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Exodus 20:1-17 - Homiletics

The ten commandments collectivety.

The ten commandments form a summary of our main duties towards God, and towards man. They stand out from the rest of the Old Testament in a remarkable way.

1 . They were uttered audibly by a voice which thousands heard—a voice which is called that of God himself ( Deuteronomy 5:26 ) and which filled those who heard it with a terrible fear ( Exodus 20:19 ).

2 . They were the only direct utterance ever made by God to man under the Old Covenant.

3 . They were not merely uttered by God but written by him, inscribed in some marvellous way by the finger of God on the two tables of testimony ( Exodus 31:18 ; Deuteronomy 4:13 ).

4 . They have the additional testimony to their primary importance, that our Lord himself appealed to them as laying down that which men must do to inherit eternal life ( Matthew 19:18 , Matthew 19:19 ). We may observe of them collectively—

I. THAT THEY ARE ALL - EMBRACING . They include our obligations to both God and man; they are both prohibitive and directive; they reach to the heart as well as to the outward life; they comprise both moral and positive precepts. According to the division adopted by the English Church, and by the reformed churches generally, the first four lay down our duty to our Maker, the last six our duty to our fellow men. Mostly they are prohibitive; but this is not the case with the fourth and fifth. The generality are concerned with acts, but words form the subject matter of the third; and both the tenth and the fifth deal with thoughts. As the moral is much more important than the positive, they are naturally in the main moral; but, to show that the Positive is an essential element in religion, they are also partly Positive-no moral ground being assignable for the consecration of one day in seven, rather than one in eight or six, much less for the definite selection of " the seventh day" as the one to be kept holy.

II. THAT THEY ARE SYSTEMATIC , BOTH IN MATTER AND ARRANGEMENT . The Decalogue takes as its basis the fact that all our duties are owed either to God or man. It regards our duties to God as the more important, and therefore places them first. The duties consist:

1 . In acknowledging his existence and unity, and in "having him" for our God and none other (first commandment);

2 . In conceiving aright of his incorporeity and spirituality, and worshipping him as a Spirit, in spirit and in truth (second commandment);

3 . In reverencing his holy Name, and avoiding the profane use of it (third commandment); and,

4 . In setting apart for his worship some stated portion of our time, since otherwise we shall be sure to neglect it (fourth commandment). Our duties towards our fellow men are more complicated. First, there is a special relation in which we stand towards those who bring us into the world and support us during our early years, involving peculiar duties to them, analogous in part to those which we owe to God, and so rightly following upon the summary of our Divine duties (fifth commandment). Next, with respect to men in general, we owe it them to abstain from injuring them in deed, word, or thought. In deed we may injure their person, their honour, and their property, which we are consequently forbidden to do in the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth commandments. In word, we injure our neighbour especially by false witness, public or private, both of which are forbidden in the ninth commandment. We injure him in thought, finally, when we covet what is his; hence the tenth commandment.

III. THAT THEY ARE THE FIRST GERMS OUT OF WHICH THE WHOLE OF THE MORAL LAW MAY BE ENVOLVED . The Decalogue is a collection of elementary moral truths. Its predominantly negative form is indicative of this, since abstaining from evil is the first step on the road to virtue. Each command asserts a principle; and the principle is in every case capable of being worked out to a thousand remote consequences. The letter may be narrow; but the spirit of the commandment is in every case "exceeding broach" This will appear, more clearly, in the ensuing section, in which the ten commandments will be considered severally.

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