By Morris W. R. Bailey
In a previous article under the above heading, it was pointed out that a proper handling and correct division of the word of truth requires that we recognize the distinction that the Bible makes between what God spoke of old time through the prophets to the fathers, and what he has spoken unto us today through His Son Jesus Christ. This is especially true when dealing with the commands of God. With that in mind we now propose to point out that the commands of the Bible, in respect of their applicability, fall into two classes, namely,
Limited vs. Universal
By limited commands we mean such as were addressed to, as in some instances, just one man, or, as in other instances, to just one nation. By universal commands, we mean such as were addressed to all men.
As an example of a command that was limited in its application, let us notice Genesis 6:14. There God is recorded as saying, “Make an ark of gopher wood.” There is no question that God was speaking on this occasion. Not only did he give the command to build an ark, but there were specific instructions given as to its size and design, and even the kind of wood that was to be used.
Let us suppose that tomorrow someone finds me cutting and hewing timbers. They ask me what I am doing, and I tell them that I am building an ark. When asked why I am building an ark, I refer them to the command in Gen. 6:14. Is not that plain enough? God has given a command to build an ark.
Now, of course, any discerning student of the Bible would be able to tell me that the command to build the ark was given to but one man. It was given only to Noah and was never intended to be of universal application. True, it was God who spoke, but it was one of those revelations made to the fathers. It was not spoken to you nor me.
We can take, as another example, God’s command recorded in Genesis 22:2, “Take now thy son . . . and offer him for a burnt offering.” So I prepare to offer my son as a burnt offering. Did not God command it? Someone points out to me, and rightly so, that this command was not given to me, nor to anyone else but Abraham. It was a special command given to prove his faith. And what a fine demonstration of faith it was! It was a faith that obeyed God without asking questions or raising objections.
It is thus obvious from the foregoing that there were some commands of the Bible which were of a decidedly limited application in that they were addressed to but one man.
To A Nation
Let us now view another command, or should I say a group of commands. And here we are dealing with a misconception that prevails throughout the greater part of the religious world. I refer to the idea held by so many that we are under the Ten Commandments today. This is true, not only of Seventh Day Adventists, but, to a greater or lesser extent with every denomination.
It thus comes as a surprise to many, and even as an occasion of alarm to some when I point out that I do not pretend to keep the Ten Commandments. Why? Because they were not addressed to me. They were addressed only to the children of Israel who had been in bondage in Egypt. This is obvious from a careful reading of a number of passages of scripture.
The nineteenth chapter of Exodus and the first verse says, “In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.” Thus the events recorded here have to do with the children of Israel. The remainder of the chapter tells how that God came down upon Mount Sinai and spoke to Israel. This brings us to chapter twenty and verses one and two where we read, “And God spake all these words, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This was followed by the giving of the Ten Commandments, thus showing that they were addressed to Israel.
That the Ten Commandments were addressed only to Israel is clearly taught in other passages of scripture. Let us go to the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. Verse one says, “And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them an(‘ observe to do them.” In verses two and three he tolc them that, “Jehovah our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us alive here this day.” This takes care of the contention of Seventh Day Adventists that the Ten Commandments existed even before man was created.
In verse four Moses reminded them how that “Jehovah spake with you face to face in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” He then proceeded to repeat the Ten Commandments given at mount Sinai.
So the Ten Commandments were given at Mount Horeb. They were addressed to Israel. That they were given to none but Israel is evident from the words of Moses in Deut. 4:8: “And what great nation is there that path statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” If the Ten Commandments had been given to all men, then other nations would have had statutes and ordinances as righteous as those given to Israel.
The New Covenants Universal
In contrast to the limited applicability of the old covenant, the new covenant is universal in its scope. When God spoke through Christ it was for all men. The three versions of the great commission stress the universality of the gospel message. Matthew records Jesus as saying, “Go . . . make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Mark’s version says, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:16). Luke records Jesus as saying, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations” (Luke 24:47).
The commands of the gospel are of universal obligation. All men are required to believe in Christ as the Son of God. Jesus said, “Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). All men are required to repent. In his speech before the philosophers of Athens, Paul said, “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent” (Acts 17:30). All men are required to be baptized. Jesus said, “Except one be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The commission that required the apostles to make disciples of all the nations also commanded, “baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). The command to baptize is thus as universal as the command to make disciples.
Among the closing words of the New Testament are these, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). The provisions of the gospel are thus broad enough in their application to include “whosoever will” accept the gracious offer of life. They are limited only by man’s unwillingness to accept what is offered. To the Jews of his day, Jesus said, on one occasion, “Y e will not come unto me that ye may have life” (John 5:40). He did not say that they could not come, but that they would not come. It was their own stubborn will that stood between them and eternal life that Jesus offered them.
Truth Magazine XXI: 34, pp. 534-535
September 1, 1977