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§ 4. The First Commandment.

The first commandment is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” I, that is, the person whose name, and nature, and whose relation to his people are given in the preceding words, sad I only, shall be recognized by you as God.

This command, therefore, includes, first, the injunction to recognize Jehovah as the true God. As this recognition must be intelligent and sincere, it includes, —

1. Knowledge. We must know who, or what Jehovah is. This 278implies a knowledge of his attributes, of his relation to the world as its creator, preserver, and governor, and especially his relation to his rational creatures and to his own chosen people. This of course involves a knowledge of our relation to Him as dependent and responsible creatures and as the objects of his redeeming love.

2. Faith. We must believe that God is, and that He is what He declares Himself to be; and that we are his creatures and his children.

3. Confession. It is not enough that we secretly in our hearts recognize Jehovah as the true God; we must openly and under all circumstances and despite of all opposition, whether from magistrates or from philosophers, avow our faith in Him as the only living and true God. This confession must be made, not only by the avowal of the lips as when we repeat the Creed, but by all appropriate acts of worship in public and private, by praise, prayer, and thanksgiving.

4. As the law is spiritual, not only as bearing the impress of the Spirit, and, therefore, holy, just, and good, but also as taking cognizance of the inward as well as of the outward life, of the thoughts and feelings as well as of external acts, this recognition of Jehovah as our God includes the exercise towards Him of all the religious affections; of love, fear, reverence, gratitude, submission, and devotion. And as this is not an occasional duty to be performed at certain times and places, but one of perpetual obligation, a habitual state of mind is the thing required. The recognition of Jehovah as our God involves a constant sense of his presence, of his majesty, of his goodness, and of his providence, and of our dependence, responsibility, and obligation. We are to have God always before our eyes; to walk and live with Him, having a constant reference to his will in the conduct of our inward and outward life; recognizing continually his hand in everything that befalls us, submitting to all his chastisements and grateful for all his mercies.

The second or negative aspect of the command is the condemnation of the failure to recognize Jehovah as the true God; failing to believe in his existence and attributes, in his government and authority; failing to confess him before men; and failing to render him the inward reverence and the outward homage which are his due, that is, the first commandment forbids Atheism whether theoretical or practical. It moreover forbids the recognition of any other than Jehovah as God. This includes the prohibition of ascribing to any other being divine attributes 279rendering to any creature the homage or obedience due to God alone; or exercising towards any other person or object those feelings of love, confidence, and submission which belong of right only to God.

It is, therefore, a violation of this commandment either to fail in the full and sincere recognition of God as God, or to give to any creature the place in our confidence and love due to God alone.

This the Chief of all the Commandments.

The duty enjoined in this commandment is the highest duty of man. It is proved to be so in the estimation of God by the express declaration of Christ. When asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law,” He answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt. xxii. 37, 38.) It is so also in the sight of reason. That infinite excellence should be reverenced; that He who is the author of our being and giver of all our mercies; on whom we are absolutely dependent; to whom we are responsible; who is the rightful possessor of our souls and bodies; and whose will is the highest rule of duty, should be duly recognized by his creatures, from the nature of the case must be the highest duty of all rational beings. It is, moreover, the first and greatest of the commandments if measured by the influence which obedience to its injunction has upon the soul itself. It places the creature in its proper relation to its Creator on which its own excellence and well-being depend. It purifies, ennobles, and exalts the soul. It calls into exercise all the higher and nobler attributes of our nature; and assimilates man to the angels who surround the throne of God in heaven. The preeminence of this commandment is further evident from the fact that religion, or the duty we owe to God, is the foundation of morality. Without the former, the latter cannot exist. This is plain, (1.) From the nature of the case. Morality is the conformity of an agent’s character and conduct to the moral law. But the moral law is the revealed will of God. If there be no God, there is no moral law; and if a man does not acknowledge or recognize God, there is no higher law than his own reason to which he can feel any obligation to be conformed. (2.) It is a principle of our nature that if a man disregard a higher obligation, he will not be controlled by a lower. This principle was recognized by our Lord when He said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is 280unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.” (Luke xvi. 10.) ‘This involves the converse: He that is unfaithful in much, is unfaithful in that which is least. (3.) It is the testimony of experience that where religion has lost its hold on the minds of the people, there the moral law is trampled under foot. The criminal and dangerous class in every community consists of those who have no fear of God before their eyes. (4.) It is the secret conviction of every man that his duty to God is his highest duty, as is evinced by the fact that the charge of atheism is one from which the human soul instinctively recoils. It is felt to be a charge of the utter degradation, or of the deadness of all that is highest and noblest in the nature of man. (5.) The most decisive and solemn evidence of this truth, however, is to be found in the revealed purpose of God to forsake those who forsake Him; to give up to the unconstrained control of their evil passions, those who cast off their allegiance to Him. The Apostle says of the heathen world that it was “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, . . . . God gave them up unto vile affections.” (Rom. i. 21, 26.) And again in ver. 28, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” Such are the natural, the actual, the inevitable, and the judicially ordained effects of men’s refusing to retain God in their knowledge.

Notwithstanding all this we see multitudes of men of whom it may be said that God is not in all their thoughts. They never think of Him. They do not recognize his providence. They do not refer to his will as a rule of conduct. They do not feel their responsibility to Him for what they think or do. They do not worship Him, nor thank Him for their mercies. They are without God in the world. Yet they think well of themselves. They are not aware of the dreadful guilt involved in thus forgetting God, in habitually failing to discharge the first and highest duty that rests on rational creatures. Self-respect or regard to public opinion often renders such men decorous in their lives. But they are really dead while they live; and they have no security against the powers of darkness. It is painful also to see that scientific 281men and philosophers so often endeavour to invalidate the arguments for the existence of God, and advance opinions inconsistent with Theism; arguing, as they in many cases do, to prove either that there is no evidence of the existence of any power in the universe other than of physical force, or that no knowledge, consciousness, or voluntary action can be predicated of an infinite Being. This is done in apparent unconsciousness that they are undermining the foundations of all religion and morality; or that they are exhibiting a state of mind which the Scriptures pronounce worthy of reprobation.

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