The August Theologian: Grant What You Command

“My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will. You require continence. A certain writer has said (Wisd. 8: 21): ‘As I knew that no one can be continent except God grants it, and this very thing is part of wisdom, to know whose gift this is.’ By continence we are collected together and brought to the unity from which we disintegrated into multiplicity. He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake. O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire. You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will.” —Augustine, Confessions

Commanded Love (Exodus 35:1–29)

God commands a voluntary giving in Exodus 35. If you can’t make sense of that, you can’t make sense of any of God’s commands because they all deal with the heart. God always demands more than outward obedience. All of God’s commands demand all of us.

Fallen man cannot understand the beauty of God commanding, “You shall love me.” Imagine a princess being blinded to the beauty of the prince who was once her greatest love and deepest joy. Instead, she hates him, irrationally, as intensely as she once adored him. Imagine a command came from him, to love him, with a power that awakened what was commanded. So it is with God’s commands. They do not constrain, they free.

Fallen man’s darkened, authority-hating, idol-loving hearts cannot conceive of love being commanded. Which proves we understand neither love nor authority. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).” So often, we believe those who love us say things like, “Do whatever makes you happy.” God sovereignly, with all wisdom says, “Only I can make you happy, all else is an illusion.” Then, for those He has redeemed, He speaks with liberating power, “You shall love the LORD your God with all.”

And so it is, when God commands, we receive. Obeying God’s commands is like a hammer finally hitting a nail after years of having tried to unscrew a screw. God’s commands are telling the adventurous beached whale, “Go back to the sea,” or the foolish bird, “You were not made to slither. Soar!” In all true God-enabled and faith-driven obedience to God’s commands, we ever remain the beneficiaries. Obeying God’s commands isn’t like being choked, but finally breathing.

All Sizzle and No Bang? (Exodus 20:17)

Bursts of swirling blue, splatters of crackling gold, and explosions of racing red fill the sky, and then, for the finale, some kid comes out and twirls a sparkler. Is that what we have with this final word from the fire? Has the fire died so that were left with only smoldering embers. No, we may have left the glories of the heavens, but now we are plunged to the depths. These ocean depths can be as mysterious as the starry heavens.

All the other commands, taken on the surface, deal with external obedience, this one goes down to the heart, and thus, acts as commentary on all the Decalogue. Listen to the testimony of M&M&M:

“The tenth commandment is where the Decalogue ends, but it is, in fact, the point at which every breach of the law begins—when by our ‘own evil desire’ we are ‘dragged away and enticed’ (Jas 1:14). —Alec Moyter

“Improper desire is the root of all evil. It can seldom be reached by human legislation, but it is open to the Searcher of hearts. The intent is that which, in the last resort, determines the moral character of the act. This last ‘word’ is, therefore, the interpreting clause of the whole Decalogue (Rom. Vii. 7).” —J.G. Murphy

“It [the tenth commandment] is presented here as the last commandment because it points to the root of all breaches of the covenant as coming from wrong inner disposition.” — John Mackay

You must read all other commands in light of this one. You don’t understand God’s law until you see it as dealing with the heart. All the law is only a sizzling fuse with no bang when read heartlessly. When Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you (Matthew 5:21–48),” He isn’t contradicting the law, but the Pharisees heartless reading of the law. His disciples are to display a righteousness superior to that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), a righteousness that is superior, that is true righteousness, because it springs forth from the heart.

God’s love kindles our love. God’s love both ignites and fuels ours. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Redemption sets the heart right (Deuteronomy 30:6). Redemption replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). We come to these words of law through a preface of grace, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2 (ESV).” When the redeemed heart hears, “You shall not covet,” it responds, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you (Psalm 73:25 ESV).” When a redeemed heart meets the law of God its like sparks of love meeting a powder keg—from the depths, glory to heaven.

Not a Dainty Grace (Exodus 4:1–17)

As Moses’ sinful questions mutate into brazen objections, God’s grace grows more firm. God’s grace isn’t fragile. It isn’t a dainty grace. When God sets His covenant love on sinners, sinners’ sins don’t change His covenant love; God’s covenant love changes sinners. We’re told Moses’ sins aroused God’s anger, and what do we see next? Preplanned grace (4:14). God’s grace is always preplanned. To put a spin on Spurgeon, if God didn’t love His people before the foundation of the world, it’s certain He’d never see cause, in them, to love them afterward.

God’s grace isn’t a dainty grace. You can’t shatter it. It’s child proof; indestructibly designed by a Father who knows us. You can’t break this grace. It breaks you. This isn’t the kind of grace that sweeps sin under the rug, but propels us out the door. This is persistent and insistent grace that covers and refuses our objections.

God’s grace throws us in the deep end and then is there to keep us from drowning. Remember Jonah? God’s firm grace got Jonah to Nineveh. The book ends with Jonah rebelliously pouting. Or does it? Who wrote the book of Jonah? I believe it was Jonah. The book ends then as Jonah’s expression of the ugliness of his sin and the beauty of God’s grace. Good parents often make their children do things they’re fearful of and the children are often thankful after the fact. I’m sure, once Jonah set his pen down, it was with a contented sigh of thankfulness that God threw him in the deep end and was there to keep him from drowning, even in his own sins. Once Moses returned to Sinai, certainly, he too was thankful that God’s grace was made of adamant.

There is grace for those who are ambassadors of grace. Not a grace that excuses our sins, but a grace that leaves us without excuses.