The following is an addendum to Theological & Doxological Meditation #47, containing commentary on the Scripture proofs which provide the basis for the answers to the questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. From now on, each Theological & Doxological Meditation will contain such commentary. They are offered with a view to the edification and instruction of believers and the calling of unbelievers to repentance and faith.
47. Q. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment forbids the denying (Psalm 14:1), or not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God (Romans 1:21), and our God (Psalm 81:10-11); and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone (Romans 1:25-26).
Question #47 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism focuses on the prohibitions implied by the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Here’s what answer #47 looks like when you break down the various concepts and pair them up with the Scripture proofs provided, on which the language is based:
1. The first commandment forbids the denying . . . the true God . . . . (Psalm 14:1);
2. The first commandment forbids not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God (Romans 1:21);
3. The first commandment forbids the denying, or not worshipping the true God as God, and our God (Psalm 81:10-11);
4. The first commandment forbids . . . the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone (Romans 1:25-26)
Denying the True God
Psalm 14:1 – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”
The fool of verse one is the one who not only does not call upon the Lord (v.4), but he is also an “evildoer” who actively opposes those who do acknowledge the only true God. The fuller description of the fool of verse one is contained in verses two and three, which the Apostle Paul would quote in Romans 3 as a general description of all, whether Jew or Gentile, who are “under sin” (Romans 3:9), having not been justified by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone to the glory of God alone.
Not Worshiping and Glorifying the True God as God
Romans 1:21 – “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Fools who deny and refuse to worship and glorify the true God know that he exists, and that they ought to worship and glorify him; but knowing this with futile minds and darkened hearts, they were unwilling and unable to express gratitude and honor to him. This is what happens when “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge” are not informed by, and obediently mindful of, God’s revelation. God reveals himself in the world and in his Word, and with darkened hearts and futile minds, Jew and Gentile alike does that which is prohibited by the first commandment—he does not worship and glorify the true God as God.
Psalm 81:10 – “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt . Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. 11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.”
As initiator of the covenant, God embraces the Israelites as “his people” and calls on them to “receive the covenant as an expression of his grace, believe in him and live as he directs (ESV Study Bible note on Ps. 81:8-10), embracing him as “our God.” This clearly implies the exclusivity which is so unpopular in pluralistic societies such as ours—such exclusivity is the solemn command of God. As Christians, if the Lord is our God, then the gods of non-Christian religions are to be excluded as “legitimate object(s) of worship” (Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith; Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers).
The Worship and Glory of Other Gods
Romans 1:25 – “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;”
Finally, the crass outward exchanging of the only true God for false gods, or rather, in the terms of the catechism, “the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.” Each command of the Decalogue (the “Ten Words”, aka, Ten Commandments) is written in terms of the most harmful outward expression of a whole range of sins, all of which are violations of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Law. Such a range is partly what the Westminster Shorter Catechism seems intending to convey in its repeated examination (as we shall notice in the weeks to come)of that which each command prescribes and prohibits.
As our Lord demonstrates in his commentary regarding some of God’s commands in the Sermon on the Mount, there are more ways than one to violate the commandments of God. Reformed theologians tend to categorize these ways in the following terms: each command implies the opposite prohibition, and vice versa (which the catechism expressly spells out); and every day we break God’s Law in thought, word and deed. Truly, God’s commands condemn us all in ways we will never be able to fully comprehend.
This is the reason it was necessary for God to take on a human nature untainted by the curse of original sin, that he might keep all of the commands and their implied prohibitions (and vice versa) in thought, word and deed perfectly every day of his life. This is called “the active obedience of Christ.” Christ obeyed the Law perfectly, which the first man, Adam, failed to do, and thus Christ earned eternal life by his flawless works. The righteousness accrued by the active obedience of Christ is freely available and offered to all who will believe, for when Christ was crucified, his unjust death was a sacrifice that propitiated, or turned away God’s furious wrath onto himself from the sins of all those God the Father gave to him before the world was made.
“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Trust Christ today, and be saved from God’s wrath against all sins, chief among them being the giving of worship and glory to any other, that is due to him alone!