I once heard a certain news commentator suggest what he considered an appropriate “eleventh” commandment: “Thou shalt not get caught.” This “command,” he believed, was one which was appropriate to the spirit of this age.
I have since thought much of that. He was correct. In our day, more than ever before, it seems that the only “restraint” on man is his fear of being caught. The less he believes the possibility of his being caught, the greater the probability that he will openly and flagrantly violate the law of God and the laws of man. We have seen much of this in recent years — particularly in the rioting and looting which accompanied that. And we deplore the general lawlessness so evident today. Often the remark is heard, “Where is it all going to end?”
One would think that for Protestant Reformed children, young people, and adults a subject as that suggested above would be interesting as a theme for discussion — but not that into which we might fall. After all, Christians, and Protestant Reformed Christians, know what the law of God requires. They know that God is holy and righteous. They understand that this God sees us and knows all things. They know too that by grace and through regeneration, we have a beginning of new obedience. The very thought, then, of doing anything wrong provided we knew we would not be caught — is repugnant to us.
But — is it always so repugnant? Has not the spirit of this wicked age also influenced us? Does not our sinful nature also seek to do that which is contrary to God’s law — if only we are not caught by man?
It is shocking to what extent this “eleventh commandment” governs us too. Think about it once. We too do such things which we know are wrong — if we are convinced that man will not observe our wrong deeds. We might not be fearful of being caught by God in our wrong-doing, though none can escape His observing eye, but we are afraid that men might see our misdeed.
However, when man does not observe — then what? Children, our covenant children, who go to school seem to learn this “eleventh commandment” very early. Sometimes children will cheat. Protestant Reformed children? Yes; Protestant Reformed children. Children desire good grades. Some of them, though, do not have the desire to apply themselves properly in preparation. Others do not, for various reasons, have a good grasp of the subject. Others also do not have the same abilities as abler students. Some are under pressure from parents to come home with “A’s.” Possibly other excuses can be stated. Whatever these excuses might be, the good grade is obtained at times by cheating. One looks over his neighbor’s shoulder. He quietly whispers in the neighbor s ear for the desired answer. He copies the answers he might need on little slips of paper — or on his fingernails or hands. He peeks — just a little peek — into his book for the required answer. He cheats. And as long as he is not caught, the student feels at ease —even though the bright, all-seeing eyes of God observe his every action.
This sad situation I have observed in catechism classes too. I suppose that a Protestant Reformed preacher tries to convince himself that it is impossible that Protestant Reformed children and young people would resort to cheating while preparing themselves in a proper understanding of the law of God. Yet it is not unheard of that this does happen. Books come to class. Lessons poorly learned before time, must now be recited A quick glance in the book before the question is asked apparently covers up this neglect. Impossible, you say? But it happens.
But what of Protestant Reformed parents? How often are not ‘little” acts of cheating performed also by us? Strict honesty is not always seen in all our deeds. But then, as long as one is not caught. . . .
There is no eleventh commandment. The ten are complete. They cover every situation. The eighth condemns stealing. There is to be no stealing of other’s possessions; no stealing of another’s answers; no stealing of what the government rightly claims of us. There is the ninth command. This condemns every lie and all dishonesty. None are exempt. We recite this every Sunday. We confess it to be our guide by grace.
By grace we are called to walk in the light. We confess that we are of those that fear the Lord. We are not simply afraid of being caught by man in the dishonesties of our sinful nature. Cheating, if we are detected, brings disgrace upon us, upon our parents, upon the church of which we are member —but above all, this dishonors our God. But our concern is not merely that we would not be so disgraced in the eyes of men. We cannot be of those who are only careful lest we be caught.
But our God sees. He sees the thoughts of our hearts. He discerns the actions of a man. He sees the gesture. None can hide from Him. Though one ever so carefully prepare for his “cheating,” though no man would ever know, God sees. He sees the glance over another’s shoulder. He sees the little peek into the forbidden book. And God judges. He condemns every such action as a violation of His holy law. And such sin causes His Name to be mocked by man. For man is quick to note that it is the child of God who transgresses the law of the very God Whom he professes to serve. Man is quick to point out that such disobedience is a strange fruit for the Spirit Who works in the Christian.
We are separate from the world. We have no part with its deceits. Its standards are not our standards. Its motives are not ours. Wicked man is ready to conform to the law outwardly when it is to his advantage. He will only obey when he fears that transgression will bring a penalty. When disobedience will not be observed by man, he will disobey. When he can steal and cheat, and not be caught, he will engage in this. But through regeneration by the Spirit, we are separated from this. We are pilgrims on the earth — and the tactics of the citizens of this earth cannot be ours.
Our desire is to walk in all righteousness before Him by His grace. We hate every appearance of evil. That means too that we apply ourselves faithfully to every task given us so that there is no need for “cheating” in order to appear better prepared than we actually are. Far better it is to receive the deserved rebukes for lack of proper preparation, than to pretend through deceit a faithfulness in preparation which does not exist. Serve Him, young people, in righteousness and truth as children of the light. Such is expected of Christian, Protestant Reformed young people who have experienced the goodness of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.