The First Commandment
"You shall have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3
This commandment is addressed to each person in particular, because the commandment concerns everyone, and God would have each one take it as spoken to him by name. Though we are forward to take privileges to ourselvesóyet we are apt to shift off duties from ourselves to others!
We come now to the commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me." This may well lead the van, and be set in the front of all the commandments because it is the foundation of all true religion. The sum of this commandment is, that we should sanctify God in our hearts, and give him precedence above all created beings. There are two branches of this commandment:
1. That we must have God for our God.
2. That we must have no other God.
1. We must have God for our God. It is manifest that we must have a God, and "who is God save the Lord?" 2 Sam 22:32. The Lord Jehovah (one God in three people) is the true, living, eternal God; and he we must have for our God.
 To have God to be God to us is to ACKNOWLEDGE him as God. The gods of the heathen are idols. Psalm 96:5. And "we know that an idol is nothing" (1 Cor 8:4); that is, it has nothing of Deity in it. If we cry, "Help, O Idol," an idol cannot help; the idols themselves were carried into captivity so that an idol is nothing. Isa 46:2. Vanity is ascribed to it, we do not, therefore, acknowledge it to be a god. Jer 14:22. But we have this God to be God to us, when, "from the heart" we acknowledge him to be God. All the people fell on their faces and said, "The Lord he is the God! the Lord he is the God!" 1 Kings 18:39. Yes, we acknowledge him to be the only God. "O Lord God of Israel, who dwells between the cherubim, you are the God, even you alone." 2 Kings 19:15. Deity is a jewel that belongs only to his crown.
Further, we acknowledge there is no God like him. "And Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord; and he said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you." 1 Kings 8:22, 23. "For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?" Psalm 89:6. In the Chaldee, it is, "Who among the angels?" None can do as God; he brought the world out of nothing; "And hangs the earth upon nothing." Job 26:7. It makes God be God to us when we are persuaded in our hearts, and confess with our tongues, and subscribe with our hands, that he is the only true God, and that there is none comparable to him.
 To have God to be God to us is to CHOOSE him. "Choose this day whom you will serve: but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord." That is, we will choose the Lord to be our God. Josh 24:15. It is one thing for the judgment to approve of Godóand another for the will to choose him. True religion is not a matter of chanceóbut choice.
Before choosing God for our God, there must be knowledge. We must know him before we can choose him. Before anyone chooses the person he will marry, he must have some knowledge of that person; so we must know God before we can choose him for our God. "Know the God of your father." 1 Chron 28:9. We must know God in his attributesóas glorious in holiness, rich in mercy, and faithful in promises. We must know him in his Son. As the face is represented in a looking-glass, so in Christ, as in a transparent glass, we see God's beauty and love shine forth. This knowledge must go before choosing God. Lactantius said, "all the learning of the philosophers was without ahead because it lacked the knowledge of God."
This choosing is an act of mature deliberation. The Christian having viewed the superlative excellences in God, and being stricken with a holy admiration of his perfections, singles him out from all other objects to set his heart upon; and says as Jacob, "The Lord shall be my God!" Gen 28:21. He who chooses Godódevotes himself to God. "Your servant who is devoted to your fear." Psalm 119:38. As the vessels of the sanctuary were consecrated and set apart from common to holy uses, so he who has chosen God to be his God has dedicated himself to God, and will no more be devoted to profane uses.
 To have God to be God to us is to enter into solemn COVENANT with him, that he shall be our God. After choice, the marriage covenant follows. As God makes a covenant with us, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David" (Isa 55:3); so we make a covenant with him, "They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers." 2 Chron 15:12. "One shall say, I am the Lord's, and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord;" like soldiers that subscribe their names in the muster roll. Isa 44:5. This covenant, "That God shall be our God," we have often renewed in the Lord's Supper; which, like a seal to a bond, binds us fast to God, and so keeps us that we do not depart from him.
