The Fourth Commandment


Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it

This command calls us to set aside our work for one day and rest upon God by giving special attention and focus upon His worship.

To begin, there is a difference to be noted in how this 4th command is delivered here in Exodus 20 compared to the Ten Commandments’ reiteration in Deuteronomy 5. When one contrasts the the two passages, there are a few differences that can be noted. The difference that I want to point out is not so much the different call of God for the people to “remember” versus “observe” as some would want to do, we cannot get too hung up on the difference between these words because they are similar in meaning. But the significant difference to note for our purposes are the reasons for obeying this command. The grounds for why the people ought to remember or observe the sabbath day in both accounts are different. In Exodus, the reason for remembering the sabbath day is grounded in the created order: “For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth…” Yet in Deuteronomy, the deliverance from bondage is cited in this command and is given as the grounds.

What we see here is no contradiction between the two accounts, as some may try to argue, but it is rather a reinforcement of this command. It can be read as the Bible giving us two different reasons for attending to the sabbath. It is like saying the first reason we should observe this command is because, after His work of creation, our God rested from His labor and He has created us to pattern our lives after this. Genesis shows us that we are to observe the sabbath as a sanctified day, created as a set apart and sanctified people, and be wholly devoted on this day to the worship of God. He has ceased from His work of creating new things, and so we are to cease from our work so that we may give undivided glory to our creator. And the second reason to follow this command is because we have been shown grace and deliverance by God. In Deuteronomy, we are given the redemptive reason for worship. We are to meditate upon His gracious work of salvation for His people. Through these two instances of the same command, God reveals that He is to be worshiped as both Creator and Redeemer. Creation and redemption are the two great themes of worship.

This is some speculation, but think for a minute upon Genesis 2 and 3. Those chapters give the account of man’s creation and fall. Ask yourself, what seems to be the most natural way to read these chapters and then what would be the most natural conclusion from this natural reading? The creation of Adam, his commission, the naming of animals, the creation of Eve, the marriage of Adam and Eve, and the fall. It reads naturally of it all happening on the same day. God says that creation was “very good” within the 6th day, but before Eve was created, God said that it was “not good that man was alone” and Eve was the fitting part to make it very good. From this manner of reading and from this perspective, it becomes evident that Adam and Eve fell on the very day they were created, which was the 6th day, so they never made it to the 7th day. If this is the case, then it makes sense that this restful day is eschatological because it is the day that we as humans failed to enter without sin.


This command has created a lot of controversy over the centuries, and still is controversial today. The reason why it has been controversial is because people say that it is a mixed command that is both moral and ceremonial. The moral aspects of laws are perpetual and never change (e.g. idolatry is always a sin in all times), but we see that the day has changed from Saturday to Sunday. How is it that we have a moral imperative that is perpetual, yet has changed? What we have here is fundamentally and primarily a moral law with a ceremonial element. As is inferenced in the New Testament (John 20:19-26; Acts 20:6-7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2), Sunday has become the appropriate day in view in light of Christ’s resurrection to set aside our work, rest, and worship.

But does Sunday replace the 7th day or does it add to it? And what right do we have to proclaim a new day? There are two options that give us indication that we are either permitted or mandated to change aspects of the ceremony. The first option is is we have a divine institution of this change itself. Or, option 2, if we set the day as circumstantial. In both days, we are making a distinction between the moral and ceremonial. On one hand, you say God Himself chooses this day, on the other, the distinction between the moral and the particular day is a matter of circumstance and is up to the church. There is also a compromise between the two views. We can ask ourselves- is it Apostolic? Whether it is the apostles acting with authority granted to them, by virtue of us being in the apostolic age, we are bound to keep it. This makes it both circumstantial and a command.

But if it is circumstantial, what if a certain people were in a country where they could only get a Friday off? Circumstantially, are they allowed to worship on a Friday instead of following the Apostolic precedence of worshipping on a Sunday? In a case like this, yes. There are many instances where the ceremonial is excused for the sake of the moral. God can excuse people from the ceremonial when necessity demands of it because the moral always trumps the ceremonial. The particular day is considered to be ceremonial, it is thus changeable, provided there is a sufficient, pressing, moral reason to change it- it ought not be changed for loose reasons. It is not something to be trite with. The church cannot simply establish whatever day it wants, we are to give due regard and place to the fact that there is a positive command for the day of observance. Yet at the same time, we are to know that not all obligations to God are equally weighty given the circumstance. If there are moral consequences that get in the way of observing the sabbath, then those conflicts trump (think in terms of having to save a life may require you to drop your direct worship/prayer/meditation and attend to this matter). But the moral 1 day in 7 is not changeable. But since this 1 day in 7 pattern is grounded in the created order, how can it be changeable? This doesn’t mean that the nature of creation compels it to be on that day. Since the early Christians have changed it, the very changeableness of the day shows it to be ceremonial.

