THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD
1. The Ten Commandments were given by God to the Jews on Mount Sinai.
The proclamation of the commandments took place on the fiftieth day after the exit of the Israelites from Egypt. When giving them, God prefaced them with the solemn announcement: “I am the Lord thy God, etc.” (Exod. xx. 2), acting as a monarch, who places his name and titles at the head of the decree he issues, to inspire his subjects with respect. The Ten Commandments were written by God on two tables of stone, to indicate that they were only an amplification of the two commandments of charity. They are called the commandments of God, because He is their Author; they are also known as the Decalogue, i.e., ten words. We must here remark that the Catholic Church, acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has slightly altered the Decalogue in a Christian sense. The Jewish Decalogue, given on Mount Sinai, consists of these precepts: (1). The command to worship no God but the true God. (2). The prohibition against the worship of images. (3). The prohibition against taking God’s name in vain. (4). The command to keep holy the Sabbath. (5). The command to honor one’s parents. (6). The prohibition against murder. (7). Adultery. (8). Theft. (9). False witness. (10). Coveting other men’s goods (Exod. xx. 1-17). The Catholic Church has joined the Second Commandment, forbidding the worship of images, to the first, and divided the tenth into two separate commands, in order that the Christian wife may be duly respected (vide Ninth Commandment). The command to keep holy the Sabbath is changed into the precept to sanctify Sundays and holy-days. The idea of the Jews that upon each table five laws were in scribed is probably correct, since the first five commandments of the Jewish Decalogue contained their duty towards God and His representatives, and the latter five their duty towards their neighbor. Moreover, Our Lord, when answering the rich young man, began with the precept against murder, and St. Paul classed together the last five commands of the Jewish Decalogue (which correspond to the last six of the Christian).
2. We Christians are bound to observe the Ten Commandments of God, both because God has imprinted them upon the human heart, and because Christ laid them upon us anew in a more full and perfect form.
The Ten Commandments are binding on us who are Christians; they were imprinted on the heart of every man. It was only because the divine light in man had been obscured by evil ways and corrupt manners that the law was given upon Sinai. Thus what man would no longer read in his own heart, was inscribed on tables of stone. Christ reiterated the Ten Commandments when speaking to the rich youth (Matt. xix. 18), and in the sermon on the mount He amplified several of them, e.g., the Second, by declaring unnecessary oaths to be sinful; or the Fifth and Eighth, when He proscribed hatred and calumny, and even enjoined the love of our enemies; the Sixth by condemning the indulgence of evil desires (Matt. v.).
3. The Ten Commandments of God are arranged in order.
The first three comprise our duty to God as our supreme Ruler.
In the First Commandment He requires from us worship and fidelity; in the Second, reverence; in the Third, service.
The Fourth contains our duty towards those who are God’s representatives upon earth, and who are at the same time of all men our greatest benefactors.
The remaining six commandments contain our duties to our selves and to our fellow-men. The Fifth is for the protection of life, the Sixth of purity, the Seventh of property, the Eighth of honor, the Ninth and Tenth of the domestic life of one’s neighbor.
4. He who keeps all these commandments receives a great reward from God on earth, and after death he may look forward to eternal felicity as his portion.
God has ordained that what is to us the means of attaining ever lasting happiness should also promote our welfare on earth. Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Tim. iv. 8). He who observes God’s commandments obtains interior content, health, honor, riches, and a more intimate knowledge of God. David says to God: “Much peace have they that love Thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block” (Ps. cxviii. 165). “By Thy commandments I have had understanding” (v. 104). He who keeps God’s commandments triumphs over sufferings and persecutions. His house is built upon a rock, and the force of the elements is impotent to overthrow it (Matt. vii. 25). Only by the bridge of obedience can we enter into heaven; it is a bridge with ten arches (St. Vincent Ferrer). If our reward on earth is but trifling, our reward in heaven will be all the greater; it will be a recompense surpassing all our hopes and expectations, without limit and without end. He fulfills his promise who gives more and better than was expected of him (St. Jerome).
5. Temporal and eternal chastisements await the man who grievously violates a single one of these commandments.
He who transgresses the commandments will have both temporal and eternal punishment. The temporal punishments of sin are in general, discontent, sickness, the loss of honor or of property, hunger and other miseries. He who does not keep God’s commandments will have no help from God in the time of affliction. Our Lord says the house of such a one is built on the sand, and will be destroyed (Matt. vii. 27). The lightnings and smoke on Mount Sinai are typical of the fire which will be the penalty of those who transgress God’s law. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law but offend in one point, is become guilty of all” (Jas. ii. 10). The reason of this is because all the commandments form one whole; they are so closely bound up together, that one cannot be maintained without the others. He who violates one commandment transgresses the law of charity, on which all the commandments depend (St. Augustine). In this they are like a stringed instrument; one broken string will ruin the melody. Or like the human body; if one member be diseased, it is enough to cause death. If the whole city is guarded and one part left un-watched the enemy will effect an entrance. The lost in hell kept a great many of the commandments; they are damned because they did not keep all.
6. It is not a difficult matter to keep these commandments as long as God helps us with His grace; hence Christ says to His followers: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. xi. 30).
St. John says to the Christians: “His commandments are not heavy” (1 John v. 3). The burden is heavy in itself, out God assists us with His grace to bear it if we ask Him. St. Augustine says: “When God lays a command upon thee, He requires thee to do all thou canst, and in what thou canst not do to implore His help, and He will enable thee to do it.” “I can do all things in Christ that strengtheneth me” (Phil. iv. 13). Moreover the example of the saints who went before us serves to encourage us.