The minister was teaching his Catechism class; he was giving instruction concerning Moses’ leading Israel out of Egypt to the Mount of God at Horeb. He asked his class very casually: can you quote the Ten Commandments?
To his surprise a few hands were raised. There were others who indicated that they could not recite it, even though they had heard it read hundreds of times during the church services. The minister selected the brightest youngster in the class. He said: go ahead now, and recite it. Confidently he began to recite as follows: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them…” He recited to the very end, and sat down.
The teaching minister asked the lad whether he had not forgotten something in his recitation. In fact, he asked the entire class. All thought the lad had done a good recitation; he beamed just a bit at his own accomplishment. However, the minister was convinced that the lad had omitted a part of the law; in fact, he had omitted the most important part of it! When the class was asked whether none had noticed the omission, there were none that had noticed.
The minister then pointed out patiently that the law does not begin with “Thou shalt not…,” but that the law begins with “I am…” The law does not begin with what we must do, but with what the Lord has done for us, and who He is to us! The children had thought that this was just a little introductory sentence; in fact, their own ministers had often read it thus as a mere “introduction” to the law. It had been read by the minister-liturgist in a very matter of fact, monotonous voice, without noticing during the reading, that in the Commandments 2, 3, and 4 we have the motivation “the Lord, thy God.” Nor had their ministers and teachers ever pointed out to them when the LORD says “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” that this is the very basis for all the commandments; that thus these commandments are virtually “new” commandments in the blood of atonement.
Small wonder that the little fellow could not even quote the entirety of the law, when he attempted to quote it literally!
By this time the minister knew better than to expect the children to know the “meaning” of the law of God. He surmised that for them the law was a mere series of rules, a list of don’ts and do’s, the former even in the majority! They were just some rule upon rule, here a little, there a little!
The minister was a good pedagogue; he knew how to lead the children into the truth, the mysteries of the kingdom.
He asked a question an arresting one. He asked the children whether they could find the “three things” which a Christian must know to enjoy the only comfort in life and death in this law of the “Ten Commandments.” Now you must know that these boys and girls had often sat in church when the form of the Lord’s Supper was read, and they had heard their minister intone “the true examination of ourselves consists of these three parts… First, that everyone consider by himself, his sins and the curse due to him for them… Secondly, that everyone examine his own heart, whether he doth believe this faithful promise of God… Thirdly, that everyone examine his own conscience, whether he purposeth henceforth to show true thankfulness to God in his whole life…” But how could they possibly connect this reading of the Form of the Lord’s Supper with the reading of the Ten Commandments?
By this time the attention of the entire class was riveted on the “introduction” to the law, and as they read carefully “three things’ came to stand out in bold relief. The hand of one of the children, who did not know the entire law from memory, or by mere rote and repetition, was raised. Gingerly he asked: Are these the same “three things” of which we so often read in the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly in Question 2? If so he thought he saw one of these three things: was there not the verb “redeemed” suggested in the “brought thee out of Egypt.” Had it not been “under the blood,” as God had said “and when I shall see the blood”? There it was: how I have been redeemed form my sins! It was Jehovah who had done it. And it is spoken by Him; it is the basis of the commandments.
Another hand went up in the class. This time a little girl asked whether the “bondage” here of Egypt was not the “bondage” of sins and guilt? If so, then we have here the word “misery.” Now this “introduction” became the Gospel of God in the blood for the children!
One thing more had to be seen. What were these commandments? Solely rules for everyone in the world? Or were they some rules for showing us how to show our “thankfulness to God” in our entire life? Surely enough, there they stand, these ten commandments! They are new commandments in the blood.
They are not God’s law to the world; they are the LORD’s commandments showing us how to work out our salvation with fear and trembling!
Can you thus quote the Ten Commandments?