The historic Reformed position regarding the continuity of ceremonial things has always assumed continuity unless there is a compelling reason that shows a clear discontinuity. Like the sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace upon the children remains, but the thing that has clearly changed is that its form has changed from circumcision to baptism, from males only to include females. So, we assume that the moral imperative for the 1 day in 7 pattern continues because there is no clear indication that this moral aspect of humanity has been discontinued, the only aspect that has discontinued is the day. We Reformed look for patterns of how we are to keep the sabbath in the New testament. We cannot have a position of assuming discontinuity unless something is explicitly re-affirmed because if we start with assuming discontinuity, we will be in trouble with a lot of things. Where is bestiality in the New Testament? Where are a host of a lot of other moral imperatives? Assuming discontinuity fosters the error of antinomianism.

Since the day of Christs’ resurrection is called the Lord’s Day in the New Testament, there is a sense that if one were to hold on to the 7th day as the day of rest, then there is an implicit denial of the resurrection and a trying to rest in the types of Christ when He has already come. It is like the an 8th day after the Feast of Tabernacles, after things have been accomplished of the culmination of holy days. So we observe the 1st weekday because we are already brought in to the age where reconciliation with God is accomplished. Yet, we live in an already-not-yet age where some things still point to the future, so we still work 6 days, and set apart 1.

What about Colossians 2:16-17? It reads: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”

The typical argument here is that this is a verse that shows us that the sabbath is abrogated. It is common acceptance and knowledge that the dietary code from the Old Testament ceremonies is rescinded, and now we are permitted to eat pork and the like, and so the words “food and drink” are the same sentence as “sabbaths.” So, it seems to make sense that the sabbath would be done away with, too. But if we take a minute to look at this verse and its context, we will see that this abrogation not the case.  Though this verse calls us to not  let anyone judge us in food or drink, but we yet read in the New Testament that we are not to be gluttons or drunkards. This can be read as a dietary code, instruction concerning food and drink. We are also called to be careful not to eat or drink anything that would be offensive to other people. So, there are still moral imperatives regarding what we do with our food and drink. There is similar instruction with the sabbaths in other epistles in that we are commanded not not neglect meeting together like they had been doing in the synagogues. Also, if we compare Hosea 2:11 in the Septuagint with this text, this is a phrase that is used as a blanket term for all the ceremonies. The call to not pass judgment would be directed at the Judiazers and ascetics who were pressing for something far more strict than what was necessary. So, “sabbaths” in this verse does not equal no proper observation of a sabbath day, but rather its focus is on the manner of the strict ceremonial observations that are within it.


ox in a ditch


The scope of this command is strictly speaking of the 7th day in the 6 + 1 structure. But this command has to do with all 7 days. God has given us the structure of time in the form of a week. For a calendar and for life cycles, the week generally is the basic unit of time. Since it coincides with the phases of the moon, all cultures feel compelled to adopt a 7 day week. So, this command has to do with all of time and its use. It has in mind a kind of work ethic in that we are to work in a way that is in accordance with this pattern. It is saying that work is important, it is good for people to work, and that there is something to be achieved, but it is not ultimate. It is also saying that the pursuit of a life of leisure is not Biblical. Contrary to popular opinion, eternity in Heaven will not be sitting on a porch drinking lemonade.

The force of this command is that we are to use all of our time to the glory of God, being sure to observe a holy rest 1 day in 7 that is devoted primarily to worship, a delight in the means of grace, and to delight in God Himself. And we must not use our labor and time in these 6 days to some other end than the glory of God, and we are to not neglect to set apart a day for holy rest and due worship of God.

What is this rest that God is calling us to have? Is this day to be a day full of napping and fun things? Is Sunday supposed to be Funday? If it were simply leisure, we would have a hard time squaring it with what Jesus did on the Sabbath. Matthew chapters 12-13 all seem to take place on a single sabbath, and a lot of teaching and healing is done in those chapters- Christ, the Lord of the sabbath, is busy, not napping the day away. Paul and Barnabas, too, show that their sabbaths are full days not given over to leisure or idleness. This rest is not a day of leisure, idleness, or a mindless, inactive day of doing nothing, nor is it an absence of activity, but it is a way of being active. It is full of particular kinds of activities, the kinds that ought to refresh your soul. It is full of activity in ministry.  The activity of the day is devotion and worship of God and delighting in Him. We are to keep it properly by putting off work and putting on prayer, meditation, works of mercy, edifying activities, and joyous delight and worship in our God.

