Fall 2014: The Skeptic and the Ten Commandments
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Summary: A true story as told by HMS Richards, Sr.

A skeptic, whom some called an infidel, lived in the same neighborhood as Pastor Edwin Webster, a personal friend of mine.

Pastor Webster told me that this skeptic had a reputation of inviting ministers to his house to confuse them with his arguments. He boasted that he had always silenced them and sent them away feeling inferior. The man had baited nearly all the young men in the community and was generally dreaded by the church people.

In due time, my friend, Pastor Webster, received an invitation to come to the skeptic’s home. After careful consideration, he accepted the invitation.

After finishing the meal, the skeptic led the way into the sitting room, where he invited Pastor Webster to be seated in an easy chair. Immediately, the skeptic, whom we will call Mr. Jones, spoke up sneeringly: “Mr. Webster, about the law, the Ten Commandments, I would be ashamed to write such a law. A school boy could do better.”

“Is that so?” my friend replied, rather startled by his direct attack. “Did you ever study that law carefully?” “Indeed I have; I am convinced that it is nothing but a childish effort to intimidate ignorant people. I think it is beneath the dignity of the one you call 'God' to give such a thing to mankind and for him to come down and write it on stone with his finger.”

Pastor Webster then asked, “Would you mind studying it with me for a little while today?” The skeptic replied, “I will to please you, but it won’t do any good.”

“To begin with,” my friend said, “the Bible says that this law is spiritual; it discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. So comprehensive, yet so closely related are the individual commandments, so interlocked, each one with the other, that if we offend in one point we are guilty of all.

The Bible says in Romans 7:12:

Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the word of God is quick—that means ‘living—and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

If I understand it right, no human mind could conceive of a code, much less write one, that would so thoroughly reach into the very citadel of human thought, as well as action.

Let us start with the Fourth Commandment:

Pastor Webster turned to Exodus 20 and began reading verses 8 to 11:

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Now, if a person works on the seventh day of the week, he has broken the fourth commandment outright, has he not?"

“I suppose he has, if you believe the Bible,” Mr. Jones replied somewhat grudgingly.

“But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God ,' the Bible says,” Pastor Webster went on. “It is not ours. Not any man’s. Now, when a person takes something for himself that belongs to another, what is he doing?”

With some show of surprise, Mr. Jones, the skeptic replied, “I call that stealing.”

“Yes, sir. Then has he not in breaking the Fourth Commandment, broken the eighth also?”

“Thou shalt not steal.' “I guess that is the one you mean,” Mr. Jones answered. Pastor Webster paused for a moment. Then he went on; “but before he steals, he also has an intense and illegitimate desire for that which he steals. Now, I ask you, what commandment does he break?”

“Maybe you would call it coveting.”

“Yes, he has broken the Tenth Commandment also; three of them broken in transgressing just one.”

Mr. Jones’ eyes opened wider. He moved uneasily in his chair.

But Pastor Webster went on. “When a man puts himself so entirely first and covets that which is God’s and steals from Him, what commandment does he break?”

“The first one?”

“Yes.” “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” Pastor Webster quoted.

“But man is not a god. Why do you suggest such absurd things?” Mr. Jones retorted.

“Well, he has just put himself first. He has put his own interests as more important to him than his relationship to his Maker.”

“There is another commandment so clearly related to this that we must ask ourselves; if a man thinks so much of himself, his own desires, as to place himself before God in his own mind, does he not make an idol of himself?” Pastor Webster paused again; then looking straight into the skeptic’s eyes, he asked, “Which commandment has he broken?”

“I don’t know, unless you mean the second, the one against making images. But how has he broken that one? He has not made a graven image of anything.”

“It is true he has not made a literal, tangible image, but all image worship is nothing more or less than a certain conception in the worshipper's own mind and heart embodied in the visible image and worshipped. What difference does it make whether one worships oneself in a stone image or in one’s own person?”

The skeptic moved about with ill-concealed agitation. He scratched his head as he shook it, as if bewildered.

“But that is not all,” Pastor Webster added. “God’s name is in the Fourth Commandment. It tells us that He is linked with heaven and earth, the Great Creator; that distinguishes Him from all other gods. This is the only place in the Ten Commandments where He has affixed His Name in the wonderful document. This commandment tells us of our relationship and obligation to Him. Now, if we treat this commandment in such a reckless vain way, is one not using His name in vain? What does the Third Commandment say?”

