A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Conclusion of the Ten Commandments

This is part 12 of 13 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Large Catechism

 

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
    who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever;
    his horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
    he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
    the desire of the wicked will perish!

(Psalm 112)

 

What Does God Say of All These Commandments?

Answer.

He says thus (Exod. 20:5f): I the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

What does this mean?–Answer.

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)

 

God hath giv’n us all these commands
That thou thy sin, O child of man,
Might know, and also well perceive
How unto God man should live.
Kyrieleis!

Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, for we
A Mediator have in Thee.
With works we’d perish from the path;
They merit but endless wrath.
Kyrieleis! (TLH 287/LSB 581)

 

Conclusion of the Ten Commandments.

311] Thus we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside of the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the eyes of the world. 312] Let us see now what our great saints can boast of their spiritual orders and their great and grievous works which they have invented and set up, while they let these pass, as though they were far too insignificant, or had long ago been perfectly fulfilled.

313] I am of opinion, indeed, that here one will find his hands full, [and will have enough] to do to observe these, namely, meekness, patience, and love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, etc., and what such virtues imply. But such works are not of value and make no display in the eyes of the world; for they are not peculiar and conceited works, and restricted to particular times, places, rites, and customs, but are common, every-day domestic works which one neighbor can practise toward another; therefore they are not of high esteem.

314] But the other works cause people to open their eyes and ears wide, and men aid to this effect by the great display, expense, and magnificent buildings with which they adorn them, so that everything shines and glitters. There they waft incense, they sing and ring bells, they light tapers and candles, so that nothing else can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands there in a surplice embroidered with gilt, or a layman continues all day upon his knees in church, that is regarded as a most precious work which no one can sufficiently praise. But when a poor girl tends a little child and faithfully does what she is told, that is considered nothing; for else what should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?

315] But see, is not that a cursed presumption of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach, pretending (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but that theirs is for saints and perfect ones? 316] And the miserable blind people do not see that no man can get so far as to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear), by which that [power and strength to keep the commandments] is sought and prayed for and received continually. Therefore all their boasting amounts to as much as if I boasted and said: To be sure, I have not a penny to make payment with, but I confidently undertake to pay ten florins.

317] All this I say and urge in order that men might become rid of the sad misuse which has taken such deep root and still cleaves to everybody, and in all estates upon earth become used to looking hither only, and to being concerned about these matters. For it will be a long time before they will produce a doctrine or estates equal to the Ten Commandments, because they are so high that no one can attain to them by human power; and whoever does attain to them is a heavenly, angelic man, far above all holiness of the world. 318] Only occupy yourself with them, and try your best, apply all power and ability, and you will find so much to do that you will neither seek nor esteem any other work or holiness.

The Ten Commandments are God’s good will and order for our lives.  So many works exist in these commandments that we would never exhaust them (Galatians 5:16-26).  These works are not glorious to the world but are rather mundane and ordinary.  Instead the works the world praises are filled with outward glory and honor.  In them, man tries to show his righteousness before other men.  Meanwhile, the simple works of the Ten Commandments are trodden underfoot and ignored.  However, those who attempt to invent something beyond the Ten Commandments do so in vain.  Their manufactured works are not pleasing to God, only those works ordained by God and done in faith are pleasing to Him (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Let us be blunt.  We can never keep these Commandments.  They show us the depth of our sin.  Thus the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer are needed to aid us.  In them lie the teaching and power which forgives our sins and allows us to even begin to keep these commandments, namely the Gospel (1 John 4:7-21).  It is the Gospel that justifies us and fuels good works, not the Law.  The Law rather gives shape to our works, where the Gospel gives the power to do them.  The Law’s clear guide shows us what our Lord would have us do.  We do not have to guess or wonder, He graciously tells us what good works are in no uncertain terms.

We should strive to keep the Ten Commandments for they are God’s perfect and good will for us. However, we should never think that any human aside from Christ could ever keep them perfectly.  Part of our sanctified life in Christ is that we cooperate with the Holy Spirit and begin to keep the works of the Law.  However, this cooperation with the Holy Spirit does not justify us.  If we put our trust in our outward works then we are yet again on the Ladder of Moralism.

319] Let this be sufficient concerning the first part of the common Christian doctrine, both for teaching and urging what is necessary. In conclusion, however, we must repeat the text which belongs here, of which we have treated already in the First Commandment, in order that we may learn what pains God requires to the end we may learn to inculcate and practise the Ten Commandments:

320] For I the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

321] Although (as we have heard above) this appendix was primarily attached to the First Commandment, it was nevertheless [we cannot deny that it was] laid down for the sake of all the commandments, as all of them are to be referred and directed to it. Therefore I have said that this, too, should be presented to and inculcated upon the young, that they may learn and remember it, in order to see what is to urge and compel us to keep these Ten Commandments. And it is to be regarded as though this part were specially added to each, so that it inheres in, and pervades, them all.

322] 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; 323] 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.

324] Just this is also the meaning and true interpretation of the first and chief commandment, from which all the others must flow and proceed, so that this word: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me, in its simplest meaning states nothing else than this demand: Thou shalt fear, love, and trust in Me as thine only true God. For where there is a heart thus disposed towards God, the same has fulfilled this and all the other commandments. On the other hand, whoever fears and loves anything else in heaven and upon earth will keep neither this nor any. 325] Thus the entire Scriptures have everywhere preached and inculcated this commandment, aiming always at these two things: fear of God and trust in Him. And especially the prophet David throughout the Psalms, as when he says [ Ps. 147:11 ]: The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy. As if the entire commandment were explained by one verse, as much as to say: The Lord taketh pleasure in those who have no other gods.

