquerade under a lawful name. For example, when pride is disguised as honesty, or anxiety as legitimate concern, such idols are challenging to discern.
Idols can be particularly subtle when, in adhering to one idol, a person rejects all others (as they perceive) out of respect for God. This can be seen in instances such as a monastic life, rigid obedience, or a singular opinion that many people strongly adhere to and place significant weight on.
Subtle idolatry can also lie in means that have been or are sanctioned by God for achieving a certain end. It is challenging to maintain balance in this case, and equally difficult to detect the idolatry of the heart within it.
In all these scenarios, it's important to note that the idolatry in these things primarily lies in the excessiveness of the heart and affections towards them. It doesn't reside as much in our actions concerning them, but rather in the manner of our actions and the accompanying circumstances such as anxiety, high estimation, excessive care, and love.
To better understand the difference between this idolatrous love, fear, service, and the true expressions of love, fear, etc., consider the following rules:
- Our love becomes idolatrous when it for creatures overshadows our love for God, causing us to neglect our duties towards Him, as exemplified by Demas.
It is now apparent:
- How common this sin of idolatry is.
- The significant guilt and risk people are incurring as a result. This is because:
- Few people are aware of it.
- The guilt of idolatry often weighs heavily on many people's consciences for years.
- There is little repentance for it, even though one can easily and unknowingly slip into it in many ways
It may not be as crucial to inquire specifically which idol has the upper hand or takes up the most space, provided we acknowledge these three facts:
- There can be, and often are, multiple idols at once, like legions, causing turmoil within a person and swarming in their heart.
- These idols can successively change, depending on a person's temptations and circumstances.
- People should strive to overcome all idols, giving God His rightful place, so that no idol is spared. If even one is spared, none are truly defeated.
Believers would do well, and it would be to their advantage, to frequently contemplate Scriptures such as these: Isaiah 30:22, Luke 14:8, and 1 Corinthians 10:5-15. They should strive to live in accordance with these verses, learning to detest idols and all creatures to the extent that they become idols to them.
We will now continue to explore the branches of this Commandment, which serves as a key to all the rest. Since God's Sovereignty is emphasized here, every sin can be traced back to it, as each is a disobedience to this Sovereign God. We will first identify some general ways in which this commandment is broken, then delve into specific instances.
More broadly, this commandment is broken in three ways, as has been previously stated:
By detracting from God that which is His due. Any contempt of Him, disobedience to Him, or harm to His infinite attributes, such as denying His omnipotence, omniscience, infinity, or providence to any degree, are violations of this Commandment. God is wronged when He does not receive in all ways what is rightfully His.
By attributing to God what does not align with His absolute perfection, purity, and holiness, such as claiming He can do wrong, change, not keep His promises, or not govern the world wisely. Suggesting He has any physical form or can be comprehended also infringes upon this Commandment.
- When what is due to God, such as faith, hope, love, and fear, is given to creatures, whether literally to idols, or to humans, saints, angels, ordinances (like the sacraments), stars, herbs, gold, physicians, etc. This occurs when too much importance is placed on these entities or when anything not suitable to them is ascribed to them. As a result, practices such as witchcraft, charming, covetousness, judicial astrology, etc., are rebuked, as they draw people's hearts away from the living God.
If one asks, "Can't some things in the world be loved, and can't some confidence be placed in people, means, etc.?" I respond, love can indeed be directed towards some things, and is naturally called for in certain situations. However, there are stipulations:
- This love should not be unconditional, but rather subordinate to God. It should not be for the things themselves, but out of obedience to God, in recognition of their potential usefulness in helping us honor Him, and as they are His gifts.
- We should not excessively love or rely on these things, but instead, out of love for God, we should be prepared to relinquish them, or even hate them, as Christ mentions in relation to father and mother in Luke 14:26.
Additionally, a certain level of confidence can indeed be given to some things, but with several conditions:
- This confidence should not be unconditional or for the things themselves.
- It should not always be given, nor in all circumstances.
- However, this confidence must be subordinate to God's decree.
- It must come with dependence on His blessing for making these means effective. Hence, we may expect health from food, drink, medicine, etc., as they are considered as means contributing to such an end, yet the Lord alone should be our ultimate reliance.
