Please join us this Lord’s Day, September 16, for the worship of the living God at the Prince Conference Center at 1800 E Beltline Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. We meet twice, the first at 10AM for study and the second for formal worship at 4:30PM in the Hickory Room.
During the morning study, we will begin by singing two songs from the Trinity Psalter hymnal, followed by prayer. After that we will continue our study (week 2) of the life and thought of Augustine of Hippo. In this study, we will see how Augustine’s works shaped Reformed theology. We will conclude by singing another song and praying together.
In the afternoon, for our teaching on God’s law, we will recite together the Westminster Shorter Catechism on the ninth commandment: ” Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor .” In the most basic terms, this commandment requires us to be honest with God, one another, and ourselves. The Larger Catechism explains the duties of the ninth commandment as follows (Q&A144):
…the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.
As we read through this definition, no doubt we find particular places where we are prone to fall short of the standard of the commandment. For example, we might find that rejoicing in the good name of our neighbor is something that God has given us the grace to do. Perhaps we are not so prone to envy their good name. But feeling sorrow for and covering over their infirmities and weaknesses may be an area of repeated failure. Perhaps we are ready to receive a good report from another, but also willing to listen to an evil report rather than, in the words of Paul from I Corinthians 13, operating out of a love that “believes all things”. Perhaps we do not discourage flattery and slander, and are too slow to care for our own good name and defend it.
Similarly, the Larger Catechism (Q&A145) explains thoroughly what the ninth commandment forbids:
The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.
Although the human heart is desperately evil, and deceptive above all things (Jeremiah 17.19), if God by his spirit has given us any measure of honesty it will be easy to find ourselves and our sins described in this list. Backbiting. Misconstructing [i.e. deliberately misunderstanding] intentions. Aggravating smaller faults. Stopping our ears against just defense. Raising false rumors. Rejoicing in other peoples’ fall. Evil suspicion. Scornful contempt. Surely at least one and likely many of these things characterize our daily thought, speech, and behavior. Sin works its way through our lives like yeast through dough. It permeates so much of our behavior that a moment’s reflection, if we were without Christ, would lead us to despair. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The active obedience of Christ as it is understood in Reformed theology is the notion that Jesus Christ kept the law for us and fulfilled thereby all of the requirements of the covenant of works. God made a covenant with our first parents Adam and Eve, requiring perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience (Genesis 2.15-17, Leviticus 18.5). In Adam we all failed to do this (Romans 5.12). For those outside of Christ the consequences for failing to keep the covenant of works are still binding – eternal death. But Christ, the second Adam, met for us all of the requirements of that covenant by actively telling the truth at all times (I Peter 2.22), actively keeping all lawful promises (Matthew 3.15), charitably esteeming his neighbors (Luke 10.30), loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; feeling genuine sorrow for and covering over their infirmities (John 8.1-11), and freely acknowledging their gifts and graces as well as defending their innocence. In this his active obedience Jesus did what we, weakened by the fall, could not do (Galatians 3.12). And by his passive obedience, suffering in his body on the cross for our sins, he paid the penalty for our lawbreaking (II Cor. 5.210.
Let us then give wholehearted thanks for our substitute, let us pray that from our mouths would pour honesty and blessing like fresh water from a faucet (James 3.11), and let us trust in the perfect and finished work of Christ to cover the multitude of our sins.