THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength."- Deut vi, 5.
SYNOPSIS.Our eternal salvation depends upon our observance of God's commandments. God rewards already in this life those who are faithful to Him. The Happiness of those who obey the laws of God, and the Unhappiness of those who do not. Examples from the Old Testament. Adam, David, Solomon. In the New Testament we are exhorted to observance of the commandments in the words and parables of Jesus Christ. How God takes care of His faithful servants. Elias. The widow of Sarepta. Daniel. Exhortation.
The Lord gives us the commandment that we should love Him as He loves us, with our whole heart, undivided; with our whole soul and with our whole strength; and He promises us eternal reward if we keep the commandment faithfully, and threatens eternal punishment if we do not keep it. If we are beset by so many troubles in this world, it is because we neglect the commandments of God; for He Himself has said: If you keep my commandments faithfully, I will bless you in many ways; if, however, you transgress them, you will be cursed in everything that you do. If then, dear brethren, we wish to be happy in this world, as far as that is possible, we have no other means thereto but that of keeping faithfully the commandments of God, and we shall see, that as we turn aside from the path pointed out to us by the commandments of God, soul and body will be unhappy in this as well as in the next world. Our eternal blessedness depends upon our faithful observance of the commandments which the good God has given us, but God rewards already in this life those that are faithful to Him, and I will show you to-day.
The Happiness of those who obey the commandments of God and the Unhappiness of those who do not.
If, dear brethren, we open the Scriptures, we shall find there, that all those who made it their duty to observe rightly the commandments of God, were always happy, because God never abandons those who make it their duty to do that which He commands them to do. Already Adam is a good example of this. As long as he observed the commandments of the Lord faithfully, he was in a blissful state in every respect; his body, his soul, his mind and all his senses were directed to God alone; even the angels descended from heaven to bear him company. The bliss of our first parents would have remained the same forever, had they continued faithful to their duties; but this happy state did not last long. The evil spirit, envious at such bliss, plunged them into ruin, and robbed them of all their possessions, which they should have enjoyed for all eternity. As soon as they had the misfortune to transgress the Lord's commandments, everything went wrong with them; troubles and cares, sickness, fear of death and judgment and of punishment in another life took the place of their former bliss; their life now was nothing but a state of tears and sufferings.
The Lord said to Moses: "Tell my people that if they faithfully observe my commandments, I will fill them with all kinds of blessings; but if they dare to transgress them, I shall punish them with all kinds of sufferings." God said to Abraham: "Because thou hast faithfully kept my commandments, I will bless thee in everything. I will bless all those who bless thee; I shall curse all those who curse thee; out of thy race the Redeemer of the world shall be born." He made know to Abraham's people, when the time had arrived for them to enter into the promised land: "The people who dwelt in this land committed great sins; for this reason I shall drive them out, and put you in their place. But take care not to transgress my commandments. If you keep them faithfully, I shall bless you in and above everything. When you are in the fields or in your houses, I shall bless your children, who will then love you, respect and obey you, and give you all kinds of consolation. I will command the heavens to give you rain at the proper times, as much as will be necessary to water your fields and your meadows; everything will prosper with you." In another place in the Scriptures, God says: "If you keep my commandments faithfully I shall watch unceasingly over your preservation; you can be without fear in your houses; I will prevent the wild beasts from harming you; you will be able to sleep in peace; nothing shall disturb you. I will always be with you. I shall walk with you. I am your God, and you will be my people." Again He says to Moses: "Say unto my people, that if they keep my commandments, I will deliver them from all evils that oppress them." And the Holy Ghost says that "he who keeps the commandments of the Lord, is happier than if he possessed all the wealth of the earth."
Now, have you ever considered, that God lays such stress upon the keeping of His commandments, and that He promises such great benefits in return for their faithful observance? You will then agree with me, that our whole happiness consists in keeping faithfully the commandments. To prove to you, dear brethren, that as soon as we transgress the commandments, we can only be unhappy, let David serve us as an example. As long as he trod the path which the commandments prescribed to him, everything prospered with him: he was beloved, esteemed and obeyed by his neighbors. But the very moment that he no longer observed the commandments, his happiness came to an end, and all kinds of trouble beset him. Anxiety and remorse of conscience took the place of that peace and contentedness which he had hitherto enjoyed. Tears and sufferings were his daily bread. As he was one day bemoaning his sins, he was informed that his son Amon had been pierced with a sword by his brother Absalom in a fit of drunkenness. Absalom tried to depose his father, even to kill him, that he might reign in his stead; David was obliged to hide in the woods to escape death. Moreover, the plague slew a large number of David's subjects.
