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Harmony of the Law - Volume 3
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Exodus 20

Exodus 20:17

17. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

17. Non concupisces domum proximi tui, non concupisces uxorem proximi tui, neque servum ejus, neque ancillam ejus, neque bovem ejus, neque asinum ejus, neque quicquam eorum quae sunt proximi tui.

ITS REPETITION

Deuteronomy 5

Deuteronomy 5:21

21. Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbor’s.

21. Neque concupisces uxorem proximi tui, neque concupisces domum proximi tui, agrum ejus, aut servum ejus, aut ancillam ejus, bovem ejus, aut asinum ejus: neque quicquam eorum quae sunt proximo tuo.

 

Exodus 20:17. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. There is no question but that this Commandment extends also to those that have preceded it. God had already sufficiently forbidden us to set our hearts on the property of others, to attempt the seduction of their wives, or to seek for gain at another’s loss and inconvenience. Now whilst He enumerates oxen and asses, and all other things as well as their wives and servants, it is very clear that His precept is directed to the same things, but in a different way, viz., in order to restrain all ungodly desires either of fornication or theft. The question, however, occurs, — since it has been said before that, agreeably to the nature of the Lawgiver, the inward purity of the heart is everywhere required, and therefore, that under the head of adultery, not only are all filthy acts prohibited, but secret unchastity also; and under the head of theft, all unlawful appetite for gain, — why does God now forbid in His people the lust for theft and fornication? For it seems to be a superfluous repetition which would be very absurd in ten short precepts, wherein God has embraced the whole rule of life, so that their very brevity might render it, easy, and the better attract their readers to learn them. Still, on the other hand, it must be remembered that, although it was God’s design, by the whole Law, to arouse men’s feelings to sincere obedience of it, yet such is their hypocrisy and indifference, that it was necessary to stimulate them more sharply, and to press them more closely, lest they should seek for subterfuges under pretense of the obscurity of the doctrine. For if they had only heard, Thou shalt not kill, nor commit fornication, nor steal, they might have supposed that their duty would have been fully performed by mere outward observance. It was not then in vain that God, after having treated of piety and justice, should give a separate admonition, that they were not only to abstain from evil doing, but also, that what He had previously commanded should be performed with the sincere affection of the heart. Hence Paul gathers from this Commandment, that the whole “Law is spiritual,” (Romans 7:7 and 14,) because God, by His condemnation of lust, sufficiently shewed that He not only imposed obedience on our hands and feet, but also put restraint upon our minds, lest they should desire to do what is unlawful. Paul confesses, too, that whereas he before slept in easy self-deceit, he was awakened by this single word; for since he was blameless in the eyes of men, he was persuaded that he was righteous before God: He says that he was once alive, as if the Law were absent or dead, because, being puffed up with confidence in his righteousness, he expected salvation by his works; but, when he perceived what the Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, meant, the dead Law was raised as it were to life, and he died, i e., he was convinced he was a transgressor, and saw the sure curse overhanging him. Nor did he perceive himself to be guilty of one or two sins, but then, at length, he was shaken out of his torpor, when he recognized that all the evil desires, of which he was conscious, must be accounted for before God, whereas he had before been satisfied with the mere outward appearance of virtue. We now perceive, therefore, that there is nothing inappropriate in the general condemnation of concupiscence by a distinct commandment; for after God has broadly and popularly laid down rules for moral integrity, at length He ascends to the fountain itself, and at the same time points out with His finger, as it were, the root from which all evil and corrupt fruits spring forth. It must here be added that something more is expressed by the words coveting and wishing for, or desiring, than a desiderium formatum, as it is commonly called; for the flesh often tempts us to wish for this or that, so that the evil concupiscence betrays itself, although consent may not yet be added. Since, therefore, the sin 171171     “Mala voluntas.” — Lat. “Toutes mauvaises affections.” — Fr. of the will had been already condemned, God now proceeds further, and puts a restraint upon evil desires before they prevail. 172172     “Derant qu’ils ayent gagne pour venir en propos delibere;” before they have gone so far as to arrive at a deliberate purpose. — Fr. James points out these progressive steps, where he says that lust conceives before it begets sin; and then “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” (James 1:15,) for the begetting of which he speaks, is not only in the external act but in the will itself, before it has assented to the temptation. I admit, indeed, that the corrupt thoughts which arise spontaneously, and so also vanish before they affect the mind, do not come into account before God; yet, although we do not actually acquiesce in the evil desire, still, if it affects us pleasantly, it is sufficient to render us guilty. In order that this may be understood better, all temptations are, as it were, so many fans; if they hurry us on into consent, the fire is lighted; but, if they only awaken the heart to corrupt desires, concupiscence betrays itself in these sparks, although it neither acquires its full warmth nor breaks forth into a flame. Concupiscence, therefore, is never without desire (affectu,) although the will may not altogether yield. Hence it appears what entire perfection of righteousness we must bring in order to satisfy the Law, since not only are we commanded not to will anything, except what is right and pleasing to God, but also that no impure desire should affect our hearts. Nor would Paul have laid such great stress upon this precept if the Law condemned no concupiscence except that which takes such hold on the mind of man as to exercise dominion over it; for the sin of the will must ever be condemned even by heathen philosophers, nay, and by earthly legislators also; but he says that the Law, by resisting concupiscence, makes sin to “become exceeding sinful.” (Romans 7:13.) Now, it is not credible that, at the time in which he confesses that he knew not what concupiscence was, he was so senseless and stupid as to think no harm of wishing to kill a man, or of being inclined through lust to commit adultery with his brother’s wife; but, if he was not unaware that the will to sin was vicious, it follows that the concupiscence in which he saw no harm was some more hidden disease. Hence, too, it is manifest under what delusion Satan must have held all the Popish schools 173173     See the first decree of the Fifth Session of the Council of Trent, together with C.’s remarks amongst his Tracts. — Calvin Society edition, vol. 3, pp. 78-88. through which echoes this axiom, that concupiscence is no sin in the baptized, because it is a stimulus to the exercise of virtue; as if Paul did not openly condemn concupiscence, which entraps us in its snares, although we do not altogether assent to it.


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