The Ten Commandments

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

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1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 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; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7 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.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 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: 11 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.

12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:1-21).

WSC 41. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?

A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.1

1 Dt 10:4; Mt 19:17

In our previous study, we saw that the rule God first revealed to man for his obedience was the Moral Law. We noted that this was revealed not at Mount Sinai in 1446 BC, but at the creation of Man many years before that. Man was created in the image of God in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. The Fall destroyed the image of God in man completely. But enough of the work, or the requirements of the Law, remains in the heart of Fallen man for God to hold him personally responsible for his sin even if he does not get to hear the Law of God in his lifetime.

But what is this Law, whose requirements are written in man’s heart? We saw this must be the Moral Law of God. The Moral Law alone is applicable to all men, in every place and at all times. Despite the Fall, a semblance of the Moral Law is known to everyone worldwide and throughout the ages. All people, whether Jews or Gentiles, Christian or non-Christian, know that it is wrong to dishonour one’s parents, to murder, to commit adultery, to steal or to tell lies.

Is that all to the Moral Law? No, you will find some form of religion in every culture and civilization. You will find that whatever is worshipped is regarded as sacred and must be held in honour. You will find a method of worship that is jealously observed. You will find that it is regarded as a crime to blaspheme the name of deities or objects of worship. You will find religious days.

These things, together with those rules about interpersonal relationships, are viewed as defining morality in most cultures. A person is regarded as good and moral, or evil and immoral according to whether he observes these expectations.

But the question is: Where in the Bible do you find a set of laws that correspond to these intuitive moral markers? Well, if you have read through the Bible, you cannot miss it! It is in Exodus 20, where the Ten Commandments are recorded and Deuteronomy 5, where they are repeated.

  • The first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” corresponds to the moral duty that one must be faithful to his God.
  • The second corresponds to the moral duty to worship God in a proper manner.
  • The third corresponds to the moral duty to honour the name of God.
  • The fourth corresponds to the moral duty to observe the holy days appointed by God.
  • The fifth corresponds to the moral duty to honour one’s parents.
  • The sixth corresponds to the moral prohibition of murder.
  • The seventh corresponds to the moral prohibition against adultery.
  • The eighth corresponds to the moral prohibition against theft.
  • The ninth corresponds to the moral prohibition against lies.
  • The tenth corresponds to the moral prohibition against greed.

We can hardly fail to see that the LORD intends the Ten Commandments to be a statement or a summary of His Moral Law. All the statements of law that determine morality in the Scripture may be reduced to one or more of the Ten Commandments.

Thus, our Shorter Catechism, question 41, asks: “Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?” And answers: “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.”

We do not want to attempt to prove this assertion any more than we have done so far. To attempt to do so would be like trying to prove that the Lord Jesus and the Christ are the same person. Few of us have any doubt that this is the case.

Instead, the Lord helping us, we would like to talk briefly about what the Scripture reveals to us about the Ten Commandments.

We want, instead, to consider nine brief points with the acronym DECALOGUE. Decalogue means ten words. It refers to the Ten Commandments.

1. Declared Audibly and Majestically by the LORD

We read in Exodus 20:1, “And God spake all these words [i.e. the Ten Commandments].” Make no mistake: these words were spoken audibly in the hearing of the whole number of God’s covenant people at that time.

We know that these words were not spoken through the lips of Moses because, in verse 19, the people implored Moses: “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us lest we die.”

This is the only time the LORD spoke audibly to His entire church. And His words are accompanied by thundering and lightnings, the noise of the heavenly trumpets, and the mountain smoking (v. 18). These are words of power, majesty, gravity, and moment.

The rest of the law in the Pentateuch was conveyed to Moses, and Moses conveyed to the people. Not so, the Ten Commandments.

These are words that we cannot afford to ignore.

Indeed, it is to underscore this fact that we are told, secondly, that the Ten Commandments are…

2. Engraven on Stones by the LORD

We read this in Exodus 31:18:

“And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”

The two tables contain only the Ten Commandments. Years later, Moses would recount this event in Deuteronomy 9:10:

“And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire.”

God spoke only the Ten Commandments in the hearing of His people. Moses would come down from the mount with these two tablets. But when he saw the people dancing around the golden calf that Aaron had made, he was so angry he threw the tablets to the ground and smashed them to pieces (v. 19).

Subsequently, when God threatened to destroy the nation, Moses interceded for them.

When God’s anger was abated, He called Moses up to the mount again. This time, we may expect that God would require Moses to make a copy of the Ten Commandments since he broke the original. But what do we read? Exodus 34:1:

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.”

Verse 28:

“And he [i.e. the LORD] wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.”

This is remarkable, isn’t it? God, not only spoke the Ten Commandments in the hearing of His people, He inscribed it personally, as it were, with His own fingers, and that not once, but twice!