- There may be comparative confidence, whereby we lean more on one means than another, like favoring a skilled physician over an unskilled one, or relying more on an army to defeat an enemy than when it's absent. This is because this confidence is placed in some external entity and does not concern salvation. It merely compares means among themselves, as they are ordinarily utilized by God to achieve these ends; however, in this scenario, the means themselves are not the ultimate object of confidence.
Next, we need to consider that this Commandment may be violated in all these ways, in four respects.
In Doctrine: This occurs when individuals uphold beliefs that dishonor God or attribute His due to creations, and then proceed to teach these beliefs, as in Matthew 5:33-38.
By Opinion or Judgment: Even if individuals do not openly express or promote such beliefs, they are guilty if they harbor such thoughts or beliefs in their hearts, as per Psalm 14:1.
In Imaginations: Even if such beliefs do not solidify into firm judgments, they may still infiltrate our imaginations. In such cases, any loose or inappropriate thoughts about God, or any misperceptions that degrade His honor, are entertained, as mentioned in Psalm 50:21 and Acts 17:29.
In Practice: This occurs when individuals live as if there were no God, as described in Psalm 36:1, as if He were not all-knowing, just, etc. Such individuals, regardless of their outward profession, are essentially denying God, as per Titus 1:16. All irreverent individuals who lead loose lives are guilty in this respect, as are formal hypocrites who rely merely on the appearance of religious duties.
In the third place, we should consider that this commandment, in its full extent, condemns the following:
- All gross idolaters of any sort, commonly referred to as heathens.
- Jews who do not worship the true God in His Son, Jesus Christ.
- All heretics who deny the divinity of any of the Persons, such as Sabellians, who perceive only one Person; Arians, who see Christ as a created God; Photinians, who see Him as purely human; and all those who propose a plurality of Gods, or diminish the divine attributes, or attribute God's due to saints in worship or invocation. Furthermore, anyone who contradicts any truth or upholds any error is included here, as they thereby implicate God and His Word, and wrong Him who owns no such thing. This category could also include all those who are ignorant of God.
- All profane individuals, whether they are atheists in heart or in practice. Those who are disobedient are essentially denying God and not giving Him His due, which is obedience, regardless of their verbal profession about Him.
- All hypocrites, who only offer Him superficial service and whose obedience is not sincere and perfect before Him.
- All those who conspire with the Devil, who consult him or who depart from God's way to gain knowledge in an unlawful way. This involves meddling with God's secrets when He has not revealed them, relying on God's enemy, the Devil, for revealing such things, and using an unwarranted means, which has no promised blessing; therefore, it cannot be used as a means subordinate to God.
- All charming through words, herbs, or other means that God has not appointed for that purpose, or which lack natural and physical efficacy to produce the desired effect. This includes seeking health from witches, relying on certain words repeated a certain number of times, or while fasting, or walking backwards, etc. Any undue emphasis on these or similar circumstances is included here.
- All spells, fear of outcomes, and use of superstitious means to prevent these outcomes, such as placing pieces of timber at doors, carrying a Bible purely as a charm without using it, or considering certain days and times as unlucky and unfortunate. All these practices divert people's attention from God to some other thing. This category includes all divination by lots, stars, rods, or any other unwarranted method to discover secrets or predict the future, which is God's prerogative as per Isaiah 41. When the method used lacks efficacy or reason, the effect must be expected either from God or the Devil. But when God has neither naturally imbued the method with efficacy nor warranted it by His revealed will, it is deemed unacceptable.
Fourthly, the violations of this commandment can be understood from the duties that are required in it, such as Faith, Love, Obedience, Hope, Fear, Knowledge, and so on. Generally, we may fall short in these ways:
- When we lack these virtues or fail to perform the required duties.
- When they are insincere or not genuine; as when our humility is not authentic, or our prayers are not sincere, but only for show.
- When they are deficient, as in the extent of Knowledge, Faith, etc., that we should possess.
- When they devolve, as when knowledge turns into curiosity, faith into presumption, hope into vain confidence, and fear into disbelief and anxiety.
Through this, we can see how frequently this commandment is violated.
- To better comprehend the breaches of this commandment, we should first consider God's Excellence and Attributes, and see how we sin against all these. As stated in Colossians 1:10, we should "walk worthy of the Lord". It's crucial to note here that His infinite Wisdom is offended when we don't submit to Him or take direction from Him. His Power is wronged when we do not employ Him, His Grace when we do not trust Him or misuse it for licentiousness. His Omniscience is insulted when we wish He didn't see certain things, when we hide them from others, and when we don't fear Him, merely going through the motions in His service. Similarly, His Justice is violated when we expect mercy without the use of a Sacrifice, when we do not fear His threats, when we do not dread sin, but instead risk His wrath. The same can be said for all His other Attributes, which are all transgressed either by ignorance, by the omission of something they require, or by the commission of something that is beneath them.
