Archbishop James Ussher: A Case Study In Puritanism and the Law of God

James Ussher:

A Case Study in Puritanism and the Law of God

Being an Interaction with the Text of

Archbishop James Ussher’s Body of Divinity

Reformed Orthobilly

For Systematic Theology II, Master of Divinity Program

The North American Reformed Seminary

July 8th in the Year of Our Lord 2011

As I stated in my previously submitted paper regarding Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Volume 1,1 the world of theological sciences is fundamentally governed by two approaches: man reaching out for the divine, or idolatry, and God reaching down to sinful man, or the true religion.2 I also stated that very few theologians are perfectly consistent with their basic commitments. However, after reading and studying Archbishop James Ussher’s Body of Divinity,3 I am convinced that he was committed to the true religion, though lapsing infrequently into a few minor errors. In reading the Body, I collected quotations from the various sections, categorized them by subcategory and then grouped them by eleven major categories. However, due to space constraints and the amount of excellent material, I will concentrate my paper on Ussher’s treatment of the Ten Commandments. I will use this opportunity to perform a case study on Puritanism and the Law. These quotations were gathered, to a certain extent, based upon my own interest in the subject matter, but also based on the volume of material the Body contains regarding the Law of God.

As I stated above, the topic of this paper will be a case study of the Puritan treatment of the Law. Ussher deals with various topics such as the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law, sacrilege, Psalmody, the Two Great Commandments, parents’ duties to their children, and more. The core of this topic is rightly Ussher’s exposition of the Ten Commandments one commandment at a time, and this will be the focus of my paper.

In introducing the Ten Commandments, Ussher explains how they are divided into the two “greatest commandments”4 summarized in the two Tables of the Law. For instance, he explains how the love of God is the first and greatest “Because we should chiefly, and in the first place, regard our Duties to God, and be most careful to understand his Will, and to worship him, 1 Joh. 4. 20. In which respect the first Table is put before the second; as being the principal.”5

Thus, giving a proper perspective on prioritizing the commandments, he inquires:

How may it appear that our Duties to God are to be preferred before the other towards our Neighbor? First, By the inequality of the Person offended: Because it is worse to offend God than Man, Acts 4. 19. Secondly, By the Punishments assigned in the Scripture. For the breaches of the first Table are to be more severely punished, than the Breaches of the second. As he that revileth the Magistrate, shall bear his Sin; but he that blasphemeth God shall be stoned to death, 1 Sam. 2. 25.6

Ussher’s bearings were correct and his paths straight as he considered the Law of God. God is more important, and therefore duties respecting His glory are of utmost importance.

In light of this, Ussher began his treatment of the Ten Commandments with the First Commandment. Ussher helpfully explains that the First Commandment may be considered as having three branches: “1. The having of a God: And herein Religion. 2. The having of one only God, and no more: And herein Unity. 3. The having of the true God, and none other, for our God; and herein Truth.”7 Or, stated another way, we must have the one true and living God for our God, and none other.8 Failure to live up the requirements of this commandment includes, “First, Ignorance of God and of his Will: which being a breach of God’s Commandment, does therefore deserve Damnation, 2 Thess. 1. 8. Hos. 4. 1, 6. Second, Incapableness of Knowledge. Third, Atheism: Which is a Denial of God.”9

The first point made in this quotation is easily established from the two passages cited regarding God’s vengeance against those who do not know Him, and the people’s destruction for lack of knowledge. The second point regarding incapableness is a little more subtle. Ussher’s contemporary, Henry Cockeram, defined “incapable” as follows, “Which cannot conceive, a foole.”10 Thus, in terms of Ussher’s overall understanding of the nature of man, every man is help accountable for the fall of the first man, Adam. Consequently, inability to conceive cannot be pleaded as an exculpation of guilt. The third point is easily established since “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity.”11

Vices contrary to the requirement of unity in religion are:

1. Indifference in Religion; when a Man is as ready to embrace one Religion as another. 2. Inconstancy and wavering in Religion. 3. Obstinate and willful Continuance in any Religion without good ground. 4. Rash and blind Zeal; when a Man, without Knowledge or Judgment, will earnestly maintain either Falsehood or Truth by wicked Means.12

Having only one God, and herein Unity, as Ussher puts it, is certainly an unattainable task for a man who does not care about which god he worships. Nor, indeed, may the inconstant fool maintain the unity of God’s religion, seeing he is subject to every wind of doctrine. The obstinate and willful man, who merely wants to be right will create schism and therefore rupture the unity of religion. A man so perverse as to use wicked means to earnestly maintain truth or falsehood is pretending that he is his own god, and therefore disrupts the unity of the Godhead. Thus, as Ussher claims, each of these vices disrupts the unity of religion required in the First Commandment.