This 1 day in 7 order is to be built into the pattern and fabric of our lives. This day of rest contextualizes your entire week. You work in hope looking forward to the day of rest. Many of us certainly seem to work for the weekend with great anticipation, but this is only so that they can engage in a plethora of self-serving activities, and any idea of going to church seems to be a waste of the weekend. How many of us, when we Biblically “work for the weekend,” have our hopes transfixed on this day of rest and worship? The numbers are pitifully low, I’m sure.

However, instead of having the work week flow into the sabbath day, I would wager that, since we are in the New Testament era and our day of rest in on the first day of the week, our work week should flow out of the sabbath day’s rest. From the time of the fall forward, the idea of rest or sabbath is a theme that is tied to our eschatological hope of deliverance. This rest points beyond itself and day 7 was always before them in the Old Testament. However, it is day 1 for us because we are already in these end times and are walking in a newness of life delivered from the bondage of sin. We have already entered into the rest that is eschatologically promised in that we now have peace with God in the forgiveness of sins through Christ. This peace is a present reality and orders the work we do throughout the week.

There is an allowance for works of necessity to be done on the Sabbath day because they are necessary. But what constitutes a work of necessity? A work of necessity are things that are necessary for the safety and function for daily workings of society. This country is so concerned with its wealth that things are pressured and argued as a work of necessity when they really aren’t. It becomes about disregarding the word of God so that we can live the life we want to live. And we have all kinds of ways of justifying this lifestyle, ignoring the sabbath is only one way.

Anxiety in our work is the opposite of faith. We need to rest in the provision of God, that He will provide our daily bread and that He has placed us in the location or vocation that He wants us to be in. We are to have a hopeful labor, receiving the good things that God has placed before us to do. Our work is being ordered to sabbath.

What about retirement? Retirement in the way that Americans normally think of is a life of vacation and travel. You put in your years of work, and then at 65, you do not have to work any more. However, this idea is an un-Biblical concept, we were created to work and the proper end of our labor is not leisure. Think of all the retired people who have given themselves to leisure and no longer work. If they do not find something to do they are miserable, depressed, and typically die earlier. But, it is not wrong to slow down in one’s old age, to step away from gainful employment and give yourself to good things, but to cease from work entirely is to step away from the good intentions that God has given mankind.

This command calls us to rest and trust upon God as the Creator and Sustainer of our lives, and the way to do this is to set aside your work for 1 day in 7 as an act of faith so that you may give special focus and attendance to His worship. He certainly has given you good work to do throughout the week, but your life does not depend upon your work. He sufficient to provide for your earthly lives just as His power is sufficient to create you and sustain your existence, so take this day as an act of faith to look to God as your object of sufficiency for existence and life. Not only this, but He is sufficient for your sins, too- to be your redeemer and Savior. He has provided salvation and deliverance for us, and has given us a new family united in Christ. It is salvation from the punishment of our own sins, ultimate deliverance from the turmoil of this world that we face week to week, and the peace of Christian fellowship and love.

This is what you are to digest and meditate on for this day. Put away your distractions. Exercise your faith in this, put down your work for a day and recognize that He is your provider. Your ultimate reason for existence is not to be an accountant, salesman, or a farmer- though these things are important and there may be pressing things to do regarding your career, but you have a greater vocation- to worship the Creator and Redeemer. Your chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And He gives us a taste of this on this sabbath’s day rest.

The Third Commandment


Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

We have come from the object of worship in the first command, to the means of worship in the second command; in the third command, we are given God’s name.

Looking at the preface of these commandments, the name that God gives His people is His covenant name- Yahweh. The giving of this name will cause us to think back to the first time this name was given to Moses at the burning bush. Moses asked God in the burning bush: “Who shall I say that it is who sent me? What is His name?” And God replies with I AM THAT I AM, which in Hebrew contain the four letters, YHWH, which literally means “He is.” This is His covenant name, the name that stands in relationship with His people. And His intent in displaying His name at the time of the burning bush was to show that He is God- so Israel would know that He is God and that they are His people, so Egypt will know He is God, and that everyone will know that He is God when He does all the wondrous things for Israel and in Egypt. He is making a name for Himself on earth among all His peoples. “I AM,” YHWH stands above all other gods on earth. His name is the greatest and most honorable name upon the earth because of whom it belongs to.

What is in a name?

Let’s think of a President of the United States for a moment, or some other illustrious leader of the world. It could hardly be called a relationship if you were to take a picture of him at one point and then take it around with you. Carrying around his image does not mean that you have a relationship with the president, it may mean that you admire him, but there is no reciprocation involved. Perhaps you meet him while he is in office, yet the initial relationship you have with him would necessitate that you to call him “Mr. President” because there is still a formality of relationship. But what would it mean if he were to come back in sincerity and say “Call me George”? Now at this point you have entered into a relationship that is beyond mere formality and is moving into a more meaningful and personal relationship because he has given you his personal name, a name that only his friends and family may call him.