Consider God in His relations to us and how frequently He is sinned against in these roles. As a Father, how is His kindness abused, and is He not revered as the Creator from whom we have our being? Indeed, He is resisted and we do not live for Him from whom and through whom we live. He is a Spouse, yet we stray from Him, proving unfaithful in all our commitments to Him. He is a Redeemer of His people, a Master and Lord of all, but how much fear, love, and obedience does He receive from us, notwithstanding all these relationships?
Contemplate God's works for us, around us, and towards us, in terms of Creation, Providence, and Redemption. In addition to His specific dispensations of both Mercies and Judgments, all of which require something fitting from us. Yet, each one of them is disdained in more ways than one - by attributing either good or evil to chance, luck, or fortune, by being ungrateful to Him, and by misusing what He provides. And also by not studying these works, so as to admire and love Him who is the Worker.
Consider our obligation to God in all aspects of our Covenant with Him, sealed by Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Surely, we should strive to be in line with all these Covenant-relationships and to fulfill these obligations. But alas, how shamefully we fall short in fulfilling them all.
Consider His revealed Will in His Word, and see how greatly we fall short in carrying it out.
Lastly, consider the extent of our efforts to use the means that may bring us closer to God and to avoid those things that pull us away from Him, such as sinful alliances, bad company, superficial and unsound books, unnecessary travels to unfamiliar places, and so on. All of these, and anything else that distracts our hearts from God, are violations of this commandment.
Next, we will delve more specifically into some clear violations that run contrary to the main and central purpose of this commandment.
Firstly, Ignorance is a direct violation; for the commandment requires us to know Him, as referenced in 1 Cor. 2:8-9. If He is not known, no other duty can be properly performed, as the knowledge of God is the foundation of all duties.
For clarification, consider that some things about God are hidden from us, while others are revealed to us. We cannot know those things which are kept from us. And firstly, they are either such that we cannot perceive now because they are incomprehensible in themselves, such as God's infinite Nature and Attributes. These, as they are in themselves, cannot be comprehensibly conceived, not even in Heaven. But while we are on Earth, we perceive but dimly, as through a glass, and our knowledge of Him is more akin to faith than sight. Or they are such things that are conceivable, but God has not chosen to reveal them to humans, such as when He will end the world, when He will take each person from this life, who are specifically chosen, etc. To be ignorant of these is not a sin, it is a duty not to seek to know them, indeed, curiosity in these matters is sinful. Ignorance here is referred to as a Nescience rather than Ignorance, which implies a lack of knowledge that people ought to have. Secondly, these things about God are such that not only may they be known in themselves, but also we should know them because they are revealed to us; ignorance of these is sinful. For instance:
- It is a non-conformity to that knowledge and holiness after which God created us.
- It is a result of original sin.
- It is a cause of many sins.
- It is a non-conformity to the Law, which requires us to know and acknowledge God as He has revealed Himself to us; and that in His Essence, in the Trinity of Persons, in His Attributes, Covenants, works of Creation and Redemption, and in His Relations to us. And that we should know Him in such a way that we may thereby also know ourselves. And this is that great duty called for in this commandment, that we may know Him, and His will.
Further, this ignorance, as it pertains to things we ought to know, may be viewed as threefold, according to the diversity of its causes.
There is a natural ignorance, which is the product of our inherent corruption and blindness. This has seized people's memories and judgments and, as they believe, incapacitates them to learn. Indeed, it does so in terms of the spiritual and salvific understanding of God's matters, until the eyes of the mind are opened by the power of Grace.
There is a willful ignorance, when individuals have the abilities, means, and opportunities to attain knowledge, yet they choose not to know, but disregard and scorn the means, which often draws a judicial blindness along with it.
There is a lazy ignorance, whereby some people do not deliberately reject the means of knowledge, yet are so neglectful that they do not actively strive for the attainment of knowledge. Now, although there is a difference among these, even the least of them is sinful and will not entirely absolve, being a product of original sin (at best) sustained by our own neglect of such means as might have more effectively removed it. Thus, a dull wit or weak memory can no more simply excuse than other gross non-conformities to the Law in our natures (which appear more in some than in others) that follow upon original sin.