Ussher also discusses the branch of the First Commandment requiring truth in religion. He states that this requirement forbids:

1. All Errors and Heresies, especially concerning God and his Properties, and the three Persons in the Trinity. Where we must take heed, we imagine no likeness of God: For as much as we set up an Idol in our Hearts, if we liken him to any thing whatsoever, subject to the sense or Imagination of Man. For the better Avoidance whereof, we must settle our Minds upon Christ, in whom only God is comprehensible. 2. To believe any Doctrine concerning God without Trial. 3. Not to believe that which God hath revealed concerning himself in his Word.13

The truth of the Christian faith is primarily concerned with Who and what God is. Errors and heresies which depart from the doctrine of Christ are damnable and are gross violations of the First Commandment: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.”14 Moreover, if we fashion a god after our own imagination, we are likewise outside of salvation: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”15 Thus, Ussher’s first point is established.

Regarding Ussher’s second point, Scripture requires that we “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God,” and “test all things; hold fast what is good.”16 A man who refuses to test whether the spirits are of God will easily fall prey to false gods. In fact, such a man already worships a false god by refusing to test all things by the standard of God’s written revelation. The third point is established as the logical concomitant of the second. When a man believes without testing by Scripture, then he has refused to believe what God has already revealed.

Closely related to whom we worship is how we worship, and therefore Ussher next takes up the Second Commandment. Ussher asserts that the Second Commandment generally forbids:

Every Form of Worship, though of the true God (Deut. 12. 31.) contrary to, or diverse from the Prescript of God’s Word, (Mat. 15. 9.) called by the Apostles Will-worship, (Col. 2. 23.) together with all Corruption in the true Worship of God, (2 Kings 16. 10.).17

Positively, we are to worship the Lord “By those means only which himself approveth in his Word: According to the saying of Moses; Do that which I command thee, and do no more, Deut. 4. 2. & 12. 32.”18 From these basic premises, Ussher skillfully deduced several logical conclusions regarding God’s worship.

For example, in mentioning the elements of worship, the only form of singing that Ussher mentions as part of God’s warranted worship is Psalm singing. For instance, in discussing the exercises of the Sabbath, Ussher mentions “hearing and reading the Word, Prayer, singing of Psalms.”19 In discussing the duties of the congregation in public worship, along with prayer, hearing the Word of God read and preached, communicating in the Sacraments, and the exercise of discipline, the fifth duty is “Singing of Psalms.”20

Ussher goes into further detail in explaining the significance of the Second Commandment in 1 Corinthians 11:23 where it forbids:

All Will Worship; whereby we make any thing a part of God’s Service, which he hath not commanded… In particular, to ordain any other Word or Sacraments, than those which God hath appointed; to devise any other Ministry than that which God hath ordained; to place any Religion in Meat, Drink, Apparel, Time, Place, or any other indifferent thing.21

Thus, all well meaning attempts to make God’s worship palatable to natural man are sin.

Ussher further explains monuments of idolatry, or indifferent matters abused in the worship of God. This concept is rarely understood, but came out in his discussion of the Second Commandment as it relates to pictures of Christ. Ussher argues as follows:

That although the painting of Christ were both lawful to do, and profitable for remembrance; yet because it hath been so much abused, and no where in the Scripture commanded, it is now not to be used. As Ezechias worthily brake the Brazen Serpent being abused; although Moses had set it up at the Commandment of the Lord; and might have served for a singular Monument of God’s Mercy, after the proper use thereof, had not the superstitious Opinion thereof been.22

This application of the Second Commandment demonstrates Ussher’s firm grasp of the Regulative Principle, and his consistency in applying it to the real world. Ussher likewise mentions the various heresies and lawlessness involved in making pictures of Christ, such as “Arrianism, Apollinarism, or other Heresies,” beside the fact that “it is a part of the Worship here forbidden: Because his Body is a Creature in Heaven; therefore not to be represented by an Image in the Service of God.” Moreover, painting Christ is a slight on the God’s ordinances “since by preaching of the Gospel, and Administration of Sacraments, Christ is lively painted out, as if he were crucified again amongst us, (Gal. 3. 1.) it were to no purpose to paint him to that end.”23

On a very practical level, Ussher demonstrates from Scripture that no one, in whatever their capacity, should countenance idolatry: “What is forbidden for the countenancing of [idolatry]? All the means and occasions of and to Idolatry; and giving the least allowance or liking that can be thereunto. As, 1. Urging by Authority, or Toleration of Idolatry, 2 Chron. 15. 16. 2.”24 This was a consistent application of the true religion to all areas of life, including civil government.