It is a similar situation here, it is more than a formality of relationship in this command. God had called Abraham friend, and God gives us the right to call Him by His personal name. Here, we are given the privilege to be on a first-name basis with the Sovereign of the universe. God is giving Himself to be enjoyed by us along certain lines and we are to enjoy those lines. So in this command, we have something extraordinarily precious.

We cannot be flippant or cheap when using God’s name, it is a great honor and we can’t forget who we are talking to or forget who we are talking about. Do not call on His name if you are not speaking to Him and we are to speak of Him in a manner that is worthy of Him. This command shows us that God takes great displeasure when His name is misused and we are to use it reverentially. In the Old Testament, there was a tight identity between a person’s character and their name. What you do to the name, you do to their character. If you were to insult their name, you would insult them. If we use it flippantly, we are saying something of what we think of their person. Names speak to something of the identity of the person.

However, we can use it, and we ought not be struck with such servile fear that we do not use it, like the Orthodox Jews are famous for doing. What if you refuse to use the President’s name? What are you saying about your relationship with him. By not using it, you are keeping yourself aloof, but God is not distant like that. He is near to us, intimate, and in a relationship with us, and is evident in this command by the giving of His name.

There is also the notion of acting in the name of someone. This adds an authoritative category regarding names, and a weightiness to their use. If you take their name upon you when you do something, they are involved in what you do. Like a Lieutenant carrying the orders and commands that a General gave. Yet, the Lieutenant can speak wrongly of the General’s commands and it reflects poorly on both the Lieutenant and the General. To act or speak for another person, their integrity is involved. This is certainly true with God’s people. We are called by His name and His name is implicated in everything we do. If we discover a prophet, one who comes claiming to speak on God’s behalf, to be false, the least we can do is ignore them or depose them (or in the Old Testament times, they would be stoned). But if the prophet is of God, he carries the authority of God’s command.

Practical Implications

The strict scope that this command has in mind has to do with the name YHWH. It is about not using this specific name in a vain, empty way, or without respect. C.S. Lewis picked out an issue regarding this command. In “The Abolition of Man” he imagines two people before a waterfall. One says that the waterfall is pretty, the other says “that’s sublime.” Have they both said something true? Yes, but there should be something with the words that we use that corresponds with reality. Our words should be ordered with it, not disordered. If the serial killer who says “Jesus is Lord” right before cleaving someone’s head open with an ax, is he speaking truth? One one level, yes, but on the other it is blasphemy. The context of his words have dishonored the name of Christ because his actions have not reflected this truth. We are to recognize what we are standing in front of and do it justice with our words. Our language must reflect that and when it doesn’t, it becomes flippant. Our words should not just have a grammatical context, but an emotional, spiritual, mental, and personal context, as well. So, take sufficient regard so as to speak rightly about it. To speak of God is one thing, but to speak of God rightly is another. The context counts, so our life needs to reflect who we are talking about.

The expanded scope of this command is that we are to be mindful and seek the glory of God in our use of language, especially theological language. The words used of God, about God, and to God are to be said and done in a way and context that are honorable, true, and pleasing to Him. There is always a context involved in the use of our language. In commenting on this command, The Westminster Catechism’s term “conversation” gives us the understanding that our whole form of life is used to communicate something. We are presenting ourselves. So, we must always use language in ways that maintain and reflect God’s glory and His weightiness. We are never to use language that would fail to maintain God’s glory.

Our relationship to God is a language-based relationship. And this word-based relationship is made all the more significant since the Son of God is called the Word of God. Words, conversation, prayers, preaching, knowledge, writing- all of it is important. His name has been entrusted to us as a precious gift.

Blasphemy is right out, the using of God as a curse word, and this should be first and obvious. Any “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ” or “God damn it” as a knee-jerk discharge of words are clearly light and flip invocations of God and are demeaning to His character. We should also be careful with formulaic forms of using God’s name- like reciting the Lord’s prayer as a mantra and not in the right heart because it is too familiar, or using the name “Lord’ as a filler word in prayer. Let not His name merely be words coming out of your mouth. This also applies to speaking the name of God as it pertains to a hunch. People in some Christian circles are quick to say that “God told me,” or, “God is leading me” when people are really describing their desires. It is not always wrong to say that “God has led me…” but it is usually after the fact that we can be certain about this. There ought to be a heavy level of certainty to what you are saying before you attach God’s name to something like that.

How does this affect civil religion? After dwelling upon this command, how should one feel when a government makes its national motto to be “In God We Trust”? There are enormous dangers that can run afoul against this command with these kinds of things being used in the civil circle. Politicians will invoke the name of God here, wanting to show their religious credentials, and use godliness as a means of gain. So, out of a reverence and respect for God’s name gleaned from this command, is it better to have His name left out of this, especially if this motto no longer reflects the nation’s attitude? Perhaps there can be some discussion about this in the comments.