In summary, individuals may be guilty of breaching this Law in three ways, in terms of ignorance.
In terms of the subject matter of their ignorance, this can be lesser or greater, depending on how much less or more is known about what we should understand concerning God, and what He has disclosed. This is particularly true for substantial matters that are more crucial to be known. There is a substantial difference between these and other things, which do not concern God as directly, such as chronological queries, some prophecies, cases, etc., which are nonetheless recorded in Scripture.
They might be guilty of lesser or more ignorance regarding the degree; thus, some individuals are entirely ignorant, others are merely uncertain, and not solidified in their understanding of God's truths, yet they do not have contrary impressions of these matters as others do.
There are various kinds of ignorance in people, some are guilty of willful ignorance, some are negligent, and some (even the best among us) are struggling with the remnant of natural blindness, who are nonetheless not negligent.
If the question is whether ignorance can excuse an individual, and to what extent it excuses. Ans. 1. There is no ignorance (properly so-called) that wholly excuses, pro toto, as it is inherently sinful, and individuals are obligated to discern what is sinful and what is not. Moreover, individuals can never act out of faith in ignorance, not knowing if what they are doing is inherently sinful or lawful. This is understood in terms of ignorantia juris, not ignorantia facti, or ignorance of the law, not ignorance of the fact (as it is called). For individuals can sometimes be ignorant of the latter and yet be innocent, such as when one is chopping with an axe, and it slips off the handle, etc. But in terms of the law, there is no invincible ignorance that can excuse anyone for not knowing God's intent, because they are obligated to know it.
Ignorance that is willfully maintained with neglect of means that might rectify it, is far from providing an excuse; rather, it exacerbates the faults caused by it because two faults coincide in that case. 1. Ignorance. 2. Another sin generated by it.
Natural ignorance, or ignorance arising from a lack of resources or less opportunity to learn, although not fully excusing, does provide a partial excuse. Hence it is said, those who do not know the Master's will shall receive fewer stripes; yet, Corazin, Bethsaida, and other places, having an abundance of means, shall not be sheltered under that excuse in the least, Matthew 11:22, 23, 24.
In certain situations, we need to distinguish between sinning ex ignorantia, out of ignorance, and sinning ignoranter, ignorantly. A person may do something out of ignorance (as Paul persecuted the Church) that they would not have done had they known it; it was not malice but ignorance that drove Paul to that sin of persecution, this partially excuses. However, to do something ignorantly is when a person is more immediately the cause of their own ignorance, as when, through drunkenness, passion, hatred, malice, etc., a person is so blinded and prejudiced that they cannot discern what is duty and what is sin. Thus, some of the Pharisees were, who could have recognized that Christ was God, and to be acknowledged as such, but prejudice hindered it. Therefore, a sin considered in itself may be less, but when considered more completely, will be found a far greater guilt; as suppose a person in drunkenness swears, commits adultery, or in passion commits murder, the murder or adultery considered in themselves, as done in drunkenness, or passion, are lesser than when done in sobriety; or deliberately. Yet these sins, when fully considered, make the person more guilty, because they have to answer for both murder and drunkenness, or murder and passion, which drunkenness or passion they brought upon themselves by their lack of vigilance, and all the effects that follow upon these are to be imputed to them, both as the actor and instigator of that which is the occasion, or rather the cause of them. Thus, you see in how many ways ignorance breaches this Commandment.
- We will provide examples of how the commandment is broken in what opposes faith or confidence that flows from faith. This includes unbelief, diffidence, temerity, and tempting of God, which stem from unbelief and are contrary to faith. The infidelity of pagans and Jews, as well as the atheism of those who do not believe in the Word, are examples of this sin. Heretics who misuse the Word and apostates who deviate from the truth and oppose it are also guilty of this sin. Additionally, those who receive the Word in vain and do not rely on it, despite God's numerous invitations, make God a liar, despise Him, and reject His offers, indicating that they do not want Him to reign over them.