The Third Commandment is then treated by Ussher as requiring the holy and God-glorifying use of His titles, attributes, works, ordinances and worship. Not only are we to worship the right God in the manner He has warranted, but we are to speak and act in such a way as He requires, especially when speaking of His Name, and using the means He has appointed for His own worship.

Ussher’s treatment of this commandment delves into some very practical application under the question of “How is the Name of God taken in vain, in respect of his Works and Actions?”25 In the fist place, Ussher argues that such is done by “Not seeing God in his Works, Acts 17. 27.” and in the second place by “Lightly passing over God’s great Works, of Creation, Preservation, Redemption; as also other his Mercies and Judgments, and not glorifying God for that which may be seen in them.” Such is all too easy for man, who relies on his own strength and looks within creation for the final causes of all events. Such a sin abuses God’s Name by thinking that He is far removed from His works, rather than recognizing that He works all things after the counsel of His own will.

In the third place, Ussher argues that we take God’s name in vain by “Vain and foolish Thoughts concerning the Creatures: Whereby a virtue is attributed unto them, which God never gave unto them. As all guessing of future things by the Stars, or a Man’s Face and Hands.” Since God’s Name includes His providence, we rob God of His glory when we pretend that other things, such as the superstitious vanities he mentions, exercise divine power or providence. Modern man may seem less superstitious, but his mind sets providence in social planning, statist decrees, or environmental factors.

In the fourth place, Ussher argues that “Not using the Creatures as we ought; not receiving them to God’s Glory, with Thanksgiving. As when a Man giveth not thanks to God for his Meat and Drink, but does think them to come without God’s Providence.” Again, since God is the provider, when we look to the power of our own arm, we rob Him of His glory and seek to eclipse His glory and goodness.

In the fifth place, Ussher argues that we take God’s Name in vain by “Faultfinding at the Doctrine of Predestination, (Rom. 9. 19, 20.) and not admiring the depth of his Counsels, Rom. 11. 33, 34.” Again, what ought to terrify the wicked and inspire reverent awe in the godly is turned into an occasion to mock and take God’s Name in vain. Where piety admires and fears, sacrilegious boldness treads with undaunted temerity.

In the sixth place, the common impiety of “Murmuring at God’s Providence, under the names of Fortune, Chance, and Fate, &c. Job 3. 2, 3, &c.” is brought to the bar for judgment. Fallen man’s refusal to give God the glory is seen in this as well.

In the seventh place:

Evil thoughts toward our Brethren, which are afflicted. As when we see one visited by God, either in Body, Goods, or both; we are always ready to think the worse of him; viz. That God executeth these Punishments on him for his sin. When as God may do it either to exercise the Faith and Patience of the Party afflicted, as in Job; or to stir other to Compassion and Pity: or else to set forth his own Glory, as we may see verified in the Example of the blind Man in the Gospel, John 9. 2, 3.

Again, God’s Name is to be vindicated and glorified. Yet never at the expense of false judgments against men, even our brethren who wrestle with sin.

After treating whom we are to worship, how we are to worship, and how we speak of God and His worship, Ussher then treats when we are to worship and when to work. Due to the vain carping of men who are distracted by impious arguments against God’s Law, Ussher deals with common objections to the binding power of the Fourth Commandment in some detail. The Sabbath is not a ceremonial law, as may be perceived, “1. Because it is placed in the number of the perpetual Commandments. Otherwise the Moral Law should consist but of Nine Words or Commandments; which is contrary to God’s Word, Deut. 4. 13.”26 This alone should end all cavil, but Ussher continues, “2. Because this Commandment (among the rest) was written by the Finger of God, (Exod. 31. 18.) whereas no part of the Ceremonial Law was.” Ussher demonstrates his case by using these and other solid arguments from how God gave the Fourth Commandment.

Ussher then continues in discussing the nature of the ceremonial laws versus the Fourth Commandment. Ussher argues that “4. Because it was before any Shadow or Ceremony of the Law; yea, before Christ was promised, whom all Ceremonies of the Law have respect unto. For the Sabbath was first instituted in Paradise, before there was any use of Sacrifices and Ceremonies, Gen. 2. 1, 2, 3.” This clear and convincing proof can only be rejected by people who are ignorant of the difference between fallen and unfallen man. “5. The Ceremonies were as a Partition-Wall betwixt the Jews, and the Gentiles: But God does here extend his Commandment, not only to the Jews themselves, but also to the Strangers, Exodus 20. 10. Nehem. 13. 15, 16, &c.” Again, the ceremonies of the Law were reserved for the Jews, but the stranger was not required to be circumcised or keep the Passover, the pillars of the Ceremonial Law, unless he chose to.27

Ussher then makes a solid argument from the sayings of Christ himself:

6. Our Savior Christ willing his Followers, which should live about forty Years after his Ascension, to pray that their Flight might not be on the Sabbath Day, to the end that they might not be hindered in the Service of God; does thereby sufficiently declare, that he held not this Commandment in the account of a Ceremony, Mat. 24. 20.