Surely, this tells us how vital the Ten Commandments must be in the mind of God. And as if that is not enough to convince us, consider how the two tablets were…

3. Consigned to Be Kept in the Ark

We read in Exodus 25:16 the words of the LORD to Moses:

“And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.”

What is the testimony? Look at Exodus 31:18:

“And he [i.e. the LORD] gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”

The testimony refers to the two tables of the Ten Commandments. So important is the Ten Commandments that God commanded that the two tables be kept in the most holy furniture, assigned to the most holy place, of the holy Tabernacle. Indeed, it is so important that, henceforth, the ark is known as the ark of the testimony! (Ex 25:22, 26:33, 34; 30:6, 26; 31:7; 39:25 etc, etc)

The Ten Commandments are the heart of the Revealed Will of God for His people!

But fourthly, consider how the Ten Commandments are…

4. Affirmed as the Condition of the Covenant of Works

Remember the few occasions when the Lord Jesus was asked, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (e.g. Mk 10:17; Lk 10:25; Lk 18:18). How does the Lord respond on each occasion? Well, remarkably, each time, the Lord’s answer is “keep the commandments.”

To the rich young ruler who called him “Good Master,” for example, the Lord specifically enumerated the 5th to 9th commandments (Lk 18:20). And when the young man claimed to have kept all these, the Lord showed him that he could not even keep the 10th Commandment since he would not sell everything when He whom he acknowledged as God by calling Him good a moment ago, instructs him to do so (v. 22). But how can a fallen man obtain life by obedience? Even in the unfallen state in the Garden of Eden, obedience is man’s expected duty, which merits nothing (Lk 17:10).

No doubt, then, the Lord Jesus must be referring to the condition of the Covenant of Works. God had entered into a covenant of works with Adam, representing all mankind. The condition of the covenant was perfect, personal, perpetual and comprehensive obedience. But obedience to what standard? Undoubtedly, it must be the Moral Law, summarised in the Ten Commandments. Adam and Eve, no doubt, knew a pre-Fall expression of it so that, for example, instead of “thou shalt not commit adultery,” they would have known “thou shalt keep thyself pure”… because adultery to an unfallen mind would be inconceivable.

But if man cannot obtain life by the covenant of work, why does the Lord bring up the Covenant of Works? Why is it essential to know that the condition of the Covenant of Works is essentially the Ten Commandments? It is essential because Christ came to keep the Covenant of Works on our behalf. And it is important also because when Christ redeems us, he frees us from the bondage of sin so that we can walk according to God’s law. That is to say, when we are redeemed, we are also enabled to live according to our covenant responsibility before God.

What is our covenant responsibility? Well, it includes, no doubt, obedience to the commandments of God. The Ten Commandments are the word of the covenant. See that in Deuteronomy 4:13. Moses is speaking to the new generation of Israelites waiting to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 4:13:

“And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.”

The Covenant of Works was not abolished. Christ kept it for us, and enables us to walk in it. He is alluding to this as He affirms the Ten Commandments as the condition of the Covenant of Works.

Now, fifthly, consider how…

5. Latitudinous Meaning Is Implied

Latitudinous meaning is implied whenever we look at the commandments. Latitudinous means broad and extensive. I will not elaborate on this point as it can be very technical. But I will encourage you to read Question 99 of the Westminster Larger Catechism. There, we are taught eight rules for correctly interpreting the Ten Commandments.

The 4th rule says in part:

“where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded.”

Thus, for example, the 6th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” implies “Thou shalt do what you can to sustain life.”

Likewise, the 6th rule says:

“That under one sin or duty, all of the same kind are forbidden or commanded; together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto.”

Thus, the 5th commandment is not only about honouring parents, but honouring all other authorities, including civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

Based on this principle, we can infer the fuller meaning of the 2nd Commandment, which teaches us that we are not to make graven images, nor bow down to them. But we leave that for another occasion.

For now, sixthly, let us take note that…

6. Obedience in Heart is Required

This is the emphasis of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember how he says:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).

Some of the Jews think that they are keeping the 7th Commandment so long as they are not cheating on their wives by physical intimacy with other women. But the Lord tells them otherwise.

Thus, the Lord tells us: “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20).

We know from the context that He is not talking about imputed righteousness because He goes on to tell us how we must keep the commandments of God.

If that is the case, then what hope have we? If God looks at the heart, who can say we have kept the commandments as we should? Do we not all constantly fall short of the Ten Commandments in our thoughts, attitudes, speech and conduct? How can we be more righteous than the Pharisees? Indeed, what hope have we to be acceptable to God? Well, thank God that seventhly, the Ten Commandments were…

7. Genuinely and Perfectly Kept by Christ Jesus

This is what we were alluding to earlier when we spoke of how the Lord affirmed that the Ten Commandment is the condition of the Covenant of Works.

