CONCLUSION OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
Thus we have the Ten Commandments, the essence of the divine doctrine, showing what we should observe in order that our whole lives may be acceptable in the sight of God; and moreover, the true fountain and source, from which must spring and into which must return, all works which are to be considered good; so that without the Ten Commandments no work nor course of conduct can be good and pleasing in the sight of God, let it be as great and as precious in the sight of the world as it may. Now, let us see what our great and notable saints are able to boast of, concerning their spiritual orders and their great and difficult works which they have devised and established, omitting those embraced in the Decalogue, as if they were much too insignificant, or as if they had been long since accomplished. I am indeed of the opinion, that we would all find enough here to engage our utmost endeavors in observing lenity, patience, and love towards enemies, chastity, benevolence, &c., and all that is connected with these virtues. But works of this kind have no charm and beauty in the eyes of the world. For they are not rare and brilliant, nor confined to certain particular times, places, modes, and customs; but they are common, daily, domestic duties, which one neighbor is able to perform towards another; therefore, they have no respectability or reputation.
But the former works excite the curiosity and attention of men, being promoted by the most pompous ceremonies, great expenses, and royal edifices; and they are so decorated that all things must appear brilliant and splendid;– here they burn incense; here they sing and tinkle; here they light up tapers; so that on account of these things nothing else can be heard or seen. For the appearance of a priest in a surplice decorated with gold, or the position of a layman during the whole day, in the church on his knees, is called a precious work, which no one is able to extol sufficiently; but the diligent attention of a poor little girl to an infant, and the faithful performance of that which is commanded her, must be regarded as nothing. What else should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?
But observe, is this not an execrable presumption of those desperate saints? who pretend to discover orders and a course of life, better and more sublime than those taught in the Ten Commandments; affirming, as already said, that this is merely an ordinary course of life, for the observance of common persons; but that theirs is proposed for the saints and for the perfect. Nor do these poor blind persons see that no man is able to arrive at such a state of perfection, as will enable him to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but that it is still necessary for faith and the Lord's Prayer to come to our assistance, (as we shall hear,) through which we seek and implore, and continually receive this grace and virtue. Their glorying is therefore not otherwise than if one should boast and say: "It is true I have not a farthing with which to pay, but I hope easily to pay ten guilders."
I insist upon these things in order that we may once be liberated from this miserable abuse, which has so deeply taken root, and which still adheres to every one; and in order that we accustom ourselves to have our eyes intent upon these things alone, in every condition of life on earth, and to be solicitous about them. For no doctrine or discipline will ever be produced which will be equal to the Ten Commandmentsm since they propose a character so exalted, that no one is able through the powers of man, to attain it; and whoever attains it, is a heavenly, angelic being, far superior to all the sanctity of the world. Take these commandments into consideration, then, and use every exertion, devoting all your power and energy to them, and you will find so much to perform, indeed, that you will neither seek nor esteem any other works. Let this suffice, in reference to the first part of the common Christian doctrine, being considered at sufficient length, both for instruction and admonition; yet in conclusion, we must repeat the text which belongs here, and which we have also spoken of before, in the first commandment, in order that we learn how much importance God wishes to have attached to them, so that we may diligently learn to inculcate and practise the Ten Commonadments.
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.
Although this Declaration as we have already heard, is annexed to the first commandment, yet it was laid down for the sake of all of them, since they should conjointly be referred and directed to it. For this reason I have said that it should be held forth to youth, and be impressed upon their minds, so that they may learn and retain it, in order that they may see what should urge and constrain us to observe these Ten Commandments; and we should not regard it in any other light, than that it is joined with each one in particular, so that it pertains and relates to all of them.
Now, as we have already said, there are both a terrible menace and a gracious promise embracing in these words, for the purpose of terrifying and warning, and moreover, of alluring and inciting us, in order that we may receive God's Word in holy sincerity, since he himself expresses how much depends upon it, and how inflexibly he will insist upon it, namely: that he will severely and terribly punish all who scorn and transgree his commandments; and again, how abundantly he will reward, favor, and bless with every kind of beneficence, those who greatly esteem them, and cheerfully act and live according to them. By this means he requires that all should proceed from a heart which fears God alone, and keeps him ever present to its thoughts through such fear, abstaining from all that is contrary to his will, so as not to provoke him; and, on the other hand, which trusts in him alone, and performs, through love to him, that which he desires, since he permits himself to be heard as affectionately as a father, and offers unto all favors and blessings.