 To have God to be God to us is to give him adoration, which consists in REVERENCING him. "God is to be had in reverence, by all those who care about him." Psalm 89:7. The seraphim, who stood around God's throne, covered their faces (Isa 6), and Elijah wrapped himself in a mantle when the Lord passed by, in token of reverence. This reverence shows the high esteem we have of God's sacred majesty. Adoration consists of bowing to him or worshiping him. "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Psalm 29:2. "They bowed their heads, and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." Neh 8:6. Divine worship is the peculiar honor belonging to the Godhead; which God is jealous of, and will have no creature share in. "My glory will I not give to another." Isa 42:8. Magistrates may have civil respect or venerationóbut God only should have a religious adoration.
 To have God to be God to us is to FEAR him. "That you may fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord your God." Deut 28:58.
(1) This fearing God is to have him always in our eye, "I have set the Lord always before me." Psalm 16:8. "My eyes are ever towards the Lord." Psalm 25:15. He who fears God imagines that whatever he is doing, God looks on, and as a judge, weighs all his actions.
(2) To fear God is to have such holy awe of God upon our hearts, that we dare not sin. "Stand in awe and sin not." Psalm 4:4. The wicked sin and fear not; the godly fear and sin not. "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Gen 39:9. Bid me sinóand you bid me drink poison! It is a saying of Anselm, "If hell were on one side, and sin on the other, I would rather leap into hell than willingly sin against my God!" He who fears God will not sin, though it is ever so secret. "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blindóbut shall fear your God." Lev 19:14. Suppose you should curse a deaf man, he could not hear you; or suppose you were to lay a stumbling block in a blind man's way, and cause him to fall, he could not see you do it. But the fear of God will make you forsake sins which can neither be heard nor seen by men! The fear of God destroys the fear of man. The three Hebrew children feared God, therefore they feared not the king's wrath. Dan 3:16. The greater noise drowns the less; the noise of thunder drowns the noise of a river. Just so, when the fear of God is supreme in the soul, it drowns all other carnal fear. It makes God be God to us when we have a holy filial fear of him.
 To have God to be God to us is to TRUST in him. "My eyes are unto you, O God the Lord: in you is my trust." Psalm 141:8. "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior." 2 Sam 22:2-3. There is none in whom we can trust but God. All creatures are a refuge of lies; they are like the Egyptian reed, too weak to support usóbut sharp enough to wound us. 2 Kings 18:21. "The immovable is undisturbed by any commotion." God only is a sufficient foundation to build our trust upon. When we trust him, we make him God to us; when we do not trust him, we make him an idol. Trusting in God is to rely on his power as a Creator, and on his love as a Father. Trusting in God is to commit our chief treasure, our soul, to him. "Into your hands, I commit my spirit." Psalm 31:5. As the orphan trusts his estate with his guardian, so we trust our souls with God. Then he becomes God to us.
But how shall we know that we trust in God right? If we trust in God aright, we shall trust him at one time, as well as another. "Trust in him at all times." Psalm 62:8. Can we trust him in our straits? When the fig tree does not flourish, and when our earthly crutches are brokenócan we lean upon God's promise? When the pipes are cut off which used to bring us comfort, can we live upon God, in whom are all our fresh springs? When we have no bread to eatóbut the bread of affliction (Ezek 12:19); when we have no water to drinkóbut tears, as in Psalm 80:5: "You give them tears to drink in great measure;" can we then trust in God's providence to supply us? A good Christian believes, that if God feeds the ravens, he will feed his children, he lives upon God's all-sufficiency, not only for graceóbut for food. He believes if God gives him heaven, he will give daily bread. He trusts God's promise, "Truly you shall be fed." Psalm 37:3. Can we trust God in our fears? When adversaries grow highócan we display the banner of faith? "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." Psalm 56:3. Faith cures the trembling in the heart; it gets above fear, as oil swims above the water. To trust in God, makes him be God to us.
