II. The First Commandment: Q & A 45-48
Q. 45 Which is the first commandment?
A. 45 The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
“This first commandment teaches us the only proper object of worship. It is God,-and beside Him there is no other. This is the simple meaning of the commandment, but in the Shorter Catechism each commandment is explained and expanded, by showing first what it bids us do, then what it forbids us to do, and lastly, what special reasons or motives there may be for its observance.” (Lawson, p. 33 Cf. Ex. 20:3)
Q 46 What is required in the first commandment?
A. 46 The first commandment requires us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.
Several points are made in this answer, and first among them is that we must know God. Knowledge, which comes by revelation, is the first in importance. The bible does not speak of some kind of generic God. The very beginning words of Genesis presuppose the God of scripture, not just some generic supreme being. It is our duty to know God. Everyone is called to be a theologian. Secondly, it is not then enough simply to have some information about who God is, we must also acknowledge Him “to be the only true God.” There must be a public testimony on our part of God and who He is-it can never remain a strictly private matter. Silence is not an option (I Kgs. 18:21). Thirdly, God must be our God. There must be this personal relationship with God. This is the heart of the covenant relationship-He is our God and we are His people (Cf. Josh. 24:18; I Cor. 6:20). Finally, all these points come together in the act of worship whereby we glorify Him not only as God, but as our God. This commandment involves the whole person (Dt. 26:17; I Chr. 28:9; Pr. 3:6; Mt. 4:10).
Q. 47 What is forbidden in the first commandment?
A. 47 The first commandment forbids the denying, or not worshipping and glorifying the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship to any other, which is due to Him alone.
The scriptures teach us that all men know the true God, but many do not acknowledge Him as the true God, or their God in a personal way (Rom. 1:20). This knowledge that all possess makes this commandment applicable to all humanity. There is no neutrality here. Either one acknowledges God or one repudiates this knowledge. Even those who are in the visible church and have experienced the outward administration of the covenant, must be careful to heed the word of the LORD (Ps. 81:11). It is foolish to deny this truth (Ps. 14:1). This denial is both spiritual and moral (Rom. 1:24-25). The only alternative to the worship of the true God is idolatry-worshipping the creature, rather than the Creator.
Q. 48 What are we specially taught by these words ‘before me’ in the first commandment?
A. 48 These words ‘before me’ in the first commandment teach us that God, who sees all things, takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God.
“The special reason here given why we should observe this commandment is, that God who sees all things, keeps an eye more especially on the breaking of this commandment, and punishes the offence with His sorest displeasure” (Lawson, p. 34). Forgetting God always involves idolatry. People will always turn to a substitute. This occurs before Him-God sees and God knows (Ps. 44:20-21).
Something needs to be noted here about the scope of the commandments and the law as a whole, and this first commandment in particular. G. I Williamson rightly notes that this command rules out all neutrality and religious syncretism, not only in public worship specifically, but in every area of life. “The first commandment requires us to acknowledge the true God and to glorify Him, in the whole of life. Those who have come to see what this first commandment means will no longer think of life as a two-compartment affair-with religion in one compartment and the rest of life in the other” (WSC, 2003, pp. 196-197) However, Williamson shows a common inconsistency when he denies the continuing validity of the so-called ‘civil law’ which was intended as nothing more nor less than an application of the ten commandments to all of life. He writes, “the civil laws…have been cancelled by the passing away of the state of affairs in which they could be applied” (Ibid. p. 185). The irony is that in the very same paragraph he appeals to Mt. 5:17 wherein Jesus made abundantly clear that He did not abrogate any of the law or the prophets.
Williamson not only contradicts Jesus, he says not only that the law is abrogated but that it can’t be fulfilled today, for we no longer have a state of affairs where the whole law “could be applied.” The catechism itself repudiates this common position of Reformed Evangelicals, such as is expressed by Williamson. Many have taken the commendable step of realizing that the faith is more than a strictly private religious matter. In the last 40 years there have been many who have seen the need to develop and Christian world and life view. Discipleship involves the whole of life. Every sphere is to be brought under the domain of the scriptures. However, the catechism does not say that only the ten commandments are what teaches us what we are “to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (A. 3). It is rather the whole of the scriptures which are “the only rule to direct us” (A. 2). One God means one law. “One absolute, unchanging God means one absolute, unchanging law. To abandon the Biblical law for another law system is to change gods” (Rushdoony, ‘The Institutes’ p. 20).