326] Thus the First Commandment is to shine and impart its splendor to all the others. Therefore you must let this declaration run through all the commandments, like a hoop in a wreath, joining the end to the beginning and holding them all together, that it be continually repeated and not forgotten; as, namely, in the Second Commandment, that we fear God and do not take His name in vain for cursing, lying, deceiving, and other modes of leading men astray, or rascality, but make proper and good use of it by calling upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, derived from love and trust according to the First Commandment. In like manner such fear, love, and trust is to urge and force us not to despise His Word, but gladly to learn, hear, and esteem it holy, and honor it.

327] Thus continuing through all the following commandments towards our neighbor likewise, everything is to proceed by virtue of the First Commandment, to wit, that we honor father and mother, masters, and all in authority, and be subject and obedient to them, not on their own account, but for God’s sake. For you are not to regard or fear father or mother, or from love of them do or omit anything. But see to that which God would have you do, and what He will quite surely demand of you; if you omit that, you have an angry Judge, but in the contrary case a gracious Father.

328] Again, that you do your neighbor no harm, injury, or violence, nor in any wise encroach upon him as touching his body, wife, property, honor, or rights, as all these things are commanded in their order, even though you have opportunity and cause to do so and no man would reprove you; but that you do good to all men, help them, and promote their interest, howsoever and wherever you can, purely from love of God and in order to please Him, in the confidence that He will abundantly reward you for everything. 329] Thus you see how the First Commandment is the chief source and fountainhead which flows into all the rest, and again, all return to that and depend upon it, so that beginning and end are fastened and bound to each other.

We recall the First Commandment and the statement that God attaches to it.  Since breaking any Commandment also breaks the First, this statement also applies to all the Commandments. From the First Commandment flow all other Commandments and all other Commandments flow back to the First.  For to truly keep the First Commandment is to keep all of them.

330] This (I say) it is profitable and necessary always to teach to the young people, to admonish them and to remind them of it, that they may be brought up not only with blows and compulsion, like cattle, but in the fear and reverence of God. For where this is considered and laid to heart that these things are not human trifles, but the commandments of the Divine Majesty, who insists upon them with such earnestness, is angry with, and punishes those who despise them, and, on the other hand, abundantly rewards those who keep them, there will be a spontaneous impulse and a desire gladly to do the will of God. 331] Therefore it is not in vain that it is commanded in the Old Testament to write the Ten Commandments on all walls and corners, yes, even on the garments, not for the sake of merely having them written in these places and making a show of them, as did the Jews, but that we might have our eyes constantly fixed upon them, and have them always in our memory, and that we might practise them in all our actions and ways, 332] and every one make them his daily exercise in all cases, in every business and transaction, as though they were written in every place wherever he would look, yea, wherever he walks or stands. Thus there would be occasion enough, both at home in our own house and abroad with our neighbors, to practise the Ten Commandments, that no one need run far from them.

333] From this it again appears how highly these Ten Commandments are to be exalted and extolled above all estates, commandments, and works which are taught and practised aside from them. For here we can boast and say: Let all the wise and saints step forth and produce, if they can, a [single] work like these commandments, upon which God insists with such earnestness, and which He enjoins with His greatest wrath and punishment, and, besides, adds such glorious promises that He will pour out upon us all good things and blessings. Therefore they should be taught above all others, and be esteemed precious and dear, as the highest treasure given by God.

We should teach these Commandments to our children and have them continually in our mind and on our hearts. The Ten Commandments should guide and order our whole life, even though we will never be able to keep them perfectly in this earthly life.  As Luther says in his morning order of prayer, we should go to work singing a song of the Ten Commandments.  We should always have them in mind asking the classic Luther question, “What is my station in life according to the Ten Commandments?”

May God grant us the grace to obey the Ten Commandments and forgive us our sin when we fail. Amen.

  1. These are the holy Ten Commands
    Which our Lord God placed in our hands
    Through Moses, His own servant true,
    When he to Mount Sinai drew.
    Kyrieleis!
  2. I am alone thy God the Lord,
    Thou shalt false worship not afford;
    Put thy whole confidence in Me
    And love Me right faithfully.
    Kyrieleis!
  3. Thou shalt not take My name in vain
    By idle word or speech profane,
    And praise but that as good and true
    Which I Myself say and do.
    Kyrieleis!
  4. Thou shalt the day which God hath blest
    Keep holy, that thy house may rest;
    Keep hand and heart from labor free,
    That God may thus work in thee.
    Kyrieleis!
  5. Thou shalt give love and honor due
    To father, and to mother too,
    And help them when their strength decays;
    So shalt thou have length of days.
    Kyrieleis!
  6. Thou shalt in sinful wrath not kill,
    Nor hate, nor render ill for ill;
    Be patient and of gentle mood,
    And to thy foe do thou good.
    Kyrieleis!
  7. Thou shalt respect thy marriage vows,
    Thy heart give only to thy spouse;
    Thy life keep pure, and lest thou sin,
    Use temp’rance and discipline.
    Kyrieleis!
  8. Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt abhor
    To wring their life-blood from the poor;
    But open wide thy kindly hand
    To all the poor in the land.
    Kyrieleis!
  9. Thou shalt no faithless witness be,
    Nor neighbor harm with calumny;
    Defend his innocence from blame;
    With charity hide his shame.
    Kyrieleis!
  10. Thou shalt not seek thy neighbor’s house,
    Nor wife, nor servants, nor aught else,
    But wish that his such good may be
    As thy heart doth wish for thee.
    Kyrieleis!
  11. God hath giv’n us all these commands
    That thou thy sin, O child of man,
    Might know, and also well perceive
    How unto God man should live.
    Kyrieleis!
  12. Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, for we
    A Mediator have in Thee.
    With works we’d perish from the path;
    They merit but endless wrath.
    Kyrieleis! (TLH 287/LSB 581)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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