In summary, the Sabbath stands as a perpetual, universally applicable, and binding moral law. However, lest we misunderstand the purpose of the Fourth Commandment, Ussher explains why the day of observance has changed to the first day:

Because it might serve for a thankful Memorial of Christ’s Resurrection. For as God rested from his Labor on the last Day of the Week: So Christ ceased from his Labor and Afflictions on this Day, Mat. 28. 1. Gen. 2. 1., the one therefore was specially sanctified in regard of the Creation of the World: So was the other, in respect of the Restoration and Redemption of the World; which is a greater Work than the Creation.28

The observance of God’s laws is not a drudgery for God’s people, but is a day of celebration and thankful memorial. It is a means of grace, appointed by God Himself as a sign of His covenant.

In light of the joy and power of the Sabbath, breaches are all the more heinous. Ussher includes an excellent discussion of such breaches to warn us off from destroying our own joy. Breaches of the command to rest are committed by:

1. The making of the Sabbath a common Day through common Labor in our ordinary Callings, (Nehem. 13. 15, &c.) vain Speech and talking of our worldly Affairs, (Isa. 58. 13.) thinking our own thoughts, or other, but a common use of the Creatures. 2. The making it a Day of carnal Rest unto Idleness, Feasting, Pastimes, &c. which draw our Minds further from God, than our ordinary Labors, Exod. 32. 6. Whither are referred all Recreations which distract us; as also excessive eating and drinking, which causeth drowsiness and inaptness unto God’s Worship and Service. 3. The making it a Day of Sin, or the Devil’s holy Day; by doing that on the Lord’s Day which is no Day lawful, (Mark 3. 4.) but then most abominable, Ezek. 23. 37, 38.29

Such are outright violations of the joyful celebration of the Sabbath.

Because men seek to cloak their sins, Ussher discusses more respectable Sabbath breaking:

4. The keeping a piece of the Day, not the whole; or giving liberty to ourselves in the Night, before the whole Sabbath be ended. 5. The forebearing ourselves, but employing others in Worldly Businesses; for preventing of which sin, God is so large in naming of the Persons which in this Commandment are forbidden to work.

Thus man’s false wisdom seeks excuses for partial obedience rather than complete obedience.

Upon completing a very powerful and consistent treatment of the First and Greatest Commandment, Ussher then takes up the fundamental building block of human government, the family. The family is man’s first church, his first commonwealth, his first business, and more. As such, the Fifth Commandment holds priority among our duties of the Second Table. Yet, unlike many self-serving expositions of the Fifth Commandment, Ussher rightly recognizes that the Fifth Commandment has very serious requirements of superiors, as well as of inferiors and equals. In other words, the Fifth Commandment does not just forbid “disobedience,” it also forbids tyranny.

Thus Ussher asks:

What care are [Parents] to have of the Souls of their Children, to fit them for the Life to come? 1. To make them Members of the visible church by Baptism. 2. They are to catechize and instruct them in Religion, as they are able to receive it: and to bring them up in nurture and fear of God, Ephes. 6. 4. 3. They are to pray to God to bless them, and guide them in his Fear.30

Parents owe a very sizable duty to their children, and this is a basic building block of the Fifth Commandment. Parents can sin greatly against the souls of their children by many means, including the piosity of excluding one’s children from baptism, and failing to instruct them in the faith, bless them, and guide them in God’s fear. Not only so, but parents owe much to their children in this life, such as studying their inclinations and fitting them for a calling, giving them in godly marriage in time convenient, and provide them with a patrimony.31

Common failing of parents in violation of the Fifth Commandment include:

1. Negligence in not instructing their Children early in life. 2. Not correcting them till it be too late: or doing it with bitterness, without Compassion, Instruction, and Prayer. 3. Giving them ill example. 4. Neglect of bringing them up in some lawful Calling. 5. Not bestowing them timely, and religiously in Marriage. 6. Light behavior before them, and too much familiarity with them; whereby they become vile in their eyes. 7. Loving beauty, or any outward parts, more than God’s Image in them.32

Again, parents’ burdens in the Fifth Commandment are very weighty, and have eternal implications. Moreover fulfilling them requires love, care, diligence and self-denial.