Anxiety regarding God's providence and distrust or diffidence regarding His promises are additional examples of the sin that questions the fulfillment of promises due to concerns about the Promiser's weakness or the methods used to bring about the achievement. Temerity, or tempting God, is also against confidence. This occurs when someone tries or attempts something without God's permission, which is required for any endeavor to be lawful. Questioning God's faithfulness is a sin of diffidence, while temerity offends His wisdom by failing to use the means He has prescribed and attempting to attain the goal by one's own means.
Dissembling the truth, fainting in the profession of faith, particularly in the case of confession, and behaving in a fearful, pusillanimous, and cowardly manner, are all contrary to faith and its profession. These actions dishonor God, and by appearing to attach little or no importance to the beliefs, they tempt others to believe that they do not truly believe what they profess to believe.
- We may illustrate the violation of this Commandment in what opposes Hope, namely, Despair and Presumption, or vain Confidence; and because every virtue has many opposite vices, it is easy to fall short in obeying this Commandment. Despair undermines many virtues; it is twofold, either total from lack of Faith, or partial from weakness of Faith. There is also a holy Despair and Diffidence that is good, as mentioned in Ecclesiastes 2:20, which is when we despair in ourselves, or from anything in ourselves or in the world to attain happiness, or what is promised. However, that is not what is meant here, for it is not absolute despairing, but such that still has a reservation with it: "If he helps me not," which implies hope. Presumption runs on the other extreme, expecting what is promised without taking God's way to attain it. It differs from true Confidence, which rests peacefully and boldly on God's Word and expects the promised thing in His way. The fault of Presumption is not that it accounts God's mercy too great or expects too much from Him, but that it accounts Him to have no justice and has no respect for His Holiness and Greatness. Similarly, Despair does not fall short in attributing too much Justice to Him, but in making it incompatible with His Mercy and Promises and extending sin, wants, and unworthiness beyond His mercy and help, as Judas and Cain did.
To identify the breaches of this Commandment related to love, consider the opposites such as lukewarmness, coldness of love, self-love, excessive love for creatures, hatred of God, and little reverence for Him due to prohibition of what they love and punishment for sin. It is impossible for individuals to serve two masters, such as sin and God, and thus one must love the other and hate the other. Love for sin and hatred for God appear ordinary, seen through a lack of zeal for Him and little reverence of Him.
Consider the opposites to Fear and Reverence, and there you will find carnal security and vain confidence in it, obstinacy, little trembling at God's Word, being unaffected by His judgments, rashness, and irreverence in His Service. A general fear is required in all our walk, while a peculiar fear is needed in the Ordinances of His Worship. The opposite of this is that carnal fear and anxiety, which is commonly called servile and slavish fear, and the fear of man, which brings a snare.
Breaches of this Commandment can also be identified by considering what is contrary to the obedience we owe to God as our God. Internal and external obedience is comprehended in this, where we are to give away ourselves and the use of all our faculties and members wholly for the Glory of God and to Him only. This requires complete practice in the inward bent of the will and heart and all external parts. By seriously pondering this, individuals may find this Commandment broken often.
Impatience, which is opposite to the patience and submission owed to God in His ways and Dispensations, is a special breach of this Commandment. Impatience reveals itself in various ways such as fretting at events, not submitting cheerfully to God's way, wishing things had fallen out differently, limiting God, and prescribing to Him. Additionally, not behaving oneself thankfully for what He does, even when His Dispensations are cross and afflicting, is also impatience.
- This Commandment is broken by many sins that are opposite to the adoration and high esteem that we should have for God in our hearts. He ought to have the throne and be exalted in our minds and affections. However, how many are there that go many days without having a single serious thought of him or being taken up with him or marveling at him and his ways with sinners, etc.?
Lastly, when invocation and prayer are neglected, this Commandment is broken. When we do not acknowledge him in everything by calling upon him, and particularly when internal prayer through frequent ejaculations to God (as Nehemiah 2:4) is neglected, we break this Commandment.
If we were to extend all of these to ourselves and apply them in thoughts, words, and deeds according to all the former general rules, how guilty would we be found in reference to his attributes, relations to us, and works for us? As these hold him forth to be worshipped as such, when that is slighted or neglected, it cannot help but infer great guilt, especially when his due is not given by such as we are to such as he is. It makes us exceedingly guilty. Although the same thing is often mentioned, it is under a different consideration, for as one thing may break more than one Commandment, so may one thing break one and the same Commandment in various ways by opposing or spoiling different graces and duties.
Source: The law unsealed: or, A practical exposition of the Ten Commandments (modernized)