 To have God to be God to us is to LOVE him. In the godly fear and love kiss each other.
 To have him to be God to us is to OBEY him. Upon this, I shall speak more at large in the second commandment.
Why must use cleave to the Lord as our God?
(1) Because of its EQUITY. It is but just that we should cleave to him, from whom we receive our being. Who can have a better right to us than he who gives us our breath? For "it is he who made us, and not we ourselves." Psalm 100:3. It is unjust, yes, ungrateful, to give away our love or worship, to any but God.
(2) Because of its UTILITY. If we cleave to the Lord as our God, then he will bless us: "God, even our own God, shall bless us." Psalm 67:6. He will bless us in our estate. "Blessed shall be the fruit of your ground: blessed shall be your basket and your store." Deut 28:4, 5. We shall not only have our sacks full of cornóbut money in the mouth of the sack. He will bless us with peace. "The Lord will bless his people with peace." Psalm 29:11. With outward peace, which is the nurse of plenty. "He makes peace in your borders." Psalm 147:14. With inward peaceóa smiling conscience, which is sweeter than the dropping of honey. God will turn all evils to our good. Rom 8:28. He will make a healing potion, from poison. Joseph's imprisonment was a means for his advancement. Gen 50:20. Out of the bitterest drugóhe will distill his glory and our salvation. In short, he will be our guide to death, our comfort in death, and our reward after death. The utility of it, therefore, may make us cleave to the Lord as our God. "Happy is that people, whose God is the Lord." Psalm 144:15.
(3) Because of its NECESSITY. If God is not our God, he will curse our blessings; and God's curse blasts wherever it comes. Mal 2:2. If God is not our God, we have none to help us in misery. Will he help his enemies? Will he assist those who disclaim him? If we do not make God be our Godóhe will make himself to be our judge; and if he condemns, there is no appealing to a higher court. There is a necessity, therefore, for having God for our God, unless we intend to be eternally espoused to misery!
Use one. If we must have the Lord Jehovah for our one God, it condemns the Atheists who have no God. "The fool has said in his heartóThere is no God." Psalm 14:1. There is no God he believes in or worships. When Seneca reproved Nero for his impieties, Nero said, "Do you think I believe there is any God, when I do such things?" The duke of Silesia was so deceived, that he affirmed that there was neither God nor devil. We may see God in the works of his fingers. The creation is a great volume in which we may read a Godhead, and he who denies God must need put out his own eyes! Aristotle, though a heathen, not only acknowledged God, when he cried out, "You Being of beings, have mercy on me," but he thought he who did not confess a Deity was not worthy to live. Those who will not believe God shall feel him. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Heb 10:31.
Use two. Professing Christians are condemned, who profess to own God for their God and yet do not live as if he were their God.
(1) They do not believe in him as God. When they look upon their sins, they are apt to say, "Can God pardon?" When they look upon their needs, they say, "Can God provide, can he prepare a table in the wilderness?"
(2) They do not love him as God. They do not give him the cream of their loveóbut are prone to love other things more than God; they say they love Godóbut will part with nothing for him.
(3) They do not worship him as God. They do not give him that reverence, nor pray with that devotion as if they were praying to a god. How dead are their hearts! If not dead in sin, they are dead to duty. They pray as to a godówho has eyes and sees not, ears and hears not. In hearing the Word, how much distraction, and what dull hearts have many! They are thinking of their shops and the world. Would a king take it well at our hands, if, when speaking to usówe would be playing with a feather? When God is speaking to us in his Word, and our hearts are taken up with thoughts about the world, is not this playing with a feather? Oh, how should this humble most of usóthat we do not make God be a god to us! We do not believe in him, love him, worship himóas God. Many heathens have worshiped their false gods with more seriousness and devotion than some professing Christians do the true God. O let us chide ourselves; did I say chide? Let us abhor ourselves for our deadness and formality in religion! How we have professed Godóand yet have not worshiped him as God.
