Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 11: The Ten Commandments and the Double Commandment
What does God desire of us? Does He want many things or only a few, or is just one thing needful? Doubtless He wants many things. .Every moment He wants something different from us: that we should be stern with one man, mild with another; that, at one time we should yield, at another time be firm. He wants not only that we should not steal, but that we should be neither greedy nor covetous, not only that we give generously when we are moved to compassion, but also that we be frugal so that we may have wherewith to give. Also that we should not slander, judge, gossip, or speak unkindly. But neither does God approve of cowardly silence or tight-lipped selfishness when we might give counsel. Who can put down in detail just what God
wants of us? Indeed we cannot think of a moment in our life when God wants nothing of us, nor of a moment in which He does not want something different than He wanted previously or may desire later, because each particular opportunity is unique and will never return. For that reason no one can ever retrieve what he has once let slip; each moment brings a new duty which wholly claims us. Life is like the endless chain in a modem factory; it passes by us and requires something particular every passing moment. It is not the nature of life itself but it is God who requires of us that we do this and not that to life as it passes by.
One can also say, on the other hand, that it is not many things which God requires, -- but only a few; he gives us only a few commandments in which he says everything. He wants us to be conscientious in our words (9th Commandment). He wants us to deal justly with the affairs of other men, and respect the life of all (6th Commandment). He wants a right attitude toward those who are the only support of social order (5th Commandment) . We are to respect not only the person but also the property of others (8th Commandment) etc. These fixed principles are the contents of the Ten Commandments. Everything that we should or should not do according to the will of God is contained therein.
It is also correct to say that we are simply to do one thing. He who keeps the first Commandment keeps all the rest. For the first Commandment means; thou shalt have God for thy God: which means that we should never forget, whatever we do, that we are not our own but God's property and must act accordingly. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." For only when you love God with all your heart do you really remember that you are His property, only then is it true for you that He is your God. All evil comes from our desire to be our own master, from loving ourselves more than God. Or, rather, it is not loving more, but loving falsely. To love oneself well one must love God, for it is only through love to God that we can achieve our true destiny.
God wants only that we should be that for which He created us. He created us "in his own image." That is a simile. A man looks in the mirror and beholds his image, or some one shouts and the cliff echoes his cry. We have been created by God that we should reply to Him in the Word of Love with which He has called us into life. "Let us love him for he first loved us." That is the Commandment. All others are contained therein. But there is even more than the Commandment of God here. The Commandment of God is what God wants of us. But if we understand the words concerning the image of God, we also know what God wants for us. That God first loved us, before He demanded anything of us, and that He demands nothing more than that we should accept His love, that is, react to love with love, is simply what we call faith. Faith is the acceptance of God's grace, God's incomprehensible, undeserved Love; and whosoever does that fulfils the will of God.
Evil essentially is only the supposition that we can get along without God. This idea, "for my life God is superfluous: I am my own master," is the poisoning of the spring of human life; from this source all life is poisoned. The sin of Adam and Eve "ye shall be as Gods" does not mean to have the idea that one is God, but to endeavor to be independent of God. Free from God, away from God is to be God-less, evil. Against this all the Commandments are directed.
Haven't the Commandments more to do with men than with God? Are there two kinds of Commandments -- those which tell us our duty to God and those which inform us of our obligations to man? Loving God and loving man? What does it really mean to love God? It means, as we have previously said, to know that all we have is from God; to know that God's good- ness alone holds and supports us, and therefore to perceive that we belong absolutely to God. To know this banishes not only godlessness but also selfishness; and one is bound through God to his neighbor.
God gives us our life by giving us other men at the same time; He has so formed us that we cannot live alone. If things are right between ourselves and God, they are also right between ourselves and men. We look upon them as those to whom our life belongs. The man who knows himself to be God's property belongs thenceforth to his brethren. There is only one Commandment, it reduces at last to this: Love God and thy neighbor as thyself.
And now -- on what terms are we with these Commandments? They are given us to do them. For what other purpose should they be given? Every man who has to do with God, knows that he should keep the Commandments at the cost of his life, if need be. But what man fulfils them? Do you really love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself? Because the first love is not true, neither is the other -- and you lie, steal, commit adultery. Perhaps you do not break the Commandments in the gross sense of the word, but in the more refined and secret sense you do break them and you think that is not so bad? The more refined sins, under certain circumstances are much worse than the gross varieties. So then, we do not keep God's command. The spring of life is really poisoned, things are bad with us. This is the testimony of conscience and even more sharply and clearly, the testimony of Holy Scripture. Behind God's command stands the fearful word -- Judgment! Lost! It is written more sharply in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. What then are we to do?