Solomon affords us another example: As long as he kept faithfully the commandments, he had the admiration of the world; his renown reached to the furthermost parts of the earth; the queen of Saba even came from afar to witness the wonders which the Lord had worked in him; but as soon as he had the misfortune no longer to observe the commandments, everything went wrong with him. Upon hearing these examples, even from the Old Testament only, you will agree with me, dear brethren, that all our troubles arise from the fact that we do not observe the commandments of God faithfully, and that if we expect happiness and peace, as far as we may expect to possess such in this world, in this vale of suffering and sorrow, then, I say, the only means of securing these benefits is, to do everything in our power to please God-everything, therefore, that He bids us to do in His commandments.
But if we pass to the New Testament, we find that Christ Our Lord exhorts us constantly to observe the commandments, and promises great reward. Jesus Christ promises us heaven, because nothing of this earth is capable of gratifying the heart of man, who is created for God only, who cannot find happiness but in God. Jesus Christ exhorts us urgently to care little for the things of this world, and to look for the blessings of heaven, which can never come to an end. We read in the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, being on one occasion amongst certain people who appeared to think only of their corporal necessities, said to them: "Be not so solicitous as to what you shall eat, and wherewith you shall be clothed. And, desiring to make them understand that everything concerning the body was of little consequence, He said to them: "Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin; and behold your heavenly Father clotheth them; for I say unto you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. Observe the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap, nor do they gather into barns, yet behold how your heavenly Father cares for them. O, ye of little faith, are you not of more account than they? Seek first the kingdom of heaven; that is to say, keep My commandments faithfully, and all things else shall be added unto you over and above:"
Now what are we to infer from these words, dear brethren? Only this, that a Christian who seeks in the first place to please God and to save his soul, will never want for his corporal necessities.
But, you will say, perhaps, if we have nothing, no one will give us anything! I will answer that everything we have comes from the beneficence of God and not from ourselves. If you wish, dear brethren, to experience the magnitude of the goodness of God, then make it your duty to observe exactly what the commandments order you, and you will see with amazement how God cares for those who strive to please Him. If you wish to see a proof of this, turn to the pages of Holy Scripture, and there you will find full confirmation of this. We read for instance in Holy Writ that the prophet Elias hid himself in the woods in order to escape the persecutions of Queen Jezabel. There, deprived of all human aid, do you think that the Lord allowed him to die of hunger? No, dear friends, certainly not. The Lord did not lose sight of His faithful servant. He sent at once an angel from heaven, to console him, and to bring him everything that was necessary for his maintenance. Behold too, how the Lord cared for the widow of Sarepta. He said to His prophets: "Seek this good widow who serves me so faithfully and keeps My commandments; increase her store of meal, that she may not suffer hunger." Another instance is His command to one of the prophets, Habacuc, to take food to Daniel in the lions' den at Babylon. All these examples are taken from the Old Testament, but in the New Testament the miracles which God works in favor of those who observe His commandments are not less great or numerous. Behold how God, with five small loaves and two fishes fed the thousands of people, who, following Jesus Christ, sought the kingdom of Heaven, and the sanctification of their souls. See, how for forty years He provided for the sustenance of the holy hermit Paul by means of a raven; an unmistakable proof that God never loses sight of those who love Him, and that He supplies them with everything that is necessary. O my God, how great is Thy lave for those who love Thee! What care dost Thou take that they may not want! Tell me, dear brethren, who let every day provisions be carried by a dog to St. Roch in the desert? Was it not God, dear brethren? And why did God take so much care for the maintenance of all the Saints, unless it was because they faithfully observed the commandments which He had given?
Yes, dear brethren, we may safely say that the Saints found all their happiness in keeping the commandments, and that they would sooner have endured martyrdom than to transgress them: and did not the martyrs suffer tortures and death, just because they would not transgress the commandments of God?
What shame for us then, dear brethren, when at the judgment day we will face these martyrs; we who so often are prompted in our actions by even the mere thought of "What will the world say?"
Yes, dear brethren, if we wish to gain true happiness, God's own words and history, both of the old and new law, teach that the exact observance of the commandments is required. And since God in His mercy assists us with His Grace in observing them, why should we start back and be so fearful?
Let our firm resolution this morning be, to obey faithfully the commandments of God, and not to let any consideration of earthly gain or loss, of fear or favor, induce us to transgress them, so that at the end of our days we may have the great good fortune of looking back upon a God-fearing and faithful life, which will open for us the gates of an eternal reward, which I wish you all. Amen.