Superiors in general, including those outside of the family, have a duty of recompense to their inferiors which “Is either a cheerful reward for Well-doing, or a just chastisement for Evil, both which should be answerable in proportion to the deed done.”33 Thus, this commandment provides the fittest link between the First and Second Tables, since superiors reflect God’s character by either blessing or cursing, according to the divine pattern.34 Masters are likewise to show a God-like care and compassion for their ailing servants, and sin by “unjust stopping of their Wages for that time.”35 Even magistrates’ laws bind their inferiors’ consciences “As far as they are agreeable with the laws of God, they do: But otherwise they do not. For there is but one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Jam. 4. 12.”36 Thus, the goal of the Fifth Commandment is not the glory of superiors, but of God, the Author of all authority.37

Once Ussher establishes the authority of the family, and the duties of superiors, he then takes up the Sixth Commandment’s prohibition of murder. As in other commandments, Ussher demonstrates that the Law of God is exceedingly broad in its requirements. The Sixth Commandment forbids immoderate worldly sorrow, malice and envy, neglect of our bodies, drunkenness and immoderate eating, sexual sins, whipping one’s flesh, capital crimes, refusing the means of life, unnecessary dangers, suicide and not giving place to the wrath of others.38 The death blow is hereby given to Libertarianism, which pretends that an act is not a crime if it has no victim. Man may not do himself any harm, since he is the image of God.

The basic case chosen by God to illustrate this moral command is murder. Ussher therefore asks:

What is willful Murder? When a man advisedly, wittingly, and maliciously, does slay or poison his Neighbor. Which is a sin of a high nature, and at no hand by the Magistrate to be pardoned: because thereby the Land is defiled. Gen. 9. 5, 6. Hos. 4. 2, 3. Numb. 35. 31, 33, 34. Deut. 21. 2, 7, 8, 9.39

Thus, the earth itself partakes of the pollution of murder, and therefore capital sentence is the only fitting punishment.

In addition to actions and attitudes, our words must likewise not tend toward the destruction of life. The sixth commandment requires, “That we salute our Neighbor gently, speak kindly, and use courteous and amiable speeches unto him, which (according to the Hebrew phrase) is called a speaking to the heart one of another. Eph. 4. 32. Ruth. 2. 13.”40 Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and its use is to reflect that fact.

Ussher likewise offers very practical advice in obeying this commandment:

It behooveth us to consider, that first, all men are made in the image of God; (Gen. 9. 6.) and of one blood with us; (Acts 17. 26.) and all Christians in the image of Christ also, in whom we are all one body. 1 Cor. 12. 27. Secondly that God hath appointed the Magistrate to punish proportionally every offender in his kind: (Gen. 9. 6. Levit. 24. 20, 21.) yea himself also extraordinarily bringing Murderers to light and punishment. Gen. 4. 9. Prov. 28. 17. Acts 28. 4.41

Therefore, the fear of God is the surest safeguard from oppression and murder. Moreover, the magistrate’s sword provides a wholesome severity by punishing murder.

The Seventh Commandment then follows, which deals with the purity of the marriage bed. As Ussher demonstrates, the implications of this commandment are far-reaching, including the Bible’s teaching on marriage in general. For example, he states that Adam’s inability to find a helper suitable to him teaches us “That e’re we enter into Marriage, we should have a feeling of our own Infirmity, and need of a Wife; whereby that benefit may become more sweet, and we more thankful unto God.”42 In this way, a proper spiritual preparation for marriage is part of preserving the marriage bond.

Careful thought of bestowing oneself well in marriage is taken into consideration, as it decreases the foolishness often attending rash marriages. Thus Ussher asks, “What is the special Duty of Children to their Parents, in case of Marriage? That they ought not so much as or attempt to bestow themselves in Marriage, without their Parents direction and consent; especially Daughters, Gen. 24. & 21. 21. & 27. 46. & 28. 9. Judg. 14. 2. 1 Cor. 7. 36, 37, 38.”43 Parental direction also adds strength to the marriage bond.

Ussher’s treatment includes other requirements for those entering into marriage, such as meditation on the ends God created marriage for; namely, procreation and mutual comfort, and not just to satisfy lust. He discusses the need to pray for a blessing on any marriage, the consideration of degrees of consanguinity and affinity, that the parties be of one religion, that both consent to the marriage, that they both be free from other nuptial contracts, that note be taken of the age of the parties to be married, that a proper espousal take place, and that consummation not take place until after the espousals are confirmed by a prayer by the congregation.44 Each of these points to consider is firmly rooted in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, except there is no warrant to require a prayer by the congregation, if by congregation is meant the ecclesiastical government per se.

