“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”~Exodus 20:1
The Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) is introduced by a prologue. The Lord therein declares by what means he gathered Israel to himself, namely through rescuing them from their poverty and oppression. Kings of ancient times, in binding laws upon their subjects, often stated the reasons for their authority. Commonly, these kings claimed their rights through conquering, thereby forcing their subjects to render obedience. Yet the opposite was the case with Israel’s God. For his law flowed from his mercy. Hearing Israel’s cry, the Almighty answered them from heaven, scattering Pharaoh with the blasts of his wrath. The Lord published abroad his glory when he routed the Egyptians, testifying that no man should lay a finger on his Elect (Rom 9:17).
Israel’s law, therefore, came to them as a sign of God’s favor. For nothing testifies that God is with us as much as his instruction. When God spurs us to obedience, when he disciplines our hearts: in such times we know that he approves us. Yet if we consent to sin, finding ourselves liberated and refreshed therein, then we have become objects of God’s disfavor, and he has surely withdrawn from us (Rom 1:24-25). Let us never fear, then, to know God’s instruction, as if his commandments will break us apart. Instead, let us realize that there is no surer safety than to be led by God’s orders. Indeed, though we deem ourselves prudent, our wisdom is dim and foggy, so that trusting ourselves leads to regret and injury. We are truly wise, therefore, to humbly receive God’s yoke, that we might gain his only begotten Son, in whose “light we see light”(Psalm 36:9).
Yet the law, according to the Apostles, had another function, namely to prepare Israel for Christ’s coming. The Law, in itself, was impotent to rescue anyone, because our hearts are a storehouse of idols. Our flesh is obstinate, and it is unable to submit to God’s law. We persist in our own opinions, despite the dictates from on high, thereby entangling ourselves in many miseries. The Lord, therefore, knowing our obstinacy, sends his Spirit into our hearts, making us malleable and humble (John 7:37; Rom 5:5; Heb 8). In this way, our stubbornness is changed into humility, and our rebellion into true reverence. The Law, therefore, in demonstrating our weakness (Rom 3:20), leads us to the Son of God, who cloaked himself with our death, in order that we might taste his immortal life.
Theologians, however, are divided as to the law’s present function. Some claim that the law is abrogated completely, and that the Decalogue has no place in ethics. Others claim that the Law, though powerless to justify us, is nevertheless profitable for sanctification. Still others claim that the law of God, when sealed upon our hearts by the Spirit, is a part of justification. The latter interpretation is most plausible. The natural reading of the New Testament confirms this, in that God’s justification is predicated upon a life of trust, a life whereby the Spirit makes us sharers in the victory of Christ’s life. St. Paul, it is true, sets the law in opposition to faith in Christ (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16). Yet this opposition is not absolute. Instead, the contrast consists in the power to save. Tablets of stone cannot profit us when our hearts are wicked (Rom 2:29; 8:3). Yet Christ’s frail humanity, which he received from Mary, has become the organ of our adoption, in that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son into our hearts, uniting us to him with an unbreakable bond of love. Because of this, writes St. Paul, “the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”(Rom 8:4).
The Decalogue, therefore, instructs us in true piety. Under the governance of the Spirit, and in the imitation of Christ, we are to honor these commands. Let us realize that we belong to God, and as such our sole aim must be to please him. Because we are fragile children, easily broken by this cruel world, we must fortify our hearts in holiness, acknowledging that the Lord alone presides over us in majesty. It is he who is our keeper, the one who never slumbers or sleeps, whose kindness is always near to us. Let us never be discouraged in following him, even when our many shortcomings manifest themselves. Instead, let us relinquish the control of our lives, casting all our anxieties upon him, so that he might take them all from us. In this way, our hearts will soar away from our many doubts, and we will grow strong in his grace.
Almighty Father, the one who sees into our hearts, grant that we would not hide ourselves from you, nor let us resist your chastening. But let us, instead, embrace your discipline with humility, knowing that your Spirit cleanses us of our secret faults. Give us to know your will for us, so that we would not stumble in this dark world. And lead us by your Holy Spirit, so that your precepts might reign in us, until at last we are brought to your Only Begotten Son, whose blood atones for all our sins. Amen.