Although no fallen man can keep God’s Law perfectly, the Covenant of Works was not abrogated, for there is one who can fulfil its demands, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ came to do the will of the Father. He says in Psalm 40:7:

“Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”

Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord says:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mt 5:17-18).

The Lord came to fulfil not just the ceremonial laws, but also the Moral Law.

Christ came to fulfil the covenant for us.

Bearing that in mind, let us understand that…

8. Unless Represented by Christ, We Will Be Slain by It

Look at what Paul says in Romans 7:7b:

7b I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”

Paul is referring to the 10th commandment. Notice what he says. The Law was ordained to life (v. 10). How is it ordained to life? It is ordained to life under the Covenant of Life or the Covenant of Works. Paul thought he had kept the law sufficiently to obtain life when he was a Pharisee persecuting the church.

But on the Road to Damascus, the Lord opened his eyes and saw that he was a law-breaker. The law slew him, for it was made abundantly clear to him that he could not keep the law perfectly—not even the least of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not covet.”

Elsewhere in Galatians 3:10, Paul says:

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

Those who do not keep the law perfectly come under the curse of the law. The law which was ordained unto life becomes for him an instrument of death! Can you see how keeping the commandments is not optional? It is a matter of life and death. Because we fail to keep the commandments, we are slain by the commandments—unless we are represented by Christ.

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” says Paul (Rom 7:25)

Thank God that Christ came to do for His elect what Adam failed to do, and what we ourselves cannot do. The apostle Paul says:

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

Thank God that all who are united to Christ by faith have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. Were it not so, all that the commandments will be for us is death, even everlasting death.

But let us remember, finally, that…

9. Every True Believe Will Seek to Walk in It

“Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God,” says our Shorter Catechism, question 14. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law,” says John (1 Jn 3:4).

Sin, in short, is lawlessness.

Christ came to deliver us from the bondage of sin. We were designed to live under the law just like fishes are designed to live underwater. A fish in a fish tank may seem to be very restricted. But take the fish out of the water, and it will be in real bondage. It will die.

Satan knew that when he tempted Adam and Eve to break free of the commandment of God. He wanted them to jump out of the water to taste freedom. Break free. You shall be like God, he hissed!

They took the fruit, and they died, and together with them, all mankind by ordinary generation.

Christ came not only to reconcile us to God in justification, but to revive us and to put us back to live in the water of the law of God.

One day, in paradise, we shall again swim in the law of God without any temptation to come out of the water.

But in the wisdom of God, today, all true believers are like mudskippers. We can swim in the water, and we need the water, but we are often tempted to forage in the mud of sin. This foraging is to be confessed and repented of, and we thank God that there is forgiveness in Christ.

But the question is: Are you really a mudskipper, or are you a mangrove viper that stays near the water only because there is food to be found? You don’t need the water, and you may even hate the water. You will drown if you stay underwater for too long. You don’t really belong to the water, but you live by the water for reasons known to yourself.

The Lord Jesus warns that many will be like that on the last day. He says many will call him, “Lord, Lord, have we not done wonderful works in thy name.” But He will say to them: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:23). The word translated ‘iniquity’ literally means lawlessness.

You see, no one can be saved by law-keeping, but all true believers will seek to walk in the way of the law. True believers love Christ. If ye love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1Jn 5:3).

The true believer may fall into sin, for he is still a mudskipper, not an angelfish. But the true believer does not refuse to obey God’s law, for his heart has been changed. He is enabled to keep God’s law, and he wants to keep God’s law out of gratitude and love for Him. He finds the law not grievous.

Today, there are many professing Christians who hate the law, who do not wish to know the law, or to keep the law. They will be offended if you tell them that they are walking in sin. Why? I believe the reason is unbelief, for if there is genuine belief, there will be heartfelt, loving obedience. Unbelief tells the heart: why bother? Most people are not keeping the Law anyway. God will understand. Why be so strict when there is a possibility that we may be interpreting wrongly?

But beloved brethren and children, if Christ did not redeem you from sin and lawlessness, I don’t know what He delivered you from.


We learned nine things about the Ten Commandments.

These are sober and essential truths. There was a time when the church understood these things and emphasized the commandments. Even Anglican and Methodist churches recognized how important they were. Today, the story is very different. Today, we have professedly Reformed churches downplaying the Ten Commandments.

But the more important question is: What are the Ten Commandments to you? Ask yourself seven questions: Firstly, do you know them? Secondly, are you persuaded of their importance? Thirdly, do you strive to keep them out of love for the Lord? Fourthly, are you conscious of your failures? Fifthly, does your failure shut you up to Christ, who alone kept the commandments perfectly? Sixthly, do you believe Christ kept them for you and paid for your failure by His suffering and death? Seventhly, are you grateful to Christ for what He did for you? Amen.

—JJ Lim