II. That we must have no other God. "You shall have no other gods before me."
What is meant by the words, "Before me"?
It means before my face; before my sight. "Cursed be the man who makes an engraved image, and puts it in a secret place." Deut 27:15. Some would not bow to the idol in the sight of othersóbut they would secretly bow to it; but though this was out of man's sight, it was not out of God's sight. "Cursed, therefore," says God, "be he who puts the image in a secret place."
"You shall have no other gods."
1. There is really no other God.
2. We must have no other.
 There is really no other God. The Valentinians held there were two gods; the Polytheists, that there were many; the Persians worshiped the sun; the Egyptians worshiped the ox and elephant; the Grecians worshiped Jupiter. But there is no other than the true God. "Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other." Deut 4:39. For,
(1) There is but one First Cause, that has its being of itself, and on which all other beings depend. As in the heavens, the Primum Mobile moves all the other orbs; so God is the Great Mover, he gives life and motion to everything that exists.
(2) There is but one Omnipotent Power. If there are two omnipotent, we must always suppose a contest between the two: that which one would do, the other, being equal, would oppose; and so all things would be brought into confusion. If a ship should have two pilots of equal power, one would be ever crossing the other; when one would sail, the other would cast anchor; there would be confusion, and the ship would perish. The order and harmony in the world, the constant and uniform government of all things, is a clear argument that there is but one Omnipotent, one God who rules all. "I am the first, and I am the last, and beside me, there is no God." Isa 44:6.
 We must have no other God. "You shall have no other gods before me." This commandment forbids:
(1) Serving a false god, and not the true God. "Saying to a stock, You are my father; and to a stone, You have brought me forth." Jer 2:27.
(2) Joining a false God with a true. "They feared the Lordóand served their own gods." 2 Kings 17:33. These are forbidden in the commandment; we must adhere to the true God and no other. "God is a jealous God," and he will endure no rival. A wife cannot lawfully have two husbands at once; nor may we have two gods. You shall worship no other god, for the Lord is a jealous God." Exod. 34:14. "Their sorrows shall be multiplied, who hasten after another god." Psalm 16:4. The Lord interprets it as a "forsaking of him" to espouse any other God. "They forsook the Lord, and followed other gods." Judges 2:12. God would not have his people so much as make mention of idol gods. "Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of your mouth." Exod 23:13. God looks upon it as breaking the marriage-covenant, to go after other gods. Therefore, when Israel committed idolatry with the golden calf, God disclaimed his interest in them. "Your people have corrupted themselves." Exod 32:7. Before, God called Israel his people; but when they went after other gods, "Now," says the Lord to Moses, "they are no longer my people, but your people." "She is not my wife." Hos 2:2. She does not keep faith with me, she has stained herself with idols, therefore I will divorce her, "she is not my wife." To go after other gods is what God cannot bear; it makes the fury rise up in his face. "Suppose your brother, son, daughter, beloved wife, or closest friend comes to you secretly and says, 'Let us go worship other gods'ógods that neither you nor your ancestors have known. If they do this, do not give in or listen, and have no pity. Do not spare or protect them. You must put them to death! You must be the one to initiate the execution; then all the people must join in." Deuteronomy 13:6, 8, 9.
What is it to have other gods besides the true God? I fear upon search, we have more idolaters among us than we are aware of.
(1) To TRUST in anything more than God, is to make it a god. If we trust in our RICHES, we make riches our God. We may take comfort in richesóbut not put confidence in them. It is a foolish thing to trust in them. They are deceitful riches, and it is foolish to trust to that which will deceive us. Matt 13:22. They have no solid consistency, they are like golden dreams, which leave the soul empty when it awakens or comes to itself. They are not what they promise; they promise to satisfy our desiresóand they increase them! They promise to stay with usóand they take wings. They are hurtful. "I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner." Eccl 5:13. It is foolish to trust that which will hurt oneself. Who would take hold of the edge of a razor? Riches are often fuel for pride and lust. Ezek 28:5. Jer 5:7. It is folly to trust in our riches; but how many do, and make money their god! "The rich man's wealth is his strong city." Prov 10:15. He makes the wedge of gold his hope. Job 31:24. God made man of the dust of the earth, and man makes a god of the dust of the earth! Money is his creator, redeemer, comforter: his creator, for if he has money, he thinks he is made; his redeemer, for if he is in danger, he trusts to his money to redeem him; his comforter, for if he is sad, money is the golden harp to drive away from the evil spirit. Thus by trusting money, we make it a god.
