With the exception of the fourth and fifth commandments, all of them begin with the words, “Thou shalt not.” They are not merely negative, however, for they are all summed up in the two great positive commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Too often these are regarded as mere arbitrary commands, but they are much more than that. There is a power in them that does not pertain to ordinary words. It is the power of the word of God, which is life itself. Christ said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” John vi. 63. Being the very Spirit of life, they give life to all who hear them.
Of the life-giving power of the word of the Lord, we have instances in the resurrection of Lazarus and the ruler’s daughter. Christ said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” John v. 25. And then follows the statement that as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself, so that when the hour comes all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth.
“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. x. 17. “With the heart man believeth.” So that the hearing of faith puts the words of God in the heart. But Christ dwells in the heart by faith (Eph. iii. 17), because His Spirit is in His word; so that the hearing of faith brings the life of Christ into the heart, and that is righteousness.
But this is the putting of the law in the heart; for when Moses exhorted the people to keep the commandments he said, “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” Deut. xxx. 11-14.
In the tenth of Romans, just before the apostle’s conclusion that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, this passage from Deuteronomy is quoted, and it is shown that the “commandment” refers to Christ, who is the soul and substance of the law. And that this is what Moses meant by the words is shown from Paul’s statement that the words of Moses are the language of “the righteousness which is of faith.” And further, by the words of Moses himself: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live; that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey His voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto Him; for He is thy life, and the length of thy days.” Deut. xxx. 19, 20.
Life comes through keeping the commandments (Matt. xix. 17; Rev. xxii. 14); but Christ is the life of the law, and He dwells in the heart by faith in His word. Thus the law as the real righteousness of God, and not the mere form, is life, and has power to give life. David said, “This is my comfort in my affliction; for Thy word hath quickened me.” Ps. cxix. 50.
“Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” Deut. vi. 4-6. How in the heart? By faith. And how does faith come? by hearing. The idea is that, just as at the last day those who hear the voice of God will be raised to life, out of their graves, so now those who really hearken to His commandments will receive the life of them. Accordingly the Lord testified as follows: “Hear, O My people and I will testify unto thee; O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto Me, there shall no strange God be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god.” Ps. lxxxi. 8, 9.
If the children of Israel had only listened to the Lord continually, He would have assured their salvation. While they were listening to Him, He would have taken upon Himself the responsibility of keeping them free from idolatry and all sin. So when in the law, He says “Thou shalt not,” He means not simply to forbid our doing the things spoken of, but also to assure us that we shall not do them if we but hear in faith, recognizing Him in them.
So through the prophet he says, “O that thou hadst hearkened unto My commandments; then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Isa. xlviii. 18. And again He exhorts, “Incline your ear, and come unto Me, hear, and your soul shall live.” Isa. lv. iii.
This is a comforting assurance. But one thing should not be lost sight of, and that is that the righteousness which comes by the hearing of faith is not a mere passive righteousness. It is the active righteousness of God. And, moreover, it is just that righteousness which is demanded in the ten commandments, without any variation. He who hears must hear the very words of God, and the ten commandments are the words that God spoke with His own voice. He did not say, “The first day is the Sabbath of the Lord,” but He did say, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” Since God never commanded the observance of the first day of the week, no one can hear those words at His mouth; consequently there can be neither life nor righteousness in such observance.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God;” “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” But “take heed how ye hear.”
— E.J. Waggoner, Present Truth UK, April 6, 1893