Theologians take a significant amount of time taking into account that that “taking” the name of God is like unto taking an oath, swearing by His name, or taking a vow of allegiance, or invoking His name to testify of the veracity of something. The Anabaptists would say that there ought to no oaths period. The Reformers would say that there is an appropriate place for an oath, and that taking an oath in God’s name can even be a call to honor and glory toward God- Calvin says in connection to Isaiah 45:23: “Now, if the bowing of the knees be a token of adoration, this swearing which is connected with it is equivalent to an acknowledgment that He is God.” Chapter 22 of the Westminster Confession says that the name of God alone should be sworn upon with all and utmost weightiness and solemnness, like if you were upon the witness stand and the weight of justice stood upon the testimony of your words. The idea behind this is like taking the name of God with you to upon your endeavors and to add credence or veracity to them. If you swear by God’s name and go about a life of dishonesty or immorality, it will cause people to think negative things about God’s name.

Calvin goes on for further heart-implications for this command- “It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables; but, whereas His essence is invisible, His name is set before us as an image, insofar as God manifests Himself to us, and is distinctly made known to us by His own marks, just as men are each by his own name. On this ground Christ teaches that God’s name is comprehended in the heavens, the earth, the temple, the altar, (Matt. 5:34,) because His glory is conspicuous in them. consequently, God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, truth, clemency, and rectitude… men should not drag in His name in light matters, as in sport or derision of it…  But since nothing is more difficult than to restrain men’s licentiousness in this respect, and to excuse or at least diminish the sin, the slipperiness of the tongue is pleaded, its punishment is here denounced: that if God’s name is rashly exposed to reproach or contempt, He will avenge it.” (Calvin’s Commentaries, 2:409-410)

So, with all of our words, we are “to speak of God and divine things with all humility, reverence of heart, and manifestation of respect… confess the Lord holily and boldly… glorify God in all that we say or do… to be zealous for His Name and cause… to  call upon the name of the Lord; that is to bow reverently before Him, worship Him due to His glory, and humbly request from Him all that you have need of in every given situation… [and] to swear by His Name in a holy manner.” (a’Brakel, 3:128-129)


Disclaimer: The content of this series is drawn from much of my notes of Dr. Bruce Baugus’ lectures. The language and arguments are adjusted to fit an easier reading flow, the content is catered to my writing style, and may not always accurately reflect Dr. Baugus’ sentiments or statements. Other sources are also used to draw in information.

The Second Command

Golden Calf

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: 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 shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

The first command dealt with the object of worship, and this command deals with the means of worship.

The scope of this command is directed at all acts of worship, from the directed and formal acts done corporately, to the worshipful ones done throughout the week. We must not approach God presumptuously, but we must worship Him on His terms for it to be legitimate worship. There are many examples in Scripture of people approaching God inappropriately: we can think of Cain’s offering to God, Nadab and Abihu burning unauthorized incense (Num. 3:2-4), Saul hastily burning an offering (1 Samuel 13:11-14), and numerous other accounts of defective worship (Is. 29:13, Col. 2:23, Ez. 20, 2 Kings 18:4, and many more).

So, it is as if He is saying, “If you want to enjoy Me, here is how and by these lines are you to do so- any other approach is impermissible.” These acts of worship are not indifferent matters to Him, but He wishes to be served according to His dictates. We ought not “be of the opinion that he will be pleased just so long as he is served,” (Brakel, 3:105; Hosea 6:6).

The thing most obviously prohibited here is using images as a means of worship or as representing God. It is not in the strict sense of God forbidding the making of images period- God commanded images to be placed within the Temple that resembled the Garden of Eden, the Cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant, and the brazen serpents upon a pole to heal the Israelites, etc. Nor is it a prohibition for a common use of images in society- like printing a President’s face on a bill, or making art to decorate the walls of a house. So what is in view here is the worshipping of God through the instrument/channel of an image, or to create an image that we would see as representing Him.

The reason for this is because our worship forms our ideas of who God is, and if we approach Him through improper means we will come to false and reckless conceptions of Him. It could be argued that approaching Him through an improper way may suggest that one already has a false conception of who He is, which would make sense given man’s fallen nature. The natural man attempts to worship what they perceive to be God (or god with a little “g,” or the ultimate, see my blog on the first command) through their idols anyway, but the true God has revealed Himself here.

Therefore, God’s aim in this command is to bring us to the right and correct form of worship which we as His creatures owe Him, to have a spiritual worship of Him by His truth (because He is Spirit and Truth) that is not guided by the material, idolatrous, and carnal approaches by which we are so prone to follow and which profanes His worship.