Ussher also took what would today be considered very objectionable stands on the Seventh Commandment. For instance, in discussing what clothing we should wear, he states:

Such as cometh under the rule of the Apostle; namely, such as may witness our godliness and modesty, 1 Tim. 2. 9. Tit. 2. 3. And therefore, although some (exceeding this measure) say they do it not to allure any: yet if others be allured by it, it is a sin in them; although not so grievous and great as in the other, who propound to themselves (by their wanton apparel) to allure.45

Ussher evenhandedly deals with the intention of the heart, while still recognizing that there is “attire of a harlot”46 which allures regardless of intent. Thus, Ussher again demonstrates his allegiance to the true religion.

Another point that modern sensibilities would take exception to is Ussher’s condemnation of stage plays and interludes:

They offend against many branches of this Commandment together, both in the abuse of apparel, tongue, eyes, countenance, gestures, and all parts almost of the body. For besides the wantonness therein used, both in attire, speech, and action; the man putteth on the apparel of the woman, (which is forbidden, as a thing abominable (Deut. 22. 5.) much filthiness is presented to the beholders, and foolish talking, and jesting, which are not conversant: lastly, fornication and all uncleanness (which ought not to be once named amongst Christians) is made a spectacle of joy and laughter. (Ephes. 5. 3, 4.)47

Such a condemnation may easily be drawn up for much of modern lawless media, such as ungodly movies, lyrics, television, magazines, and internet sites, and also much of Broadway. Again, for Ussher, God’s Law takes precedence over the opinions and scoffing of lawless men.

Following his treatment of the prohibition of adultery, Ussher then gives an excellent treatment of the Eighth Commandment. Ussher begins by demonstrating that “the gross error of the Anabaptists, that hold community of goods: which by the whole drift and scope of this Commandment is manifestly overthrown.”48 Not only does God’s Law demolish Communism, but also wicked abuses of capitalism. This commandment requires:

Whatsoever may further and prosper our own or our Neighbors wealth: that we give to every one that which is his, and do our best (as far as our callings and means will suffer) to preserve his goods, and (as occasion serveth) help to increase them; by all lawful courses, (Eph. 4. 28.) and honest dealings (Tit. 2. 10.).49

An uncharitable miser is as guilty of breaking the Eighth Commandment as the frenzied Anabaptist.

The solution, as Scripture teaches, and as Ussher echoes, is found in contentment with divine providence:

What motives may induce us to embrace this virtue?… Let us meditate on Gods promises, Heb. 13. 5, 6. Be content with such things as you have; for he hath said, I will never leave nor forsake thee. And therefore let us cast our care upon God, for he careth for us, 1 Pet. 5. 7. Psalm. 55. 22. Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee, &c.50

With such armor, we may ward off the demons of greed and envy which give rise to the ungodly worship of mammon.

With contentedness also comes a lawful appetite for worldly goods “When it is subordinate to our study and desire of God’s glory, and our own salvation. Mat. 6. 33.”51 Thus, unlike the fool who allows the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of the world to choke the word, the contented man seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.52 In like manner, the various vices respecting the procuring and retaining of wealth are condemned, such as “carelessness and neglect of our goods and state: For as he is commended who gathereth in seasonable times: so he is condemned, who neglecteth those opportunities, (Prov. 10. 5. & 6. 6.) and is censured by the Apostle to be worse than an Infidel. 1 Tim. 5. 8.”53 And also, “Anxious and solicitous care, which distracteth the mind that it cannot be wholly intent to God’s service. And this does partly arise from Coveteousness, and partly from diffidence in God’s Promises and Providence.”54

Moreover, the Eighth Commandment requires a lawful calling, and therefore condemns those without callings such as:

sturdy beggars and rogues, who can work and will not, but live upon other men’s labors: which kind of people are not to be suffered in a Common-wealth. For though we shall have the poor always; (Deut. 15. 11. Mat. 26. 11.) yet there ought to be no beggars, and inordinate walkers, who eat and labor not. 2 Thes. 3. 10, 12. Secondly, idle and superfluous Gentlemen; who having no Calling spend all their time in pleasure, hunting, hawking, reveling, gaming, &c. Thirdly, such as thrust themselves into such Callings for which they have no right.55

Besides those without callings, there are those with unlawful callings, or callings which have no warrant from Scripture or the laws of the land “as those that live by unlawful Arts; as Whores, Bawds, Deu. 23. 17, 18. Witches, Wizards, Deut. 18. 11, 12. Stage-players, Bear-wards,56 Gamesters, and the like.”57 Of course, modern man has a difficult time applying the Law of God to every-day matters, and may even find fault with such categories as unlawful callings, as defined by Scripture. Modern man’s morals are generally determined by statist decrees. Yet, if God makes something unlawful, man cannot frame mischief by a statute.

