At least 36 times, in more or less the same words, this command appears in Scripture as God sent His prophets to speak to Judah and Israel. God’s true prophets – Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Haggai and Zechariah, and all the others – brought their message “out of the mouth of the Lord”; they did not come with “a vision of their own heart” as the false prophets did. They therefore spoke with authority. They came as ambassadors for the one whom Jeremiah acknowledged as “the true God . . . the living God, and an everlasting king” (Jer 10:10). Their words had divine authority.
The prophets were careful to point to that authority, especially when they brought a message to the people in the very words of God – as when Jeremiah warned from the mouth of the Lord: “Learn not the way of the heathen” (Jer 10:2). So today, as we read these words in the Bible – or, indeed, as we read other parts of God’s revelation – we are to receive them as a message directly from heaven. We are not to be influenced by worldly ways of thinking; we are not to have the same outlook on life as the generality of people around us. Our thoughts, our ideas, our motives are to be moulded by this revelation from heaven. We are always to keep God’s words in our minds – such words as these: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil”. However many may follow today’s immoral lifestyle, we are not to do so. And however many may indulge their lusts by watching immorality on television or reading about it in novels or magazines, we are not to do so. Our whole way of life is to be moulded by the commandments of God.
In Jeremiah’s time, one of the many ways of following the heathen was to adopt their idols. But that was to adopt a “doctrine of vanities”. It was, as Samuel expressed it, to “go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver”. The heathen of today, at least in the West, are more likely to attempt to live without any religion. But let us hear the word of the Lord: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps 14:1). His desire is that there would be no God, to live in a world where there is no God to whom he could be accountable. That is how he would wish things to be. But, into the vacuum left by the attempt to live without religion, there pours the world, the flesh and the devil. When human beings turn their backs on God, they give their hearts to the world or to actual transgression or, in extreme cases, even to devil-worship. And when individuals can find nothing else they want to worship, they will give themselves to the service of the great idol self. They will live for the here and now – not for eternity. But that is to “go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver”.
So, as God’s Word is increasingly ignored, the restraints on sin are more and more removed. In the UK, and elsewhere, the Sabbath has become almost a forgotten institution; certainly few people today – if not involved with their normal work – would think of making the Sabbath anything other than a day of leisure. It never enters their minds to make good use of the special opportunities, offered by this day, to hear the Word of the Lord. But let us hear His word: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”.
In a generation like this, so determined to ignore God and His Word, the devil uses the world and the flesh to sweep sinners all the more easily into a lost eternity. The media and public opinion are being manipulated to promote immorality, and the phenomenon of political correctness is being used to advance the cause of unnatural immorality. But let us again hear the word of the Lord: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”.
It has been commonplace to comment on the serious increase in the murder rate over the past century. But legalised murder is now a practice to be reckoned with. Over 4 million unborn children have been put to death in the UK since 1967. It is reckoned that in China more than 30 million abortions are performed each year. And now the Netherlands has become the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia, giving terminally-ill patients the right to end their lives. But once more let us hear the word of the Lord: “Thou shalt not kill”.
There is indeed a God – the true God, the living God. How foolish not to face up to that reality! But it is the beginning of wisdom – elementary wisdom – to receive the testimony which the living God sets before us, for He knows all things, and His every word is truth. Then we will recognise that this God is our Creator, that He has supreme authority over us, and that, when He speaks, we are duty-bound to listen to all His words.
And we are to do them. Merely to know what God has said is not enough; we must be obedient. To obey is wisdom; to disobey – to ignore the authority of God’s commands – is utter folly. So Christ concluded the Sermon on the Mount: “Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” But what obedience is required? Surely “the obedience of faith”, especially to receive the testimony of God’s Word about the Saviour whom He has provided – to trust in Christ as the One who died for sinners and rose again.
God makes it plain that no one can ignore His Word with impunity. “Cursed is everyone”, He tells us, “that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal 3:10). How awful that curse, for “at His wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jer 10:10). Yet the devil does all in his power to prevent sinners from listening to the Word of God. And he does all in his power to make the hearers forget, or at least to ignore, what has gone through their ears. “The god of this world”, says the Word, “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor 4:4).
If they will not believe that Word, sinners cannot escape the wrath to come; they will remain eternally at enmity with God. Towards the end of 2001, a newspaper columnist, an ordained minister, remarked that many had replied, “Peace of mind”, when he had asked them, at an earlier period in his life, what new-year gift they would most wish to receive. But how is that peace of mind to be obtained, especially in the face of the testimony of God’s Word; “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked”? The columnist minister did not give the warning of Scripture, neither did he give its answer. But for those who will listen to the Word of the Lord, the answer lies in the redemption wrought out by Christ, which is made known in the preaching of the gospel – that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ. Only those who are at peace with God can have true peace of mind.
The Lord has sent out preachers to call sinners to hear, and to obey, His message of peace. Today the cry of Paul goes out as it has done for nearly 2000 years: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” This great truth of peace through the blood of the cross must always be at the centre of the message of the ambassadors.
The world today desperately needs the message of law and gospel. But “how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” And how shall they hear, with due obedience, unless the words of the Lord are applied by the Holy Spirit?