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Morality is generally regarded as those principles which help people distinguish that which is right from that which is wrong. However, these principles may vary depending on where one derives his or her understanding and definition of morality. What is considered morally acceptable in one culture may not necessarily be viewed in the same way in another culture. Philosophy and religion have also played a sizeable role in defining what is morally right and wrong. Still, what every Christian needs to know and understand is what God has defined to be good or bad. Is His standard of morality limited only to humanity or does it expand to the entire universe? It is important for us to understand the nature of God’s moral law, because it is upon this law that God’s righteousness based.

The legal systems of today have been shaped, in part, by religious figures who, over the years, have given their interpretations regarding what constitutes God’s moral law. One such example is St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a Catholic priest living in the twelfth century, a highly influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist. Unlike many currents in the Church at that time, Aquinas embraced several ideas put forward by Aristotle—whom he called “the Philosopher”—and attempted to synthesize Aristotelian philosophy with the principles of Christianity. One of his most popular and long-lasting contributions to the Christian and the legal world is his natural law theory of morality. What is good and evil, according to Aquinas, is derived from the rational nature of human beings.

“As Aquinas understands it, the natural law is a fundamental principle that is weaved into the fabric of our nature. As such, it illuminates and gives us a desire for those goods that facilitate the kind of flourishing proper to human beings. (ST IaIIae 94.3)

While it holds true that God has given us the promise of writing His laws into our hearts, it is imperative for us as Christians to properly understand what His moral law truly is, for it is this very law that gets written upon the heart.

Over the years, many have embraced and built upon Aquinas’ teachings, which has led to a misunderstanding of what the true moral compass of the universe really is. A prime example of this can be found in the book entitled “The Good News is Better than you think”. In it we find the following line of reasoning:

“Why the Sinner Has to Die
As we consider the title of this chapter, our response may be to think, ‘Well, the sinner has to die because the law proves him guilty and requires his death.’ We see his death as completely dependent upon his relationship to the law. This concept is rooted deeply into the thinking of Christians, and while in a way it is correct, this common understanding does not fully explain the truth. Let us consider for a moment what a law really is. A law is basically a principle or a rule which governs behavior…But when we speak of law, there are two kinds of law which we need to consider. There is natural law and there is judicial law. Understanding the difference between the two kinds of laws is critical to a proper appreciation of the reason why the sinner has to die.

Natural Laws
In the case of natural laws all men recognize the importance of always working in harmony with them. The rules are built into nature and we cannot change them or adjust them. These laws simply describe the way nature works and they are called laws because nature compels all things to behave in conformity to those particular principles. We are required to work in harmony with them. One such law is the law of gravity. This law compels us to behave in a certain way with the sure knowledge that if we change our behavior, then drastic consequences will surely follow. For example, I may not agree with the law of gravity and so may step off from the roof of a 10 story building. I will speedily find out that by not acting in harmony with the law of gravity I have suffered severe consequences. I may not like natural laws, but if I disregard them, unhappy consequences are sure to follow. This is true of all natural laws.

Judicial Laws [10 Commandments]
Judicial laws on the other hand, are laws which are laid down by a governing authority…The enforcement of these laws is not built into nature as in the case of natural law. With judicial law, the governing authority has to do two things. First they have to make the laws and secondly, they have to enforce these laws. They do this by imposing penalties for transgressing the laws which they themselves must enforce. Many of the judicial laws established by various governments are faulty and even unjust. But God is the author of all natural law. Natural law is always good.