If we trust in THE ARM OF FLESH, we make it a god. "This is what the Lord saysóCursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord." Jer 17:5. The Syrians trusted in their army, which was so numerous that it filled the country; but this arm of flesh withered. 1 Kings 20:27, 29. Whatever we make our trust, God makes our shame. The sheep run to the hedges for shelteróand they lose their wool; just so, we have run to second causes to help us, and have lost much of our golden fleece! Men have not only been weak reeds to fail usóbut sharp thorns to prick us! We have broken our human crutches, by leaning too hard upon them.
If we trust in our WISDOM, we make it a god. "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom." Jer 9:23. Boasting is the height of confidence. Many a man makes an idol of his wit and abilities; he deifies himselfóbut how often does God take the wise in their own craftiness! "He catches those who think they are wise in their own cleverness so that their cunning schemes are thwarted." Job 5:13. Ahithophel had a great wit, his counsel was as the oracle of God, but his wit brought him to the noose! "He saddled his donkey, went to his hometown, set his affairs in order, and hanged himself!" 2 Sam 17:23.
If we trust in our MORALITY, we make it a god. Many trusts to this. None can charge them with gross sin. Morality is but sinful nature, refined and cultivated. A man may be outwardly washedóand not inwardly changed. His life may be moralóand yet there may be some reigning sin in his heart! The Pharisee could say, "I am no adulterer" (Luke 18:11); but he could not say, "I am not proud." To trust one's morality is to trust a spider's web. "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away." Isaiah 64:6
If we trust our DUTIES to save us, we make them a god. "Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Isa 64:6. Put gold in the fire, and much dross comes out: so our most golden duties are mixed with infirmity. We are apt either to neglect duty or idolize it. Use dutyóbut do not trust to it; for then you make it a god. Trust not to your praying and hearing; they are means of salvationóbut they are not saviors. If you make duties bladders to trust to, you may sink with them to hell.
If we trust in our GRACE, we make a god of it. Grace is but a creature; if we trust to it we make it an idol. Grace is imperfect, and we must not trust that which is imperfect to save us. "I have walked in my integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord." Psalm 26:1: David walked in his integrity; but did not trust in his integrity. "I have trusted in the Lord." If we trust in our graces, we make a Christ of them. They are good gracesóbut bad Christs.
(2) To LOVE anything more than God, is to make it a god. If we love our ESTATE more than God, we make it a god. The young man in the gospel loved his gold better than his Savior; the world lay nearer his heart than Christ. Matt 19:22. "This gold with its glitter blinds the eyes. "The covetous man is called an idolater. Eph 5:5. Why so? Because he loves his estate more than God, and so makes it his god. Though he does not bow down to an idol, if he worships the engraved image in his coins, he is an idolater. That which has most of the heart, we make a god of.
If we love our PLEASURE more than God, we make a god of it. "Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." 2 Tim 3:4. Many let loose the reins, and give themselves up to all manner of sensual delights; they idolize pleasure. "They take the timbrel, and the harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in mirth." Job 21:12, 13. I have read of a place in Africa, where the people spend all their time in dancing and making merry; and have not we many who make a god of pleasure, who spend their time in going to plays and visiting ball-rooms, as if God had made them like the leviathan, to play in the water? Psalm 104:26. In the country of Sardinia, there is a certain herb, that if anyone eats too much of it, he will die laughing: such a herb is pleasure, if anyone feeds immoderately on it, he will go laughing to hell. Let such as make a god of pleasure read but these two Scriptures. "The heart of fools is in the house of mirth." Eccl 7:4. "She has lived in luxury and pleasure, so match it now with torments and sorrows." Rev 18:7. Sugar laid in a damp place turns to water; so all the sugared joys and pleasures of sinners will turn to the water of tears at last.
