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Afternoon Sermon: The Moral Law, Baptist Catechism 44-47, Matthew 22:34–40

Baptist Catechism 44-47

Q. 44. What is the duty which God requireth of man?

A. The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to His revealed will. (Micah 6:8; Eccles. 12:13; Ps. 119:4; Luke 10:26-28)

Q. 45. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?

A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law. (Rom. 2:14,15; 5:13,14)

Q. 46. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?

A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments. (Deut. 10:4; Matt. 19:17)

Q. 47. What is the sum of the Ten Commandments?

A. The sum of the Ten Commandments is, to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-33)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:34–40

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:34–40, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

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Baptist Catechism 44

Last week we entered into the third and final large section of the catechism when we considered question 44, which asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” Answer: “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to His revealed will.” “Duty” means responsibility or obligation. So the question is this, what does God expect man to do? What is man’s obligation before God? What is his responsibility or duty?

In that sermon, I pointed out that this is a very important question, and it is also very timely. And by timely I mean, it is the right question to ask at this point in our catechism given all that we have learned. And what have we learned? Well, in brief, we have learned about God! We have learned that God – the Triune God (BC 8, 9), who is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth” (BC 7) – is our Creator. He is the creator of all things seen and unseen. He has given us life, and he sustains us continuously. More than this, we have also learned that, though we have sinned against God, he has redeemed us. God the Father has accomplished our redemption through Son and he effectively applies it benefits to his elect by the working of the Holy Spirit. So then, in questions 7 through 43 we have learned all about God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. 

If you have been paying attention to this teaching; if you have believed it in the mind and received it in the heart; if you have grasped, at least to some degree, the glory of God and his goodness to us in Christ Jesus, then you will agree that this is the right question to ask: “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” In other words, how should I respond to this Holy and Awesome God and to the marvelous grace that he has shown to me in redeeming me from bondage to sin? This is the question that a creature should ask his Creator. And I suppose it could be said that this is, even more so, the question that one who has been redeemed should ask his Redeemer. We ought to respond to God, our Creator, and Redeemer, saying, I’m grateful. I owe you everything.  What do you, O God, require of me?

The question is fitting. It is timely. Again the answer: “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to His revealed will.” 

So then, what do we owe to our Creator and Redeemer? Out of reverence for him and gratitude for all he has done for us through Christ to redeem us, we owe him “obedience”. Obedience to what? Our catechism is right to say, obedience to his revealed will.

When we speak of God’s will, we are speaking of his command or decree. And his will may be considered in two ways. 

First, we may speak of God’s hidden or secret will. This is God’s will or decree concerning all that will come to pass in history. Why is it called “secret” or “hidden”? Because God has not revealed it to us! What will happen tomorrow? We don’t know! The future is a mystery to us. But does God know what will happen tomorrow? Yes! And he knows not only because he can see the future, but because he has decreed what will happen in the future. We call this decree his “hidden will”. The biblical teaching concerning God’s decree was summarized for us way back in Baptist Catechism 10: “What are the decrees of God?” A: “The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory, He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

Notice, we are not called to obey God’s hidden will. How could we? For it has not been revealed or told to us! But we are called to obey God’s revealed will, that is to say, his laws or commandments which he has given to us. And that is the second way we speak of God’s will. His revealed will is his law. 

You know, one thing I have noticed over the years is that people sometimes get this backward. The obsess over knowing God’s hidden will while ignoring God’s revealed will. Even Christians can fall into the trap of obsessing over questions like this: “what is God’s plan for my life”, or “what does the future hold for me”, while failing to do that which God has clearly commanded.  Jesus had something to say about that in Matthew 6:25: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25–33, ESV). That’s really marvelous, isn’t it? Jesus is saying, don’t obsess over the future. Don’t be anxious about things outside of your control. Instead, trust God as it pertains to these things, and focus instead on living in obedience to God while seeking to further his Kingdom.  

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Baptist Catechism 45-47

Questions 45 through 47 of our catechism clarify which law we are obligated to obey and where it is found. 

First, in question 45 we are rightly taught that God revealed his will, or law, by first writing it on the heart of man at creation. Q 45: “What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?”