Mr. Jones laughed, “Oh, well, that commandment tries to prohibit swearing. You can hardly say that what you spoke of is swearing.”

“But this commandment prohibits more than outspoken oaths. Any vain use of God’s name, whatsoever, which would tend to break down one’s own or another’s sense of reverence for God is forbidden. That’s not all. Many persons say that it makes no difference which day one keeps just so long as one keeps one day holy. But God says in the commandment where His name is signed, that the seventh-day is the Sabbath and if one says it makes no difference which day one keeps, is it not a vain use of the commandment and of God’s name in it?”

Mr. Jones, the skeptic, looked rather chagrined. He seemed to have nothing to say.

“Now, my friend,” Pastor Webster moved on, “if an individual has not told the truth about the fourth commandment, what other commandment has he transgressed outright? What about one that does not tell the truth?”

“I see what you mean, but that commandment says, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.' What does that have to do with it being against God?”

“To lie is to lie, whether it is to one or to another. Is it not worse to lie to God than to man? In regard to this saying that it makes no difference which day one keeps, here are a couple more thoughts on that point. If one is to keep God’s rest day, one must rest on the same day He did. At creation He rested on the seventh day of the week. His resting on it and blessing it made that day the Sabbath. 'Sabbath ' means rest. Man’s rest counts for nothing when making a day holy. If all the people on earth should rest on another day, that would not make that day God’s holy rest day. Man’s rest day could never be God’s rest day, unless man should rest on the same day that God rested at creation.

In Genesis 2:3 it says:

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made.

He put His presence into one day, in a separate sense from that in which it is in other days; just as that sacred presence is in some individuals and not in others. His presence in the burning bush made the ground around it holy as was also the place where the Captain of the Lord’s Host was with Joshua. Read about these accounts in Exodus 3:10 and in Joshua 5:13-15.

Although we may not actually discern the difference between the seventh and the first day of the week, the fact that God’s presence is in the seventh day makes all the difference in the world. His presence should be with us every day of the week, but quite aside and separate from this, it is in His holy day when His sacred presence comes and meets with the individual in a special way. There is in the heart a sense of holiness and sacredness that is felt and known only by those who know this truth and have this experience.”

Once more, Pastor Webster paused to look at the expression on the skeptic’s face whose appearance looked quite excited and agitated. “Let’s go on another step,” my Pastor friend went on, “God claims by virtue of creation and redemption that He is our Father and by thus openly dishonoring Him, what other commandment has he broken?”

The skeptic retorted, “You certainly are not so simple as to mean that he violated the fifth commandment! That’s only for children, commanding them to obey their parents. It is a command by the way that is apparently superficial and useless. What parent does not know enough to make his children mind?”

“Not so fast, Mr. Jones. God calls us His children. For as I said, He made us, and then especially does He tell those who will be separate from sin and true to Him that He will give them forgiveness and salvation.”

God says:

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. This text is found in II Corinthians 6:17 and 18.

Will He allow us to show Him less respect and honor than we show our earthly parents? If the law is broken by a child’s disobedience to his earthly parents, is not the spiritual law broken by disobedience to our heavenly Father? This makes eight commandments broken by transgressing only one.

Mr. Jones shook his head from side to side; “I confess I have never heard or seen such things before,” he said with an astonishment he could not conceal.

“But my friend,” Pastor Webster said, “We have not finished yet. There are two other commandments. But first, let’s refer to three other texts:

The first one is found in Romans 6:23:

The wages of sin is death.

Ezekiel 18:4:

The soul that sinneth, it shall die.

I John 3:4 says:

Sin is the transgression of the law.

“The Ten Commandments is a law that points out sin without which we could not tell what sin is.”

Romans 7:7 says:

I had not known sin but by the law.

Since the wages of sin is death for the transgression of God’s law what is the sinner bringing upon himself? What is he doing to himself?”

“Do you mean…” Mr. Jones paused, “…do you mean taking his own life?”

“I do indeed,” Pastor Webster nodded. “Is not his course leading him to certain death unless he repents and returns to God and secures the forgiveness of sin.” What commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill” even in self-destruction?”

“I suppose it must be the sixth; but then Mr. Jones, the skeptic continued, “You can’t get the Seventh Commandment in this argument. There is no possible way in which one can connect breaking the commandment forbidding adultery and breaking the fourth.”

“We shall see,” replied the pastor confidently. “There are many figures of speech used in the Bible with which God illustrates to us the relation existing between Him and us.

Isaiah 54:5 says:

…thy Maker is thine Husband…and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.