Calvin, commenting on this command, said, “we dishonour him when we liken his infinite essence to a small piece of wood, stone or silver (Isa. 40:18-20; 41:7; 45:20; 46:5-7). Paul reasons similarly in his sermon to the Athenians. ‘Since we are God’s offspring,’ he says, ‘we ought not to think that his divinity is like gold, silver, sculpted stone or anything which is made by the art of man (Acts 17:29). It is clear from this that every statue [or drawing, or painting] made to represent God is repugnant to him, being an affront to his majesty,” (1541 Institutes, p. 124-5).

Isaiah 40:18 says, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?” And a’Brakel expands upon this argument by drawing from Romans 1:23: “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” The true image of God is not to be found in the world.

We are simply to study and to learn, to think upon His Word, and to worship within His terms. All images are speculative, assumptive, and presumptuous. It is an authorial act to fill in what is not in the Book, and its meaning is significant. The Bible does not give us a description of Christ’s physical form, nor of the Father because he is immaterial, and when we draw Jesus or God, we use a presumptuous and assumptive approach, and we will falsify it every time. It communicates all kinds of things that the Bible does not.

God does have images- we are His images. The call is to you, not a painting or sculpture, only God can point to images of Himself. God has not given us the prerogative to make images, but if we want an image of God, be godly.

So, how is it that God gives Himself to us? What manner are we to approach Him?

All the ceremonies that God provided in the Old Testament that followed the giving of the 10 Commandments in Exodus and Leviticus, like: the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat, the altar, incense burning, showbread, the priests, etc., were mediatorial (something in between God and man) provisions of approaching God that represented and foreshadowed Christ. All of it was a ceremonial order to present Christ, the true Mediator- He is the fulfillment of all the ceremonial worship, and it is through Christ where God meets with His people. All worship of God is only acceptable through the Mediator, even in the Old Testament because those ceremonial provisions pointed to the Messiah; any impulse to approach Him through a manner that we manufacture or any other means that He’s provided is an anti-Christ and anti-grace manner because Christ Himself is that provision. The dynamic is always God-to-us. He is the one who provides, condescends, and appoints.

The Regulative Principle

We cannot devise a way to reach God, He has given it to us, and it is now presented to us by the order that Scripture has laid out for us. This leads us to a thing called the “regulative principle” of worship. The regulative principle basically states that whatever is not prescribed in Scripture for worship is not permitted.

A narrower definition- no element of worship that is not set forth in Scripture should be added as a fundamental or necessity for worship, nor should any added circumstance be presented in a manner that detracts from the fundamentals, nor should any prescribed element of worship as described in Scripture be neglected or subtracted.

The Westminster Larger Catechism answer 109 says, “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself.”  The historical, Reformed tradition qualifies this prescription by distinguishing between “elements” of worship and “circumstances.” An element is something that is certainly prescribed in Scripture (like preaching the Word), and a circumstance is the manner in how it is carried out (like what time of day on the Sabbath the people should meet to hear the preaching of the Word).

Some things are clearly prescribed as a necessary element of corporate worship through explicit commands, approved examples, and theological inference, like: preaching the Word, keeping sound doctrine, prayer, singing psalms, administration of the sacraments,  offerings, and meeting on a regular basis. Because we are under the same administration of grace, Apostolic precedence can have a prescriptive force if we see it as an example for us to follow or we find ourselves in a similar situation. Other things are more difficult to discern because they are no so clear. The matters of circumstance, as per Westminster Confession 1.6, may be necessary to be discerned by the good and necessary consequence deduced by the prudent use of the light of nature, insofar as it does not contradict Scripture. In other words, human reason within the parameters of Scripture. There are things that are for sure to be carried through the centuries, but thinks like the meeting time, the length, the language, wine v. grape juice, padded seats or not padded seats, color of the carpet, if a bell is to be rung, etc., are up to the light of nature, or sanctified wisdom.

For example, if one were to argue that instrumentation is prescribed, then the type of instrument is circumstantial. However, with sanctified wisdom, we are to determine whether or not the circumstance is conducive to worship. Not all things are conducive to the congregation’s worship, like punk/rock music, or Psalm 2 in the style of Slayer- because, A: this style is not written for a congregation to sing, but it is written for performance and therefore would not translate well, if at all, and B: it brings up the important cultural/contextual notion of “contamination by association” that may be discussed in a later blog.

There are those, like John Frame, who argue that since Scripture is to be our only guide in worship and in life, and all is to be done to the glory of God, then the regulative principle ought to be applied to the entire week, since all of life is essentially worship. Therefore, whatever application of this single, stretched regulative principle we have through the week should be also applied to the Sabbath so that we may be consistent in it (Frame, Doctrine of the Christian life, p. 473-475). In other words, there should not be much of a difference in how the regulative principle is applied throughout the week versus on the day set apart for rest, worship, and reflection.

