What has the church taught about the Ten Commandments? 5

In the last week or so, we’ve been focusing on Perry Noble’s teaching on the Ten Commandments, but perhaps this is an opportune time to remind ourselves what the church has taught through the centuries about the Commandments. I’ll kick it off with a few quotes, but please use the comments to add more (with links to the original material if possible), some of which I’ll copy into the main post.

4171752038_a6506c9261_zNote: This isn’t about Noble or me, and I’m not here asserting that we disagree over any the following statements. This is intended as an encouragement to the body of Christ by showing the remarkable unity that has characterized the church’s teachings about the commandments over the centuries.

Augustine (412)

The law, indeed, by issuing its commands and threats, and by justifying no man, sufficiently shows that it is by God’s gift, through the help of the Spirit, that a man is justified…. Our will is by the law shown to be weak, that grace may heal its infirmity. (Of the Spirit and the Letter)

It is necessary that we should be led by the fear of God to seek the knowledge of His will, what He commands us to desire and what to avoid…. Next it is necessary to have our hearts subdued by piety, and not to run in the face of Holy Scripture, whether when understood it strikes at some of our sins, or, when not understood, we feel as if we could be wiser and give better commands ourselves. (On Christian Doctrine. Book 2, Ch 7.)

Martin Luther (1529)

God threatens to punish all that transgress these commandments. Therefore we should dread His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all that keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him, and gladly do [zealously and diligently order our whole life] according to His commandments. (Small Catechism)

Now, there is comprehended in these words (as said before) both an angry word of threatening and a friendly promise to terrify and warn us, and, moreover to induce and encourage us to receive and highly esteem His Word as a matter of divine earnestness, because He Himself declares how much He is concerned about it, and how rigidly He will enforce it, namely, that He will horribly and terribly punish all who despise and transgress His commandments; and again, how richly He will reward, bless, and do all good to those who hold them in high esteem, and gladly do and live according to them. Thus He demands that all our works proceed from a heart which fears and regards God alone, and from such fear avoids everything that is contrary to His will, lest it should move Him to wrath; and, on the other hand, also trusts in Him alone, and from love to Him does all He wishes, because he speaks to us as friendly as a father, and offers us all grace and every good. (Large Catechism)

John Calvin (1559)

In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds. But in Christ his face shines, full of grace and gentleness, even upon us poor and unworthy sinners….

[In Psalm 119, David] lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter. For what would be less lovable than the law if, with importuning and threatening alone, it troubled souls through fear, and distressed them through fright? David especially shows that in the law he apprehended the Mediator, without whom there is no delight or sweetness….

The law is not now acting toward us as a rigorous enforcement officer who is not satisfied unless the requirements are met. But in this perfection to which it exhorts us, the law points out the goal toward which throughout life we are to strive. (Institutes, II.VII.8, 12, 13)

Second Helvetic Confession (1562)

We teach that this law was not given to men that they might be justified by keeping it, but that rather from what it teaches we may know (our) weakness, sin and condemnation, and, despairing of our strength, might be converted to Christ in faith. (XII)

Thirty-Nine Articles (1563)

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral. (Of the Old Testament)

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

Q3. How do you come to know your misery?

A. The law of God tells me.

Q9. But doesn’t God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?

A. No, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law. They, however, provoked by the devil, in willful disobedience, robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.

Q10. Does God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

A. Certainly not. God is terribly angry with the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit.

As a just judge, God will punish them both now and in eternity, having declared: “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”

Q11. But isn’t God also merciful?

A. God is certainly merciful, but also just. God’s justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty—eternal punishment of body and soul. (Part 1: Misery)

Q15. What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?

A. One who is a true and righteous human, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (XIX, V)

Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)

The moral law does for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither does Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (XIX, V)

Johnathan Edwards (1741)

They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is, John 8:23. “Ye are from beneath:” And thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God’s word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him….

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God…. Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God)

Charles Spurgeon (1886)

The law of the ten commandments is strictly just; it is such a law as a man might make for himself if he studied his own best interests, and had wisdom enough to frame it aright. It is a perfect law, in which the interests of God and man are both studied; it is not a partial law, but impartial, complete, and covering all the circumstances of life. You could not take away one command out of the ten without spoiling both tables of the law, and you could not add another command without being guilty of making a superfluity. The law is holy, and just, and good; it is like the God who made it, it is a perfect law. Then, surely, it ought to have been kept. When men revolt against unjust laws, they are to be commended; but when a law is admitted to be perfect, then disobedience to it is an act of exceeding guilt….

Alas! notwithstanding all these solemn sanctions of the ancient covenant, men did not keep it. The promise, “This do, and thou shalt live,” never produced any doing that was worthy to be rewarded with life; and the threatening, “Do this, and thou shalt die,” never kept any man back from daringly venturing into the wrong road which leadeth unto death. The fact is, that the covenant of works, if it be looked upon as a way of safety, is a total failure. No man ever persevered in it unto the end, and no man ever attained unto life by keeping it. (God’s Law in Man’s Heart, HT The Resurgence)

By the works of the law none can be justified, for by that law we are all condemned. Read the Ten Commandments, and pause at each one, and confess that you have broken it either in thought, or word, or deed. Remember that by a glance we may commit adultery, by a thought we may be guilty of murder, by a desire we may steal. Sin is any want of conformity to perfect holiness, and that want of conformity is justly chargeable upon every one of us. Yet the Lord does not, under the gospel dispensation, deal with us according to law. He does not now sit on the throne of judgment, but he looks down upon us from the throne of grace. (The Blood of Sprinkling.)

5 thoughts on “What has the church taught about the Ten Commandments?

  1. Kendra Jan 10, 2015 1:26 pm

    Here are the Maker’s instructions, and it’s time to give them careful attention. In a culture that glorifies self and disregards truth, God’s Word speaks clearly into every area of our lives. He does not offer us what we want to hear, but He shows us what we need most of all. The Ten Commandments do not provide us with a ladder to climb to reach acceptance with God. Instead, they are a mirror that exposes our sin and sends us to Christ as Savior. These commandments are the pathway for the Christian to enjoy the fullness and freedom that our Heavenly Father intends.

    -Alistair Begg, Pathway to Freedom


  2. Beth Saathoff Jan 10, 2015 9:59 pm

    “It is therefore abundantly clear that the Ten Commandments were never given to men or or Israel as a means of salvation, i.e., being saved through obeying them. They were not given in statutory form till after man had become a sinner, and his nature so corrupted that he had neither ability nor desire to keep them. The Law was not a way of life, but a rule of conduct. The writing of the Ten Commandments on tables of stone long after man had become a fallen being, was to show that God’s claims upon His creatures had not been cancelled, any more than has the right of a creditor to collect though the debtor be unable to pay. Whether unfallen, or fallen, or saved, or glorified, it ever remains true that man ought to love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself. While ever the distinction between right and wrong holds good, man is under obligation to keep God’s Law.”

    ~A.W. Pink from Gleanings in Exodus

  3. A Neighbor Jan 11, 2015 8:44 am


    Came across these. Just a “few.” Wish he had left it with just the quotes. He ends with one by Hitler that made me choke.

    • James Duncan Jan 11, 2015 3:19 pm

      Thanks, Neighbor. These are good, even the Hitler one. (For readers wary of following the link, the Hitler quote shows that he wanted to be rid of the Ten Commandments.)

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