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Afternoon Sermon: What Is The Preface To The Ten Commandments And What Does It Teach?, Baptist Catechism 48 & 49, Deuteronomy 10:12–11:1 

Baptist Catechism 48 & 49

Q. 48. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?

A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is in these words; “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2)

Q. 49. What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?

A. The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments. (Deut 11:1)

Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 10:12–11:1

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.” (Deuteronomy 10:12–11:1, 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.

Introduction

In the weeks and months to come we will be learning all about the Ten Commandments. We learn what they are, what they require, and what they forbid. As you know, the Ten Commandments contain a summary of God’s moral law. God’s moral law is for all men living in all times and places. All men have this law written on their hearts. All men are bound to keep it. And all men will be judged by this law on the last day, if not in Christ. More was said about this in previous sermons. But I hope you would also agree with me that God’s people – those who have been redeemed by God, and who bear his name – have a special kind of obligation to obey their God. 

Really, this is what the preface, or the introduction, to the Ten Commandments teaches. All people have an obligation to obey God’s revealed will, that is to say, his moral law. Why? Because God is our Creator, and we are his creatures – we were made in his image, to know, worship, and serve him. But if we are in Christ – if we have been rescued by him and washed clean by his blood – then we have a special kind of obligation to keep God’s law, for God is not only our Creator, but is also our Redeemer. This is true for all who have faith in Christ, and this was pictured in an earthy way amongst the Hebrews in the days of Moses when they were redeemed from Egyptian bondage.  

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The Catechism Explained

Question 48 of our catechism asks, “What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?” A preface is an introduction that sets the tone for what will follow. And the answer to question 48 is simply a quotation of Exodus 20:2: “The preface to the Ten Commandments is in these words; ‘I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). That is how the Ten Commandments are introduced in Exodus 20:2. 

By the way, you have probably noticed that the English found in our catechism is Old English. That is because this document was written a long time ago, originally in the 17th century. Parents, you are free to modernize the language for your children if you’d like. As a church, we have decided to retain the original because altering documents foundational to an institution such as catechisms and confessions can be tricky business. If you wish to memorize the preface to the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Commandments themselves using the language of the ESV or some other modern Bible translation, that would be fine. The point is that we learn what these questions and answers mean, for the Christian faith is summarized here – the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in this document. Hopefully, we can also put these questions and answers to memory, for that will help us in our learning.  

But let us think about Exodus 20:2 for a moment and the preface to the Ten Commandments that is found there. What was the setting? Who was speaking? And to whom? These are important questions.  

Well, if you know the story of the Exodus you know that it was God who was speaking. Moses had gone up on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God. The scriptures tell us that these words were written on tablets of stone by God. And Moses brought these tablets down to the people of Israel who, not long before this, were rescued from Egypt. If you wish to know more about that story, you should read the second book of the Bible, called Exodus. 

So these words that we are considering are God’s words. And they were delivered in this form to Israel. These were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The small clan of Jacob had grown to a very large multitude over the span of hundreds of years as they lived, and eventually, suffered, in Egypt. When the time was right, God rescued them. He brought them out from Egyptian bondage through Moses his servant. He brought them out by sending ten plagues. He led them into the wilderness. And when they were trapped with the Red Sea on one side, and the army of Egypt on the other side, God led them through the Sea by parting the waters. The Hebrews walked on dry land through waters of judgment. As the Egyptians pursued them, the waters of judgment fell upon them and consumed them. Finally, God lead them through the wilderness and brought them to Mount Sinai where he entered into a special, national, covenant with them and give them his law. First, he gave them a summary of his moral law in the Ten Commandments. And afterward, he gave them civil and ceremonial laws which, though they were based on the moral law, were additions to it, and were unique to Old Covenant Israel as a nation.    

So this is the setting. In brief, this law – the summary of God’s moral law – was given by God to Israel, after he rescued them from Egypt to be his special people on earth. The first words spoken were,  “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). 

The words, “I am the LORD thy God” were meant to remind Isarel that God is their Creator. In other words, this phrase would have reminded them of the story of creation that is told in Genesis 1 and 2 where God is first revealed by the names God (ʾelohiym) and LORD (YHWH). And the words, “which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” would have reminded them of the marvelous work of redemption that the LORD had just accomplished to free them from Egyptian bondage. 

So then, the preface to the Ten Commandments effectively communicates the relationship that exists between God and Isarel: God said, Israel, I am the LORD your God. I am your Creator and your Redeemer. Obey me, therefore. Here is my law. 

Question 49 of our catechism communicates this by asking, “What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?” Answer: “The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments.”

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Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, young and old, if I were to ask you the question, why should we obey God’s law? What would you say? 

If your response is this: we ought to obey God’s law to earn God’s love, to earn his favor, or to earn eternal life from him, then you have not understood the message of the Bible, nor the gospel of Jesus Christ contained within. We cannot earn anything from God by obeying his law. Why? Because Adam broke God’s law and the covenant of works that God made with him, and we are born in Adam, and in Adam’s guilt. Also, we ourselves have violated God’s law in thought, word, and deed,  all stand guilty before him, therefore. 

This is what Paul means when he says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20, ESV). And a little later in that same passage, he says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, ESV). And in another place, he says, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23, ESV). Ever since the fall it is impossible for men and women to earn God’s love, to earn his favor, or to earn eternal life through obedience to the law for the simple reason that we are all born in sin and do ourselves sin. The law condemns us as lawbreakers, therefore. 

As we study the Ten Commandments in the months to come I will remind you of this truth often.  Is the law good? Yes, it is! Should we strive to keep God’s law? Yes, indeed. But not to earn God’s love nor our salvation. That is impossible. And one way that I will remind you of this limitation of the law is by taking you to the catechism questions that immediately follow the section on the Ten Commandments.

After a prolonged study of the Ten Commandments, Q. 87 will ask, Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God? A. No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but daily break them in thought, word, or deed. Q. 89 asks, What doth every sin deserve? A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and in that which is to come. Q. 90 asks, What doth God require of us, that we may escape His wrath and curse, due to us for sin? A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption. And finally, Q. 91 asks, What is faith in Jesus Christ? A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the Gospel. 

Why should we keep God’s law? Not to be saved! Now that we are fallen, salvation can only be received as free gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ the Savior. Notice, the duty which God requires of man “to escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin” is not obedience to the moral law, but “faith in Jesus Christ” and “repentance unto life”. 

Back to the question. Why should we keep God’s law, then? Answer: because God is our Creator and our Redeemer. It is only right for creatures to obey the law of their Creator – it is their natural duty. And it is only right that the redeemed obey the law of their Redeemer out of gratitude for all that has graciously been done for them. 

Brothers and sisters, young and old, if it was right for Old Covenant Israel to obey their LORD and God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Exodus 20:2), how much more should we obey the LORD our God, now that we have been redeemed, not through Moses, but by Christ; not from Egypt, but from the power of sin, the fear of death, and from the kingdom of Satan itself; and not unto the land of Canaan, but unto the new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. Indeed, our motivation to keep God’s revealed will should be greater, because our redemption is greater. And more than this, the summary of the moral law which was written on stone in the days of Moses, is written on the heart of all who have faith in Christ by the working of the Spirit. So then, our motivation is greater because our gratitude is greater, and so is our ability, for in Christ we have been renewed in the mind and heart and set free as it pertains to our will. 

 Q. 48. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?

A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is in these words; “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2)

Q. 49. What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?

A. The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments. (Deut 11:1)

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