For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Question 110 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the reasons annexed to the Second Commandment, the more to enforce it?” The last section of the answer reads, “The reasons annexed to the Second Commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.” Last time we looked at the various ways in which the pure worship of God is corrupted and opposed. This week we consider the incentives God gives us to obey this commandment.
As we have seen in the last three Catechism questions, the topic addressed by the Second Commandment is right worship. Seeing who God is and who we are, God ought to be worshiped by the rational, moral creature. In fact, it is man’s highest honor and privilege to be permitted to worship our most perfect Creator. Therefore, it should all the more strike us that God would inspire for all people and for all time two additional incentives to keep this Commandment. Here we see God’s great condescension and fatherly love for us, in that He would give us reasons in order to motivate us to obey Him. In doing this, God does something for us that we sometimes neglect to do for our own children: He tells us why. God tells us why we should listen to Him.
Now to be sure, there are times when God does not give any reasons to obey Him, even as there are times when we should make it clear to our children that they need to obey us simply because we are their parents. But there are also times when we should patiently and lovingly explain to our children why they should listen to us. In God’s parental relationship to us, He sees the topic of worship as one of those times. As mentioned above, God gives us two distinct incentives or motivations to keep the Second Commandment. A motivation is a reason or incentive that has the effect of impelling one to act or to move. Motivations can be both negative: in the form of a threat or punishment; or positive: in the form of a promise or reward. Notice in this Commandment God gives us one of each: a threatened punishment and a promised reward.
Sometimes you will read or hear Christian leaders try to do away with God threatening punishments or promising rewards on the basis of our performance. They wrongly think that such action on the part of God connotes salvation by works. So, they try to relegate such things to the Old Testament and say that God operates with us differently in the New Testament, in the age of the gospel of grace. This is a very dangerous error to make for it separates the way God related to His people from one Testament to the next; as if there was a time when God could accept sin-laden obedience and reward it as if it had earned something good from Him! Also, it robs from believers the God-given incentives to obey Him that we desperately need. Christian, it should move you to know that if you worship idols, either outwardly or in your heart, you hurt not only yourself, but your descendants to the third and fourth generation. Likewise, how mightily we should be motivated to worship God rightly when we see the promise that if we do, a blessing will come upon our posterity for as long as they endure (thousands of generations, see Deut. 7:9). May God grant that we do not allow anyone to take from us any of the incentives that God gives us to obey Him; for we need them!