The nature of moral law
The moral law has been described as a ‘transcript’ of God’s character. As this moral law is outlined in the Ten Commandments it is stated in a somewhat limited way and does not express the fullness of God’s character and may better be described as an ‘expression’ of God’s character, rather than an exact transcript. However, when the moral law is properly understood in all its deeper implications, it certainly expresses what God is like in His moral nature and may be appropriately described as a transcript of His character… So we see clearly that the moral law is a natural law. It is a law of nature. To walk in harmony with it is to have life. To step aside from it is to embrace death. No one has to sentence you, and no one has to kill you. Sin itself will do the job as a natural consequence of the way the law operates.” {Better Thank You Think, pg. 83-85}

According to the writer, the moral law, in actuality and fullness, is not the Ten Commandments, which are merely a limited expression of righteousness and love. Instead, the moral law is a natural law with a higher standard and this is the full expression of God’s character . This may be accurate from an Aristotelian perspective, but is it biblical? Is the moral law a natural law and are the Ten Commandments only a limited expression of righteousness? These are two crucial questions and they demand a clear answer. If the Ten Commandments are not truly and emphatically the moral law, because they are only a limited expression of God’s character, then every Christian ought to understand what constitutes God’s moral law in all its fullness. Let us turn again to the writings of the 1888 messengers and see what it is that they believed the moral law to be:

“’Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven.’ Thus did the Saviour declare the validity of the moral law. Those who disobey the commandments of God, and teach others to do the same by their example and doctrine, are condemned by Christ.” {Ellen White, 4Red 70.1}

“It is this law of ceremonies, which was to find its fulfillment in the death of Christ, when type should meet antitype, that is so frequently in our day confounded with the moral law of ten commandments, which was engraven by the finger of God upon stone, and which is as enduring as the throne of Jehovah.” {Ellen White, ST July 15, 1880, Art. A, par. 2}

“The Lord then graciously condescended to come down upon Mount Sinai, not to give a new law, but to speak with an audible voice, in the hearing of all the people, the law which had been from the beginning the foundation of his government. He would not permit even angels to communicate these sacred precepts to men, nor did he trust them to the memory of a people who were prone to forget his requirements. He would remove all possibility of misunderstanding, of mingling any tradition with the ten commandments of the moral law, or of confusing the divine requirements with the practices of men; and to do this, he not only spoke the ten words of the moral law in the hearing of all Israel, but he wrote them with his own finger upon tables of stone.” {Ellen White, ST May 6, 1886, par. 3}

“The moral law was contained in the Ten Commandments and enforced by the prophets. [Christ] did not come to abolish or destroy. It was not the purpose of His coming to detract one iota from the dignity and force of any part of the moral law, for this is a law which cannot be broken with impunity. It stands fast forever as firm as the throne of God, as firm as the pillars of heaven.” {Ellen White, Ms43-1887.5}

“Will you not compare your character with God’s moral law, the ten commandments? And then seek to come into obedience to all of God’s requirements. Says Christ, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Give me this precious reward, and you may take everything from me here upon earth.” {Ellen White, ST September 15, 1887, par. 9}

“The moral law was given before the people called Jews were in existence. The law of ten commandments was of universal obligation.” {Ellen White, Lt26-1894.12}

“Adam, exalted morals as the sum of all books and of all study, the conclusion of all that has been or can be said: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13. And one reason why wisdom stands in the lead of all things, is that she “leads in the way of righteousness,” which is morals. Proverbs 8:20. And that “One greater than Solomon,” the model Man of all the ages, and “the last Adam,” also exalts morals to this same place: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Matthew 6:33. The righteousness of God is the only true morality. The law of God is the only true moral law.” {A.T. Jones, PBE 134.1}

“Now the ten commandments are the law of God. The ten commandments are, for the universe, the supreme standard of morals. It is the moral law. Every duty enjoined in the Bible, that is to say every duty of man, finds its spring in some one of the ten commandments.” {A. T. Jones, AMS, December 1, 1886, p.91}

“By all these things it is made clear that we owe to Caesar (civil government) only that which is civil, and that we owe to God that which is moral or religious. Other definitions show the same thing. For instance, sin as defined by Webster, is “any violation of God’s will;” and as defined by the Scriptures, “is the transgression of the law.” That the law here referred to is the moral law—the ten commandments—is shown by Romans 7:7:— ‘I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.’” {A.T. Jones, CGRAS 18.3}