And in like manner the true meaning and the proper explanation of the first and principal commandment, from which all others should spring and proceed, is nothing else but that which these words– Thou shalt have no other gods– express in the simplest terms, as required here: thou shalt fear and love me as thine own true God, and trust in me; for whatever heart is thus inclined towards God, has fulfilled this and all other commandments. And again, whoever fears and loves any thing else either in heaven or on earth, observes this nor any other commandment. Therefore, the whole Scripture has every where enforced and inculcated this commandment, directing all things upon these two,– fear and confidence in God; and especially does the psalmist David teach it throughout the Psalms; for instance, where he says: "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy," Psalm 147, 11,– explaining this commandment in one verse, and implying even thus much: the Lord taketh pleasure in those who have no other gods.
Let the first commandment, then, illuminate the whole; let it diffuse its radiance over the rest; and let the Declaration attached to the first commandment, unite and hold them all together in bright harmony, like a wreath of flowers on a circular band, which the eye may continue to pass over repeatedly, without forgetting a single flower. For instance, we are taught in the second commandment to fear God, and not misuse his name in swearing, lying, cheating, or in other deceptive and dishonorable practices, but to use it properly and truthfully in supplication, prayer, praise, and giving of thanks, through the love and confidence resulting from the first commandment. And in like manner we should be incited by this fear, confidence, and love, not to scorn his Word, but to hear and learn it cheerfully, to honor it, and to hold it sacred.
And it extends, moreover, through the succeeding commandments, all of which are to be observed towards our neighbor by virture of the first commandment; so that we may honor our father and our mother, our superiors, and all who are in authority, and be subservient and obedient, not on account of their will, but on account of the will of God. And you should not be urged to the performance or the neglect of any of these duties, merely in consideration of your parents, or through fear or love towards them; but you should especially observe that which God desires, and which he will very strictly require of you: if you neglect it, you incure the displeasure of a wrathful Judge, or if, on the other hand, you observe it, you secure a benevolent Father.
Again, that you do your fellow man no injury or violence, nor encroach upon his rights in any respect, whether it be in reference to his own body, or to his wife, or to his property, or to his honor, or to his just claims, as these are commanded in their order, even if you might have room and occasion for it, and if no one would reprove you for it; but that you do good unto all, helping and promoting them whenever and in whatever respect you can, through love and gratitude to God alone, in full confidence that he will abundantly reward you for it all. Thus you see then, how the first commandment is the head or fountain, which passes through all the others, and to which they all return and cleave; so that the end and the beginning are indissolubly united and bound up in each other.
It is useful and necessary, I say then, to present these things continually to the young, and to urge and impress them on their minds, in order that they may be reared up, not merely by constraint and through fear of the rod, like beasts, but in the fear and honor of God. For they themselves will be spontaneously moved and urged to perform the will of God with cheerfulness, if they seriously consider and cordially reflect, that these are not the idle talk of men, but the commandments of that Divine Being, who so seriously enjoins them, and who punishes those who scorn them, pouring out his wrath over them; but on the other hand, remunerating those who observe them, with inestimable blessings. Therefore it was commanded in the Old Testament, not without reason, that the Ten Commandments should be written on all the walls and every corner, yes, even upon their garments, not merely for the purpose of standing written there, and of being carried about as a spectacle, as the Jews did, but to be perpetually before our eyes, and continually in our memory, in all our business and actions. And let each one permit them to be his daily exercise, in all circumstances, occupations, and dealings, as if they were standing written on every place at which he directs his eyes, yes, wherever he stands or goes. Thus we would find sufficient cause to practise the Ten Commandments, both for ourselves at home, and towards our neighbors, so that no one would need to go far to find a cause.
Now, from all this we can easily perceive how highly these Ten Commandments should be exalted and extolled, above all orders, commands, and works, which men otherwise teach and exercise. For here we can boast and say: let all the wise and the saints come forward, and see whether they are able to produce a single work equal to any of those which are required in these commandments, and which God so solemnly demands, and enjoins with his most terrible threatenings of punishment, and adding, besides, a most glorious promise, that he will shower down on us every blessing and all the comforts of life. We should, therefore, teach them in preference to all others, holding them high and precious in our estimation, as the noblest treasure given of God.