Ussher likewise upholds the Law’s injunction against usury as part of the Eighth Commandment:

If you speak of that properly, which the Scriptures forbid and condemn; it is a wicked and unlawful contract, into which as a common sink, the filth of many other sins and unlawful contracts do run: a fruitful womb, in which many vices and corruptions are bred; and by which if we live and die in it without repentance, we are excluded out of the Kingdom of Heaven. Psal. 15. 5. & Ezek. 18. 8. & 22. 13.58

Thus, Ussher again stays the course, and does not deviate because of pressure from people who made their living by unlawful contracts and usury.

In addition to the various applications of the Eighth Commandment, Ussher spends a great deal of time making many excellent points regarding the Ninth Commandment. One of the often neglected commandments, the Ninth provides a God-glorifying and lawfully loving environment among men by promoting truth and charity. Ussher summarizes our duties with regard to our tongue as follows, “that our speeches be both true and charitable: for these must inseparably go together. For charity rejoiceth in truth, 1 Cor. 13. 6. and the truth must be spoken in love, Ep. 4. 15. For truth without love savoreth of malice; and charity without truth is false, vain, and foolish.”59 With this background, Ussher dwells on the requirements to speak truly and charitably, the content of which could fill a profitable volume of commentary by itself.

For example, in the requirement to speak truly and freely, there are various vices which oppose the Ninth Commandment. “What in the excess? Unseasonable and indiscreet profession of the truth, with the danger or loss of ourselves and others; when neither the glory of God, nor our own or our neighbors good does require it.”60 There is a time to speak the truth, but when we must speak ill of others, we must only do so when God’s glory and our neighbor’s good require such. Hereby, we are to fulfill the royal law and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Ussher continues, “What is opposite in defect? When either out of a cowardly fear, or some other sinister respect, we deny the truth in our words, or betray it by our silence. Of the former we have an example in Peter, Mat. 26. of the other in those weak Christians. 2 Tim. 4. 16.”61 When God’s glory and our neighbor’s good require it, we must not shrink to speak the truth out of cowardice or false respect.

Regarding charity, Ussher discusses judging the best of the actions and words of our neighbor, the fruits are:

First, not to nourish hard conceits of him; but when they arise to supress them, if the grounds of them be not very probable. Secondly, not to believe rashly any evil of our neighbor. Thirdly, to take and construe all things well done and spoken by him in the best sense. Fourthly, to interpret and take things doubtful in the better part.62

Ussher is not unrealistic here; there are a time when hard conceits are proper, but only after judicious consideration. However, when we obey the Ninth Commandment, we must regulate even our internal thoughts about others, as well as merely refraining from false witness.

The vices which respect the judgment “are vices opposite to candid ingenuity. As first, suspiciousness: when we suspect evil of our neighbor without just cause, and upon every slight occasion; (1 Tim. 6. 4.) which is a false testimony of the heart.”63 If we love our neighbor as our self, we will not entertain evil suspicions without good cause. Ussher continues, “Secondly, to believe rashly rumors reported from others, tending to the disgrace of our Neighbors, which have no sure ground: which was Potiphar’s fault. Gen. 39. 19 and David’s. 2 Sam. 16. 3, 4.” Our thoughts are to give the benefit of the doubt in judgment, and when an evil report is delivered to us, we are to take our time to evaluate such rather than believe such a report without warrant.

The final vice with respect to judgment is described as:

Hard and uncharitable censures: either in respect of their sayings and doings, sinisterly interpreting things well spoken or done, or taking things doubtful in the worst sense; or in respect of their persons, censuring and condemning them rashly, when as we have no just cause. 1 Sam. 1. 13. Acts 2. 13. Luke 7. 39. & 13. 1. Acts 28. 4.

Human relationships, if governed by such a righteous commandment, would flourish and progress much further than they do. Imagine a world free from gossip, slander, and rash condemnations! The thought of it boggles the mind, and the less seriously we take these precepts, the less we will prosper.

