The Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the Ten Commandments uniquely by demonstrating how they encompass every area of moral living. Even the tenth commandment, which we’ll study today, relates to the whole law by stating “that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.” Such an interpretation is devastating because it condemns every one of us. But Lord’s Day 44 digs deeper than the mere prohibition of this commandment by asking and answering a difficult question: Why do the Ten Commandments still matter if we can’t obey them perfectly? As always, the answer points to the glory of our gracious God.
113 Q. What is God’s will for us in the tenth commandment?
A. That not even the slightest thought or desire
contrary to any one of God’s commandments
should ever arise in my heart.
Rather, with all my heart
I should always hate sin
and take pleasure in whatever is right.
114 Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?
In this life even the holiest
have only a small beginning of this obedience.
Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose,
they do begin to live
according to all, not only some,
of God’s commandments.
115 Q. No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?
A. First, so that the longer we live
the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ
for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.
Second, so that,
while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more after God’s image,
until after this lie we reach our goal:
237, “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way” (Psalm 119)
“Not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.” Like the apostle Paul, we realize that the law condemns us without exception. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 ESV). But like Paul, we as Christians also “delight in the law of God” in our inner being (v. 23), and attest that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV). We gladly echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:9-16, as versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal:
O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.
248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord” (Psalm 119)
“With all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.” Psalm 119:97-104 expresses the joy of those who make God’s law their delight:
While my heart Thy Word obeys,
I am kept from evil ways;
From Thy law, with Thee to guide,
I have never turned aside.
Sweeter are Thy words to me
Than all other good can be;
Safe I walk, Thy truth my light,
Hating falsehood, loving right.
152, “Remember Not, O God” (Psalm 79)
“In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.” Let’s be honest: the Catechism’s analysis of the Ten Commandments can be profoundly disturbing. Can anyone fulfill the expectations of God’s law? Even as we understand that we are saved by grace, not by works, what kind of obedience does Christ expect of us?
Thankfully, the answer the Catechism provides rests in God, not in us. The Ten Commandments, it says, are to be preached so pointedly “so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.” And, as the end of Psalm 79 reminds us, God will not remember those sins against us.
Remember not, O God,
The sins of long ago;
In tender mercy visit us,
Distressed and humbled low.
O Lord, our Savior, help,
And glorify Thy Name;
Deliver us from all our sins
And take away our shame.
Then, safe within Thy fold,
We will exalt Thy Name;
Our thankful hearts with songs of joy
Thy goodness will proclaim.
272, “Out of the Depths of Sadness” (Psalm 130)
The Ten Commandments bring us face-to-face with the spiritual battle each of us must fight. Our sinful natures have been conquered, but they have not yet been annihilated. The Christian life is a constant struggle against vicious enemies on every side, including our own fallen flesh. But we serve a gracious Savior who “will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” as Psalm 130 teaches. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:56, 57).
Out of the depths of sadness,
O LORD, I cried to Thee;
Thou who canst fill with gladness,
Lend now Thine ear to me.
O Fount of consolation,
Attend unto my cry,
Hear Thou my supplication
And to my help draw nigh.
If Thou shouldst mark transgression,
O Lord, who then could stand?
For evil and oppression
Are found on every hand.
But Thou dost pardon fully
All our iniquity,
That we may serve Thee truly
And fear Thy majesty.
I wait for God to hide me;
My soul, with longing stirred,
Shall hope, whate’er betide me,
In His unfailing word.
My soul waits for Jehovah
With more intense desire
Than watchers for the morning
To dawn of day aspire.
Hope in the Lord, O nation!
For with Him there is grace
And plenteous salvation
For all who seek His face.
He shall redeem His people,
His chosen Israel,
From all their sin and evil,
And all their gloom dispel.