“There is no chance for confusion concerning the two laws, for we have this plain distinction: The moral law was spoken by the Lord with an audible voice, from the fire and smoke of Sinai. The ten commandments are all that were given in this manner (Deuteronomy 5:22), and they alone were written on tables of stone by the finger of God.” {E.J. Waggoner, The Gospel in the Book of Galatians, p. 33.4}

“This does not mean that the commandments, “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” are imperfect or that God now requires a greater degree of morality from Christians than He did from His people who were called Jews. He requires the same from all men in all ages. The Saviour simply explained these commandments and showed their spirituality. To the unspoken charge of the Pharisees that He was ignoring and undermining the moral law, He replied by saying that He came for the purpose of establishing the law and that it could not be abolished, and then He expounded the true meaning of the law in a way that convicted them of ignoring and disobeying it.” {E.J. Waggoner, CHR 49.1}

It is clear from paragraphs we just read that the 1888 messengers properly understood the moral law to be indeed the Ten Commandments. They, just as the writers of the Bible, preached a righteousness that was fully encompassed within the ten precepts of the Decalogue. Both sin and righteousness revolved entirely around the Ten Commandments. In fact,

“The law condemns all sin, and requires all virtue.“ {Ellen White, RH February 26, 1901, par. 13}

However, a question still remains. Are the Ten Commandments indeed the transcript of God’s character or is there another “higher” law which better exemplifies the character of the Almighty? Here is what the Lord’s messengers declared on this very point:

“Our most illustrious preachers gave a wonderful majesty to their discourses by following the example of the Master, and giving prominence to the law, its precepts, and its threatenings. They repeated the two great maxims, that the law is a transcript of the divine perfections, and that a man who does not love the law does not love the gospel; for the law, as well as the gospel, is a mirror reflecting the true character of God. This peril leads to another, that of underrating the evil of sin, the extent of it, the demerit of it. In proportion to the rightfulness of the commandment is the wrongfulness of disobeying it.” {Ellen White, GC88 465.2}

“Those who love Jesus will love the law of God, because it is a transcript of his character.” {Ellen White, ST August 18, 1890, par. 4}

“To be a Christian is to be far more than many understand. It means more than simply having your name upon the church records. It means to be joined to Christ. It means to have simple faith, unwavering reliance upon God. It means to have child-like confidence in our heavenly Father through the name and merit of his dear Son. Do you love to keep the commandments of God, because the commandments of God are God’s precepts, the transcript of his character, and can no more be altered than can the character of God? Do you respect and love the law of Jehovah?” {Ellen White, YI May 18, 1893, par. 3}

“In the earthly temple the ark of the testimony took its name from the testimony—the Ten Commandments—which was put within it. These commandments the Lord himself wrote with His own hand, and gave to Moses to deposit beneath the mercy-seat above which the presence of the glory of God dwelt, between the cherubim. It is therefore evident that the ark of His testament in the heavenly temple takes its title also from the fact that therein, beneath the mercy-seat and the cherubim upon it, there is the original of the testimony of God—the Ten Commandments—of which that on earth was a copy. And as this holy law—the Ten Commandments—is but the expression in writing, a transcript, of the character of Him who sits upon the throne, therefore it is written:— “The Lord reigneth, let the people tremble, He sitteth upon [above] the cherubim, let the earth be moved.” “Clouds and darkness are round about Him: Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His throne.” “Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of thy throne: Mercy and truth go before thy face. {A.T. Jones, ECE 571”

“Since the law is the righteousness of God—a transcript of His character—it is easy to see that to fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13. Let no one think that his duty will be circumscribed if confined to the ten commandments, for they are “exceeding broad.” “The law is spiritual,” and comprehends a great deal more than can be discerned by an ordinary reader.” {E. J. Waggoner, CHR 48.2}

Friends, there is only one standard for sin and righteousness. There is only one moral law that determines whether our characters fall in line with the divine similitude or not. There is only one moral law that Christ promises to write within our hearts. This moral law is the law of ten commandments. If our faith is based on any other standard of righteousness, then we are bound to miss the mark and come completely short of the divine character. Christ is knocking on our hearts and wants to finish the work in us. Would you receive him in?

“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:2