In concluding the heads of doctrine on the Ten Commandments, Ussher discusses the Tenth Commandment’s prohibition of covetousness. One very helpful question Ussher asks is whether all lust (or concupiscence) is unlawful. “No: for there is some good and lawful, some evil and unlawful; the one commanded, the other forbidden.”64 Of significance is that Ussher neither falls into the ditch of the Epicurean, who claims bodily pleasure as the highest good, and therefore tends to indulge the desires of the body; nor does he fall into the ditch of the ascetic who holds that all desire or lust is forbidden. In explaining what such good and lawful concupiscence is, Ussher states:

It is either natural, or spiritual. Natural, that which desireth things good and necessary to our being or well-being; as food, clothing, and other lawful comforts of this life. Spiritual, which lusteth and fighteth against the flesh, (Gal. 5. 17.) and affecteth and coveteth after spiritual things Psal. 119. 40.65

Thus, God in His mercy makes provision for the lawful comforts and necessities of this life, for His glory and man’s good.

In opposition to lawful concupiscence is “Unlawful and evil concupiscence, (Col. 3. 5.) which is also called concupiscence of men, (1 Pet. 4. 2.) concupiscence of the flesh, (Gal. 5. 16, 17.) worldly concupiscence, (Tit. 2. 12.) lusts of the Devil. (Joh. 8. 44.)”66 Desire itself, therefore, is neutral; the source, end and means of fulfilling such a desire are what make the desire either lawful or unlawful.

In conclusion, we have taken the heads of doctrine in Ussher’s Body of Divinity dealing with the Ten Commandments. We have looked at them in some detail in order to perform a case study of Puritanism and the Law. We have seen the priority given to God’s glory in the First Table of the Law. We have seen the glory and blessing of knowing the true God, worshiping Him how He commands, glorifying Him with our tongues, and worshiping Him publicly when He has appointed.

We have seen the good order and peace that results from obedience to the Second Table of the Law. God commanding honor for His delegated authorities, the protection of innocent human life, the sanctity of the marriage covenant, the preservation of men’s rights in their property, the maintenance of our own and our neighbor’s good name, and the nature of lust, both lawful and unlawful. Ussher’s puritanical views of God’s Law provide a strong and worthy precedent to emulate, and would be a blessing to any person, family, church or society. The puritan view of the Law of God is one of robust and Scriptural understanding, practical wisdom, and avoidance of the fear of man in applying God’s Word to all areas of life.

1 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Apostolic Christianity, 4th ed., 8 vols., vol. 1 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996).

2Cf. Deuteronomy 7:6–11 where God describes covenant blessings as given by His gracious choice and sovereignty. All citations of Scripture are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994).

3 Archbishop James Ussher, A Body of Divinity: Being the Sum and Substance of the Christian Religion, 1st Printing (Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Classic Reprints, 2007), cited as in the text as the Body, and in footnotes simply as Ussher.

4 “’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” Matthew 22:36-39.

5Ussher, 188.

6Ussher, 188.

7Ussher, 192.

8 Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

9Ussher, 193.

10 Henry Cockeram, The English Dictionary (London: Printed by Thomas Harper for Thomas Weaver, 1631), see entry under “Incapable” (pages not numbered).

11 Psalm 53:1.

12Ussher, 196.

13Ussher, 198.

14 2 John 9.

15 2 Corinthians 10:5.

16 1 John 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians5:21.

17Ussher, 199.

18Ussher, 200.

19Ussher, 225.

20 Ibid.

21Ussher, 205.

22Ussher, 208.

23Ussher, 208.

24Ussher, 209.

25Ussher, 216. Note: all subsequent responses to this question are taken from the same page.

26Ussher, 219. Note: all subsequent reasons are taken from the same page.

27 Cf. Exodus 12:43-49.

28Ussher, 220.

29Ussher, 223. Note: the next quotation is taken from the same page.

30Ussher, 236.

31 Cf. Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33Ussher, 234.

34 Cf. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.

35Ussher, 238.

36Ussher, 240.

37 Cf. Matthew 28:18.

38 Cf. Ussher, 243.

39Ussher, 247.

40Ussher, 245.

41Ussher, 248.

42Ussher, 94.

43Ussher, 237.

44 Cf. Ussher, 254-5.

45Ussher, 250.

46 Proverbs 7:10.

47Ussher, 252.

48Ussher, 257.

49Ussher, 257.

50Ussher, 260.

51Ussher, 262.

52 Cf. Matthew 13:22 and 6:33.

53Ussher, 263.

54 Ibid.

55Ussher, 264.

56 According to Frederick William Hackwood, “In Tudor times all great nobles had their ‘Bearwards,’ and kept their herds of bears, which were regularly trained for the arena.” Old English Sport (London: T. Fisher Unwin, Adelphi Terrace, 1907), 350.

57Ussher, 265.

58Ussher, 271.

59Ussher, 278.

60Ussher, 280.

61Ussher, 280.

62Ussher, 283.

63Ussher, 283. Note: the subsequent vices are taken from the same page.

64Ussher, 292.

65Ussher, 293.

66Ussher, 292.


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