How the First Commandment Reminds Us to Worship Well

Good Morning!

The Larger Catechism earns its name in no more honest way than when we get to the lengthy, detailed definitions of the commandments. There is an earnestness in its examinations that while it may seem to some as excessive navel gazing it is really a helpful, meat-filled, guide to help us to see how the Ten Laws expose our self-justification and drive us to Christ, and having done that move us to better obedience in love to our gracious and merciful God.

If there is a besetting sin of our cultural age it is the fact that we work hard at being lazy. No generation of men in the history of the world have done more to try and get out of difficulty than our own. I want to make a promise to you. It is worth the effort that it will take to really think through the totality of what the LC questions and answers have to teach us for worship and life in accentuating the blessings of the First Commandment (and all those which come after).

Since the Q/A’s take up so much of our limited space let’s go ahead and get to them:

Q. 105. What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the first commandment, are, Atheism, in denying or not having a God; Idolatry, in having or worshipping more gods than one, or any with or instead of the true God; the not having and avouching him for God, and our God; the omission or neglect of anything due to him, required in this commandment; ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions, unworthy and wicked thoughts of him; bold and curious searching into his secrets; all profane­ness, hatred of God; self-love, self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate, will, or af­fections upon other things, and taking them off from him in whole or in part; vain credulity, unbe­lief, heresy, misbelief, distrust, despair, incorrigibleness, and insensibleness under judgments, hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security, tempting of God; using unlawful means, and trusting in unlawful means; carnal delights and joys; corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal; lukewarmness, and deadness in the things of God; estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God; praying, or giving any religious worship, to saints, angels, or any other creatures; all compacts and consulting with the devil, and hearkening to his suggestions; making men the lords of our faith and conscience; slighting and despising Gad and his commands; resisting and grieving of his Spirit, discontent and impatience at his dispensations, charging him foolishly for the evils he inflicts on us; and ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have, or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature.

Q. 106. What are we specially taught by these words (before me) in the first commandment?

A. These words (before me) or before my face, in the first commandment, teach us, that God, who sees all things, taketh special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God: that so it may be an argument to dissuade from it, and to aggravate it as a most impudent provocation: as also to persuade us to do as in his sight, whatever we do in his service.

I wasn’t kidding when I said there would be a lot there. But again part of the utility of slowly meditating on each of the sins mentioned is that it exposes us to a few things that we would not have previously considered for the benefit of our sanctification.

There are some transgressions noted which seem patently obvious to be against the First command: atheism, all compacts and consulting with the devil, and praising idols, etc… Yet why does the Larger Catechism feel the need to spell them out? Primarily because we need to think more deeply about what those words mean. Atheism is more than just simply not believing God exists. There is a kind of Christian Atheism where we section off the Lord to just “religious matters” and take the reins ourselves for the rest of life. To deny Him sovereignty over the least of things is to deny Him sovereignty over the greatest of things. Likewise we need not sign a contract in blood to be found consulting with the devil. Whenever we consciously decide to sin we have in fact committed this wickedness. The same conversation the Serpent has with Eve is reenacted every time life presents us with a choice as to whether or not to heed the revelation of the Holy God or follow the sinful nature of the human heart: Hath God Said Indeed!

One of the things that may strike you as a bit out-of-place here in the examination of the First Commandment is its focus on worship. We’ve generally understood that to be the domain of Thou Shalt Not Make Graven Images. However, as we will see when we get to the next statute all idolatry begins with dethroning the living Deity. As the first question of the Shorter Catechism reminds us we have been made for a purpose: to enjoy God and to glorify Him forever. All Christian worship is engaged in order to do just that, enjoy and glorify. If we are not getting the Him right than the rest is just smoke and bluster, and hence, sin. That is where the warning against using unlawful means and trusting unlawful means comes into play. We see this most directly in the Bible through the witness of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. Believers are to live every part of life in humble submission to the will and wisdom of God. That is one of the most central principles laid out in the First Commandment. Part of this is why the catechism also heeds us to watchful that our worship neither be lifeless or absent.

In closing, the last item worth mentioning out of the list is the sin of bold and curious searching into his secrets. That one is unique to be sure. What does it mean? Simply put it’s an application of Deuteronomy 29:29. Part of our recognizing the Creator/Creature distinction is that we must be willing to meekly accept as part of our faith and trust in Christ that there are things in the ways and means of God that we, as creatures, cannot understand and that it is actually sin to try and get into it too much for the same reason why we don’t allow toddlers to touch buttons at the nuclear plant. This is not to be understood as a Wizard of Oz warning about not looking behind the curtain. God has nothing to hide. But it is more the case our finite cannot know the infinite.

As we end here for the day here is a helpful way to think about it:

https://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/philip-rykenatheismthe-new-atheists-seem.php

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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