Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets…
The commandments of God are the laws of happiness. They are the rules of health both for soul and body. There can be no well-being on earth, and no heaven without them. We have too long been in the habit of thinking that goodness is only good because God has commanded it, and evil would be good, or at least very pleasant, if it had not been forbidden. We have not regarded goodness as the indispensable means of happiness, just as much as breath is to life, labour to success, or water to steam. The commandments are the laws of goodness. They are summed up by our Lord into two (Matthew 22:36-40). Here are the essential laws of happiness. Society constituted upon them must be happy. Let love to God fill the heart, inspire the intellect, and pervade every thought, and we walk as the friends of the Lord. We exult in our heavenly Father's goodness (Isaiah 48:18). The Lord is to the soul like the sun to the solar system. From Him come the warmth, the brightness, and the fertility which beautify and bless the soul. It is as vain to expect a bright or a happy mind where love to God is not, as to expect bright or a cheerful world without the sun. And hence, the Divine command is not an arbitrary decree. It is the condition of our well-being. Nothing can dispense with it (Deuteronomy 32:46, 47). Let us consider a little in detail the commandments in relation to God. But first let us notice that they are addressed to those who have come out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. When the soul, wearied with the tyranny of sin, receives the help offered by its Saviour, He proclaims liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison-house to them that were bound. He strikes the fetters from the slave of his sins, and gives to His delivered servant the glorious liberty of the children of light. None but these can keep the commandments, or desire to do so. Hence, they are addressed to such. He is the First and the Last. He who comes to Him will find rest unto his soul. Ambition is a fearful idol. We watch its worshipper giving himself to its absorbing anxieties, to engross all his faculties, that he may achieve success. The merchant has become a millionaire, and is insane. Such is the result of worshipping the likeness of things on the earth. It is the same when we bow down to and serve an image or likeness of anything in the waters under the earth. Spiritual fish are those appetites for science which delight in the waters of knowledge. The world of thought is a wide sea. The thoughts of the worldly are as a vast troubled sea (Isaiah 57:20). Only where the glorious river and streams of Divine truth flow can the sanctified sciences, the true fish of the soul, really live. Not a small history would that be which detailed the sorrows of scientific men when their science has not been made sober and sacred by being subordinated to heavenly wisdom. One eminent man, after waiting in vain for a king's smile, in France, went and died of chagrin. Another committed suicide because the British Association had not awarded him sufficient honour for his chemical discoveries. And what a world of suffering does such a termination disclose! To make life a circle of blessing it must begin and end with God. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." To form this first indispensable element for happiness, the Lord, from His infinite love to us, is a jealous God. He requires our worship not for His sake, but ours. He needs nothing of ours, but we need Him. He watches, with unutterable tenderness, to preserve us from the hell of existence in the wild chaos of being in which He is not the supreme centre and the supreme law. He is jealous with an infinite and holy jealousy, to preserve each child from danger and from ruin. But He warns us, also, that ruin to one generation involves danger to the next. In His wisdom He has connected the race together like the links of a chain, so that the progress of one generation may transmit better qualities to another, and thus the race be ever advancing to a higher degree of talent, of order, and happiness. The wealth, mental as well as physical, is thus transmitted to the future generations of mankind. This law, however, when perverted, works in the opposite direction. The iniquity of the father is visited upon the son. It must be so. The order of nature is not suspended. It works inversely, because man will have it so, but it exists. He, therefore, who would know the extent of the wrong he does when he sins, should reflect, not only on its consequences to himself, but on the hereditary evil he transmits to his children. They are, it is true, not punished for it, but it gives them a proneness to actual evils for which they will be punished. The first three commandments are the head and essence of the whole. They fill the rest with spiritual life. Without them the rest are dead and unavailing. The first three relate to spiritual life, the next five to the conduct of man in civil society, and the remaining two to his moral life and motives. Here permit me to draw your attention to the interesting circumstances recorded in the Gospel, respecting the young man who came to inquire of the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Saviour supplied what the young man was lacking — the essence of the first three commandments, which he had in reality not done. Here, again, we see the blessedness of keeping the Divine laws. The young man, though rich, and in many respects estimable; though in the sight of the world worthy of admiration, and to some an object of envy, was unhappy. He felt there was a void within, which no outward possessions, or even the moral law alone, could fill. God must be enthroned there: He must be the tree of life in the centre of the garden, or there will be no paradise. No one can have that confidence which is essential to happiness who is not resting on the Rock of Ages; no one has a right to have it; no one has a right to enjoy himself in the universe who does not render homage to its Great Proprietor. But when a man devotes himself to the Lord, a peace inexpressible takes possession of his soul — a bright dawn, like that of a morning in spring, breaks in upon him, and all things laugh and sing. It is the kingdom of heaven come nigh unto him: it is heaven begun. We will now notice the commandments which relate to civil life, that is, in the letter, for in the spiritual sense we must ever bear in mind they all relate to operations in the soul, and to our supreme obedience to the Lord, and the rejection of internal evils as sins against Him; in this sense the commandments are exceedingly broad (Psalm 119:96). We need scarcely remark how miserable are the homes where the parents are not respected; what insolences, what contempt, what slightings of parental counsel, what jealousies of the rest of the family, take away satisfaction from the children, and make a perpetual source of discomfort to the parents. But, on the contrary, how blessed is the home where father and mother are honoured! Confidence in their loving hearts is felt. Mutual kindness weaves continually garlands of spiritual roses. Let us take another commandment: "Thou shalt not commit murder." Who could possibly be happy while violating this? Even in the lighter form, in which the act is not committed, but, as the Lord teaches in the gospel, a person hates another, there is no possibility of happiness. Hate takes away peace from the heart where it dwells; it forms a brood of viperous tempers, which not only strive to injure the person hated, but also prey upon one another. The same result will follow the consideration of every other commandment. No happiness can exist except in proportion as it is from the heart obeyed. Again and again we say, How could a heaven exist where these perfect laws do not exist, or how can a breach of them result in anything but sorrow? It is the same with bearing false witness against the neighbour. An atmosphere of lies must be fraught with curses. Even the last two commandments, though externally not appearing to relate to evils so formidable to society, in reality do so most completely. Where all are covetous must be misery indeed; to feel that you were surrounded by those who envied you every comfort, who greedily watched and waited for every opportunity to despoil you. The hell of the covetous must be a real chamber of horrors, overflowing with envy and gall. On the contrary, as this spirit is shunned or subdued, a delight in imparting takes its place, a rejoicing over another's joy. A cheerful generous outpouring of blessed influences, an intense satisfaction in the well-being of others; a watchfulness in seizing every opportunity to promote the general joy; these principles and states unlock the very portals of bliss, and give us the reason for the Divine words (Isaiah 48:18). Let it not be said, that in the New Testament these Divine laws are repealed, for the very reverse is the case. The Lord came to give us new power to keep the essential laws of our happiness (Matthew 5:17, 19, 20). Did the Lord's coming, death, glorification, and resurrection, give no power to follow Him in the regeneration, and to keep His commandments? Is keeping the commandments such a difficult thing that the Holy Spirit cannot enable us to do it? The apostle said, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me," and why cannot you? It is not the power you want, it is the will. Keeping the commandments does not make difficulties; it is not keeping them. Awake to righteousness, and sin not. Rouse yourself to the determination to vanquish evil, and with the Lord and His angels assisting you, the victory will be sure.
(J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.