A: “The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.” You would do well to notice that Romans 2:14-15 and 5:13-14 are listed as proof texts for this Q&A. Romans 2:14-15 teaches that God wrote his law on man’s heart at creation, and Romans 5:13-14 teaches that the God’s law was in fact in the world prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. The point is this: God’s law was not given for the first time when it was written on those stone tablets and given to Israel through Moses. No, God’s law was first written on the heart of man when God created him. Adam knew right from wrong, and good from evil because God made him in his image. Man has God’s moral law written on his heart. He knows right from wrong. Now, granted, man is now fallen. This law is now badly bent out of shape, marred, distorted, and suppressed so that men by nature love what is evil and flee from what is good. But it is important for us to confess that God made man with this capacity to know right from wrong, and that man was upright in the beginning. 

Secondly, question 46 connects the moral law of God (which was written on man’s heart at the beginning and is universal and unchanging) with the Ten Commandments that were written on stone and given to Israel at Sinai. Q 46: “Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?” A: “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.” That question and answer are worded very carefully to guard against error. 

One, it is clear that there is a connection between the moral law and the Ten Commandments written on stone. Do you wish to know God’s moral law which is for all people living in all times and places? Then you should go to the Ten Commandments, for there the moral law is comprehended or known. 

Two, it is also important to notice that the moral law and the Ten Commandments are not equated. If they – the moral law and the Ten Commandments –  were the exact same thing the question would have been more direct, perhaps something like this: Where do we find the moral law? And the answer would have simply been, in the Ten Commandments. Instead, the question and answer are more nuanced. “Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?” A: “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.” 

“Summarily comprehended” means summarized in a way that is clear and knowable. It is important that the question and answer be phrased in this way for two reasons. 

One, there are some things stated in the Ten Commandments that were unique to Old Covenant Israel, and are not, therefore, for all people living in all times and places. In other words, not everything stated in the Ten Commandments is to be regarded as “moral law”. Take for example the preface, which mentions Israel’s redemption from Egypt. Consider also the commandment to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day. Also, remember the blessings attached to the keeping of the fifth commandment, namely, blessings in the land that would be given to Israel. And do not forget the curses attached to the breaking of the second commandment, namely, God’s “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep [his] commandments” (Exodus 20:5–6, ESV). The point is this, the moral law and the Ten Commandments are not to be equated because there are some things stated with them that were unique to Isarel, and are not for all people living in all times and places. Nevertheless, the moral law is comprehended within the Ten Commandments. 

Two, the phrasing of this question and answer is important because the Ten Commandments are to be regarded as a summary of the moral law. In other words, the Ten Commandments do not say all that can possibly be said about living in a way that is right before God but function as a summary. The implications must be fleshed out. This will be demonstrated beautifully in questions 45 through 89 as our catechism will follow this pattern with each one of the Ten Commandments. What is the _____ commandment? What does this commandment require? What does this commandment forbid? You will notice that we are not only going to memorize the Ten Commandments. We will also, with the help of Srcripture, tease out the implications or necessary consequences, of each commandment. For example, the fifth commandment, honor your father and mother, “requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” The Scriptures clearly teach that this is the implication of the fifth commandments, which is to be regarded as a summary of God’s moral law. 

Finally, we come to question 47 which asks, “What is the sum of the Ten Commandments?” Or to put it another way, what is the sum of the summary of God’s moral law? Answer: “The sum of the Ten Commandments is, to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.” 

The proof texts cited here are Mattew 22:36-40 and Mark 12:28-33. These passages record for us Jesus’ answer to the question, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” And said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36–40, ESV). 

Clearly, Jesus was summarizing the first four of the Ten Commandments when he spoke of the love we are to offer up to God, and the last six of the Ten Commandments when he spoke of the love we are to show to our neighbor. It should be remembered that this idea was not unique to Jesus. No, he was simply quoting the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18.

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Conclusion

So then, what duty does God require of man? A: Obedience to His revealed will. This reminds me of what Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV).

And what did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience? He gave man his moral law. He wrote it on Adam’s heart at the time of creation. This is a part of what it meant for Adam and Eve to have been made in God’s image. 

And where is this moral law summarized for us so that it might be known? A: “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.” 

And what is the sum of the Ten Commandments? A: The sum of the Ten Commandments is, to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.“

May the Lord do two things for us. One, may he show us that we cannot keep this law but daily break it in thought, word, and deed, and therefore, are in need of a Savior, Christ the Lord. Two, may he give us faith in Christ along with a renewed mind, heart, and will so that we might do what God has commanded, out of gratitude for what he has graciously done for us as our Creator and Redeemer.

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