Commandments

The term commandments is found in and represents an integral part of both the Mosaic and Christian systems, but with widely different significance. In fact, the variance between the two systems is clearly represented by these different uses of the word. Of the three major classifications of humanity commandments are addressed in the Scriptures to the Jew and the Christian, but not to the Gentile, or for that matter anyone unsaved—either Jew or Gentile—in this age, the reason being that divine commandments serve only to direct the daily life of those who are in right relation to God. For the Jew in the old order this affiliation was wrought by a physical birth which brought him into covenant relation to God, and for the Christian this is achieved by a spiritual birth which brings him into sonship relation to God. Of the Gentiles, however, it must be said: "That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12), and as for a lost estate there is now "no difference" even between Jew and Gentile (Rom. 3:9; 10:12). It follows, then, that no commandments are now addressed to Jews. In the present age the first issue between God and an unsaved person—Jew or Gentile—is not one of correction or direction of daily life, but of personal salvation through faith in Christ. Therefore, directions for daily life are not addressed to the unsaved in this age.

1. In the Old Testament. The divine counsels for Israel which came by Moses and which remained in effect until the death and resurrection of Christ fall into three major divisions, namely, the commandments (Ex. 20:1-17) which directed Israel's moral actions, the judgments (Ex. 21:1-24:11) which governed Israel's social activities, and the statutes or ordinances (Ex. 24:12-31:18) which guided Israel's religious activities. These three forms of divine requirement were interrelated and interdependent; one could not function fully apart from the other two. The modern notion that the Mosaic commandments are still in force, but that the judgments and ordinances have been abolished, can be entertained only when inattention exists respecting the form and nature of the Mosaic commandments. Great grace from God to the Jews of old is observable in the fact that apart from any merit of their own they were by sovereign election—each one of them—born physically into covenant relationship with God. Similarly, great grace was upon them which, when they sinned, provided restoration into right relations with God through blood sacrifice. Such restoration was granted to every Israelite. The whole nation was restored to a right relationship with God on the Day of Atonement. There was, however, always a remnant of all those in the nation who manifested a particular renewal or spiritual reality. Some of these are listed in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and many more are recorded throughout the Old Testament and in the early portions of the New Testament.

Upon examination (Num. 15:32-36), it will be discovered that the penalty of death was divinely imposed for the breaking of the ten commandments. Concerning this severity in the penalty for infraction of the Mosaic Law, it is written: "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses" (Heb. 10:28). That the Mosaic system is not now in force is evident from the fact that not all its conditions are applicable. The Sabbath enjoined by the Mosaic Law is superseded for the present age by the Lord's Day, and the promise of long life upon the promised land which God had bestowed has no relation to the Church. To her there was no land given, for she is definitely said to be a people who are "strangers and pilgrims." In like manner, a long life here contradicts the truth that the Christian is waiting for the return of Christ to receive him into glory (1 Thess. 1:9-10). The commandments of Moses are declared directly by the Scriptures to be abolished and done away for the present age (cf. John 1:17; Rom. 6:14; 7:1, 3-4; 2 Cor. 3:6-11; Gal. 3:23-25). 2 Corinthians 3:7 determines the fact that it is the Ten Commandments of Moses as well as the judgments and ordinances which were done away. If it be feared that the disannulling of the commandments of Moses as such involves the loss of their great principles of righteousness, it may be observed that every truth contained in the Mosaic system of morals—excepting that related to the Sabbath day—has been restated under grace, but is there adapted to grace and not to law. The first of the Ten Commandments of Moses appears nearly fifty times in and adapted to the new relationships under grace. The commandments of Moses partake of the nature of elementary instructions adapted to minors who are "under tutors and governors," but to those who were in such relation to God by covenant nevertheless as to be according to His will and purpose for them. This relationship which the nation Israel sustained to Jehovah should not be confused with the high and holy relationship which Christians now sustain toward God by reason of being in Christ. It is because of the fact that Israel was in covenant relation to God that the manner of life set forth in the Mosaic system could be addressed to them. Observing to do all that Moses required did not bring them into the Jewish covenants; they were enjoined to keep the law because God in grace, apart from all merit of their own, had placed them in covenant relation to Himself. Students who recognize and teach these most fundamental facts are sometimes accused by Covenant theologians of holding that people of the old order were saved and constituted what they were by keeping the Law of Moses, all of which is a misconception. The godly Jew was subject to blessing for his faithfulness in that which Jehovah required of him. But the Mosaic Law only holds the distinction of being Jehovah's rule of life for His people in the age that is past. These are the commandments which they "brake" (Jer. 31:32) and which are yet to be incorporated into (Deut. 30:8), although as a covenant to be superseded by, the new covenant which has still to come (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-13).

2. From Christ. The second use of the word commandments, when reference is made by it to a system or to principles governing human action, occurs when it signifies the commandments of Christ. When setting forth the principles which are to obtain in the coming kingdom age (Matt. 5:1-7:29), Christ drew certain contrasts between that which enters into the Mosaic system and that which will obtain in the kingdom (Matt. 5:17-48). The oft-repeated formula is, "Ye have heard that it was said [by Moses] ... but I say unto you." In none of these contrasts, however, did Christ use the term my commandments. This designation was not used until He came to the upper room the night before He was crucified, at which time He introduced the body of truth especially belonging to the Church in the present age of grace. There is nothing accidental here. This phrase on the lips of Christ designates, and by it He distinguishes, the range of truth which belongs to the present age. Thus at the end of His ministry on earth and after the forty days of instruction following His resurrection, He directed His disciples to teach all things that He had commanded them (Matt. 28:20), but did not include the Mosaic system. It is to be noted that Christ's first injunction was "a new commandment" (John 13:34), and that love is enjoined here as the evidence required to indicate that marvelous unity which all believers form (cf. John 17:21-23)—a unity wrought by the Holy Spirit and to be kept or manifested by love one for another. No such unity ever existed before. That which is included under the words "my commandments" was taken up and expanded by the Apostle Paul in his epistles. References to Christ's commandments are many—John 13:34-35; 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 John 2:3; 3:22-24; 4:21; 5:2-3; 2 John 1:4-5. Cf. Matthew 28:20; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:2.

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