However, I would have to partly disagree with this notion because it does not take into account the 4th command. Having this view may cause us to be overly relaxed on our Sabbath observance where we ought to give more prudent attention. There is to be a point where the Sabbath day ought to be given more care and attention because not all of life is “worship” in the strict sense, but it is worshipful. If all of life was worship in the strict sense, we would not be able to get anything done throughout the week. The public worship and its day of meeting should be guarded from the intrusions of every day life in order for it to be a day that is truly set apart and taken up with rest and worship/meditation upon God. So, perhaps it could be argued that there are two regulative principles, one for the corporate worship, and the other for the worshipful-ness of life. Or that under the one notion of the regulative principle, there are two stipulations- one for everyday life, and the other for the formal worship of God. Or one could say that this regulative principle only applies to the corporate worship of God.

Wherever that line is drawn, a’Brakel closes us with some virtues that are enjoyed by this command: “The virtues enjoined in this command are, first of all, the full surrender of one’s self to the service of God in all things, with all things, and at all times… Secondly, the serving of God according to His will; that is, our entire conduct is to be governed by the will of God as revealed to us in His Word… Thirdly, the serving of God with the soul; that is, with the spirit, in a spiritual manner, and with the intellect, will, and affections… Fourthly, the serving of God with a perfect heart; that is, without a divided heart, having and seeking something in addition to God… Fifthly, the serving of God with a joyful zeal; that is, it must not be a burden, but a delight, rejoicing in the fact that God as yet wishes to be served by us.. Sixthly, the opposing of false religion and eradication of idols and images. Everyone must do so according to his station,” (3:116-117).


Disclaimer: The content of this series is drawn from much of my notes of Dr. Bruce Baugus’ lectures. The language and arguments are adjusted to fit an easier reading flow, the content is catered to my writing style, and may not always accurately reflect Dr. Baugus’ sentiments or statements. Other sources are also used to draw in information.

The First Command

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“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

When we consider the words “before me,” we are to know that the Hebrew literally means “in the face of,” “in the sight of,” or “in the presence of God.” There are many of us that have erroneously believed that this “before” only means that God simply comes before all things in life. Like “God first, then other things come.” While this may be an implication, a list like this is not the thrust of this command. God is not trying to climb to the top of your favorites list. The thrust of what is commanded here is exclusivity. For example, in your marriage vows, you are not vowing to you wife that she will be your favorite and most loved wife above all the other wives you might want or desire. No, you are vowing to exclusivity – “You and you only. I am a one-woman man and will seek no other in my heart, mind, or actions.” He is saying that we shall have no other gods period. He has created and claimed you and you are to honor Him only as God and nothing or no one else. There shall be no other gods in the sight of Him or in His presence and there shall be no competition for His status of Lordship over your life. John Frame said, “We are to recognize from the heart that God is Lord of all things and that therefore he will tolerate no rivals” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 407). It is to be an exclusive allegiance to God, as He has revealed Himself in the Bible, alone.

We cannot consider this command without taking notice of the loving embrace that God desires to have with us through these ten commands. The opening words that precede this command are characteristic of ancient covenants or treaties that a greater lord would make with a lesser to establish a relationship of peace and friendship. So, the purpose of a covenant, that God is giving here, is a legal document that defines a relationship of mutual loyalty and love- it is a steadfast, unchanging, betrothing manner of binding with God. And just because this is wrapped up in legal language does not mean it is void of any love. This legal language enhances the nurturing relationship between God and His people.

It also begins with the Lord’s great name, YHWH, His covenant name that was given to Moses at the burning bush, the familial and intimate name. This ensures that it is a personal relationship between God and His people. We have the foundation of this relationship here, as Frame said, as “Ethics… based on a family relationship,” (402).

This is not a hard, fast, and arbitrary command. God here is not simply the God who is “out there” as a cold, distant force, but He is our God. It is a voluntary giving as a possession, stooping down from His heavenly throne, gently drawing us near to make Himself known to His chosen people. There is a depth of intimacy and covenantal bond in this command where God is binding Himself to a loyal relationship with His people and calling for loyalty in return from us. It is a having and holding, like only in the way that a man and a wife can have for one another and can share with one another. It is a lifelong, permanent bond whose foundation is love that spurs on both covenant parties to honor all other covenantal commands. So, what God is calling for in this first command is the intimacy of worship, or our duty to God, where love is the motivator for a right and proper esteeming of God.