“Notice here that God is the husband of all He has made. Israel backslid from God by adapting or joining to the religious practices of the nations around her.

God says in Jeremiah 3:20:

Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so hath ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel.

“God said also that she had played the harlot and committed adultery. That is the same chapter, verses 8 and 9.

Then in James 4:4 it says:

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

“Thus, spiritual adultery is forbidden by the seventh commandment just as surely as the fleshly natural form of breaking the law is forbidden. As the law is spiritual that detects the sin and the thoughts in the heart, therefore in the transgression of the fourth commandment, the seventh is broken as truly as are all the other nine.”

Pastor Webster pitied the poor man; he looked so ashamed and confused. The pastor continued, “Now, let me recap my arguments: First, how can a man take God’s Sabbath for his own selfish use, ruthlessly breaking the Fourth Commandment, without stealing, and thus breaking the eighth commandment. How can he steal without first coveting? Therefore he must break the tenth commandment. How can he put himself before God? It declares in the First commandment, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before Me?'

In disregarding God’s law, he must set himself up as more important than God. How can he make such an idol of himself without breaking the second commandment? Let’s bring in the third commandment: How can he vainly use the commandment in which God has placed His Name without taking His name in vain?

How can he show such disrespect for His Heavenly Father without breaking the fifth commandment? How can he commit such sins when God has said that the sure result of sin is death, without being guilty of knowingly and deliberately taking his own life? And thus breaking the Sixth Commandment.

How can a person do all this and by his actions and words and self justification say that his course is right? Can he be telling the truth? False witness or lying is breaking the Ninth Commandment.

And lastly, how can he go so completely away from his spiritual spouse as to join the sinful world, living with the world, as with a beloved congenial companion, without being guilty of committing adultery, of which the Seventh Commandment speaks. Is the fourth commandment of no consequence, my friend? Does it not make a difference which day one keeps? Is it not the very heart of the law of God, the greatest of all the commandments?

The discarding and disregarding of this day involves the violation of every commandment in the Decalogue. Does not the substitution of another day in its place without God’s direction to do so, add greatly to the guilt of the transgressor? How would you like it if someone would steal your race horse or your car before your very eyes and give you instead an old broken down nag or an old rattle trap of a car and say it was just as good?"

The skeptic, who had been sitting with his head bowed, now stood up, moved his chair, and then seated himself again. “In all candor and honesty, sir,” Pastor Webster asked, “Did you ever see any other law so brief and yet so comprehensive? Each section or commandment is distinct and complete in itself, yet the whole is entirely one. Each commandment so relates to the other that it is impossible to transgress one without transgressing every other one also in the same act. Where did Moses get the law? Can you tell me? Do you think any human mind devised it? Can you write as good a law?”

After a few moments of complete silence, Mr. Jones looked up. “I must admit, sir, this is the first time that I have ever been beaten by a minister. I have no more to say now. I must take time to think on this more seriously. I admit that your reasoning is logical, and if the Bible is true at all, I am wrong.”

Yes, God’s law is so wide, so vast, so spiritual, that it convicts of every sin that man commits outwardly and inwardly; sins of action, sins of thought, sins of doubt. It is a spiritual law that has only one hope for the sinner. One who has broken God’s law—and breaking one means breaking all ten—can find refuge and forgiveness only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, for our breaking of the holy perfect spiritual law. We can come to Him and find forgiveness.

Yes, you may come to Him and find forgiveness; through His Holy Spirit Jesus will live in your heart, and for the first time in your life you will truly obey all the commandments of God which you could not do in your own strength. You will do them as a fruitage of the Holy Spirit; the actual living of the obedient life of Christ in your life.

Why is this possible? Because you have been born again and converted truly to Christ and are walking and living in the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 reads:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

By God’s holy grace, and by grace alone, this can be the wonderful experience of each one who reads this true story.

About the author:

Harold Marshall Sylvester Richards, Sr. (1894–1985), commonly known as H.M.S. Richards, was a well known Seventh-day Adventist evangelist and author. Born in Iowa, he is most famous for founding the Voice of Prophecy radio ministry and was a pioneer in religious radio broadcasting. His ministry inspired broadcasts in 36 languages on more than 1,100 stations, and Bible courses in 80 languages offered by 144 correspondence schools. Richards began his ministry as a tent preacher when he was 17. Richards married Mabel Annabel Eastman in 1920, and they had 1 daughter and 3 sons. He died in 1985 at the age of 90.

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