If we love ourselves BELLY more than God, we make a god of it. "Whose god is their belly." Phil 3:19. Clemens Alexandrinus writes of a fish that had its heart in its belly; an emblem of epicures, whose heart is in their belly; their belly is their God, and to this God, they pour drink offerings. The Lord allows what is fitting for the recruiting of nature. "I will send grass, that you may eat and be full." Deut 11:15. But to mind nothing but the indulging of the appetite is idolatry. "Whose god is their belly." What pity is it, that the soul, that princely part, which sways the scepter of reason and is akin to angels, should be enslaved to the brutish part!
If we love a CHILD more than God, we make a god of it. How many are guilty of this kind? They think more of their children, and delight more in them than in God; they grieve more for the loss of their firstborn than for the loss of their first love. This is to make an idol of a child and to set it in God's place. Thus God is often provoked to take away our children. If we love the jewel more than him who gave it, God will take away the jewel, that our love may return to him again.
Use one. It reproves such as have other gods, and so renounce the true God.
(1) It reproves such as set up idols. "According to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah." Jer 2:28. "Their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field." Hos 12:11.
(2) It reproves such as seek to familiar spirits. This is a sin condemned by the law of God. "And do not let your people practice fortune-telling or sorcery, or allow them to interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you." Deuteronomy 18:10-12. Ordinarily, if people have lost any of their goods, they send to wizards and soothsayers, to know how they may come by them again. What is this but to make a god of the devil, by consulting with him, and putting their trust in him? What! because you have lost your goodsówill you lose your souls too? 2 Kings 1:6. Is it not because you think there is not a God in heaven, that you ask counsel of the devil? If any are guilty, be humbled.
Use two. It sounds like a retreat in our ears. Let it call us off from idolizing any creature, and lead us to renounce other gods, and cleave to the true God and his service. If we go away from God, we know not where to mend ourselves.
(1) It is honorable to serve the true God. "To serve God is to reign." It is more honor to serve God than to have kings serve us.
(2) Serving the true God is delightful. "I will make them joyful in my house of prayer." Isa 56:7. God often displays the banner of his love in an ordinance and pours the oil of gladness into the heart. All God's ways are pleasantness, his paths are strewed with roses. Prov 3:17.
(3) Serving the true God is beneficial. Men have great gain here, the hidden manna, inward peace, and a great reward to come. Those who serve God shall have a kingdom when they die and shall wear a crown made of the flowers of paradise. Luke 12:32; 1 Pet 5:4. To serve the true God is our true interest. God has twisted his glory and our salvation together. He bids us believe; and why? That we may be saved. Therefore, renouncing all others, let us cleave to the true God.
(4) You have covenanted to serve the true Jehovah, renouncing all others. When one has entered into covenant with his master, and the indentures are drawn and sealed, he cannot go backóbut must serve out his time. We have covenanted in baptism, to take the Lord for our God, renouncing all others; and renewed this covenant in the Lord's Supper, and shall we not keep our solemn vow and covenant? We cannot go away from God without the highest perjury. "If any man draws back [as a soldier who runs away from his regiment] my soul shall have no pleasure in him." Heb 10:38. "I will pour vials of wrath on him, and make my arrows drunk with blood."
(5) None ever had cause to repent of cleaving to God and his service. Some have repented that they had made a god of the world. Cardinal Wolsey said, "Oh if I had served my God as I have served my king, he would never have left me thus!" None ever complained of serving Godóit was their comfort and their crown on their deathbed.