So, the scope of this command is that the object of all the acts of our worship should be to God alone. It is not enough that our worship is to be refrained from alien gods, but it is to look like delighting in Him above all else, enjoying Him greater than any other thing, resting in Him as the greatest comfort, esteeming Him as the ultimate object, and to be one who is so taken by God that there are no competitors. John Calvin said, “He thus would have us honour him with true feelings of piety… if we would really keep this commandment, true religion must come first, pointing our souls toward God so that, once they know him, they are led to honour his majesty, to place their trust in him, to entreat his help, to acknowledge all his gifts, to extol all his works and, in short, to aspire to him as to their only goal,” (Institutes of the Christian Religion- 1541, p. 122-23). Wilhelmus a’Brakel said, “We honor God when we rejoice in this contemplation, delight ourselves with sweet enjoyment, and when thereby all glory of the creature disappears from view. Then in the acknowledgment of the honor and worthiness of God everything stirs within us to honor, glorify, magnify, and praise Him,” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 3, p. 103).

So what is another god? a’Brakel says that another god is “the setting up of something in the stead of God, or to esteem, honor, and serve something as God as if it were God Himself… [or] when one designates something alongside of God to which he renders divine honor,” (3:90-91). And I would add that it is any motion of the heart that begins to ascribe more worth to something else, nearing equality to God. This is an inordinate affection and is beginning to place alongside God another god. Augustine, commenting on Psalm 14, said that the denial of the true God, by outright denial or by placing something alongside Him, is the height of folly because denial places the most worthy thing outside of its seat, places something else there, and sees it as the highest being or equal to it. This may come in the form of: monotheism that looks to anything but Yahweh, polytheism, pantheism, panentheism, materialism, atheism, and the list can go on. Everyone in the world has a sense of God, but they place something else as the ultimate, greatest, highest, and most valuable in their life. Whatever it is that’s there, it becomes the object of worth, either real or imagined, and is endowed with more power than it really has and therefore becomes an idol.

What does it mean to have no competitors for worship? It means we must be exclusively Christian. We cannot enter into a situation of mind, or endorse a situation where God is merely one among many, which is hard to do in our materialistic and pluralistic society. For example: this may raise questions and prohibitions as far as any participation in inter-faith prayer meetings. By praying alongside these other religions who believe in a god different from the God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible, your prayer is placing Jehovah God upon the same plane as these other gods, saying He is simply one among many. This is impermissible. All worship is to be ascribed to Him alone, and this is to be done by following His will- not by following the fashionable trends and pressures of secular culture, or other organizations, that may cause you to compromise your confession of exclusivity.

Where do we see “other gods” in society? Some cultures do have charms and idols, and we can think of the Buddhists or the Hindus or many other religions. But even the Hindus and the like do not believe that their statue is their god, but that the statue is representative of what is behind it. They know that their statue is just wood or gold, and they wouldn’t say that the wood or gold is their god. But Scripture says that this is all that these idols are; even what is “behind” these objects are not real gods. Yet even in the West, which is a society that basically prides itself in godlessness, these kinds of gods and idols are everywhere. People look to political/economic gods or ideologies, thinking that these things will bring salvation or a golden utopia. People may look to a form of superstition, where people endow physical objects with more power or control over life than what it really has. We can look to jobs as our ultimate, social status, praise of men, academic degrees, accolades, entertainment, sex, pleasure, hobbies, and this list can be endless. Calvin said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols,” always creating new objects of worship and worth.

What does breaking this command look like in an every-day sort of way? Since we are all guilty of breaking this commandment, there are many things in your life that rival the position of God. It is not going to look like having a shrine in your closet that you bow down to, but it works in much more subtle ways, ways that we barely notice. What sort of thing do you immediately look to for comfort and peace when you have a bad day? Food? Alcohol? Friends? TV? What sort of things do you go to immediately when you have a good day? The same things? The desires of our heart quickly seek after the satisfaction from the unsatisfying and broken cisterns of this world. How quickly do we forget God, and how quickly do we not retain Him in our thinking and knowledge in whatever we do? How often does any thought of Him and His majesty have little no effect or impression upon our hearts?

This command is an issue of the heart. The greatest worth is to be ascribed to God because He is infinitely worthy. So, because of this, we are to worship Him alone as He has revealed Himself. His majesty and glory are to be always set before us in all that we think, say, or do. The heart, then, is to consist “in the pure inclination to have communion with God and to be satisfied in and with Him, to be in willing subjection under Him, to be in agreement with His will in regard to His doings and the manner in which He leads, and joyfully to live for God with the totality of one’s being,” (a’Brakel, 3:101).

Disclaimer: The content of this series is drawn from much of my notes of Dr. Bruce Baugus’ lectures. The language and arguments are adjusted to fit an easier reading flow, the content is catered to my writing style, and may not always accurately reflect Dr. Baugus’ sentiments or statements. Other sources are also used to draw in information.