Are the Ten Commandments "NEGATIVE"
a WRONG form of law?
by Herbert W. Armstrong
OFTEN we hear the basic Law of God impugned as negative, and therefore not
good. God is often conceived as a stern, wrathful God, who angrily says to us:
"THOU SHALT NOT!"
God's truth is sometimes looked upon as "a religion of FEAR," and
therefore not desirable for modern, advanced, enlightened man. It ought to be
POSITIVE, they say, not negative.
Thus God, the Truth of God, the purpose and plan of God, the method of God,
and the Law of God are relegated to the primitive, the imperfect - something
enlightened man has now outgrown. Modern man thereupon looks upon himself as
elevated to a plane of rational thinking, and knowledge higher than God, or
Christianity, or God's Law. Of course when we UNDERSTAND, God's TRUTH is the
most powerful religion or philosophy there is - it eradicates fear!
It is the way of FAITH!
But is the negative form, "Thou shalt not," then,
wrong? Is it outmoded? Should a PERFECT law contain only "DO's" and
"DON'Ts"? Just what is TRUE CHARACTER? Just what is the perfect life?
I have defined character - that is, true, righteous, holy character - as
1) coming to the KNOWLEDGE of the true, as opposed to the false values -
the right, in stead of the wrong way;
2) making, of one's own free will and volition, the choice to do the right
instead of the wrong;
3) the exercise of the will in actually doing the right instead of the
Character, then once the true knowledge is acquired and the right decision
made, involves SELF-DISCIPLINE. The truly educated person is a self-disciplined
What, then, does this SELF-DISCIPLINE involve?
1) self-restraint to resist the lower impulses and pulls in human
nature - to restrain the self from desires, impulses, habits, or customs which
are contrary to the RIGHT WAY; and
2) self-propulsion or determined initiative to drive the self to do those
things which ought to be done. In other words, in true character in action
there is the POSITIVE and the NEGATIVE.
Suppose one rejects the negative as faulty and something to be discarded
altogether. Suppose one applies the positive only. He impels the self to DO
those positive things to be done, but he exercises no restraint to resist those
things which, by habit, impulse, desire, or custom of others ought not to be
done. Because human nature is what it is, the very nature in such a man will
pull him constantly in the wrong direction. Thus CHARACTER is destroyed. He is
out of balance.
We find present in NATURE both the positive and the negative. Electricity
functions and performs its work by use of both the positive and the negative.
All elements are either alkaline or acid. All living things and beings in this
world of matter are male and female. There are SINS both of OMISSION and
Frequently we read the pitiful, feeble efforts of a man who fancies in his
ignorant egotism he is wiser than God, setting forth his idea of TEN POSITIVE
COMMANDMENTS. Ten "do's" and no "don't's."
And what do we find? How much character would such a list of
"commandments" produce? Just about as much character as an electric
light bulb would produce light with merely the one positive wire leading
into it. Just about as much character as the male alone, without the female,
could reproduce his kind. He might DOa few good things, but all his good
things would be nullified and canceled out by the unrestrained evil he would
No basic LAW OF LIFE, forming the basis of perfect CHARACTER, could be a
perfect law unless it contains, in perfect balance, both positive and negative.
Examine now again God's basic code, upon which all His laws, social,
economic, civil, and religious, hang:
1. "THOU SHALT have no other gods before Me." This is actually
stated in the positive form, implying we SHALL worship and obey the
true God. In a sense, this commandment contains both the positive and
negative, directing us positively, "Thou SHALT," to the true God,
and restraining us from false gods
2. "THOU SHALT NOT make unto thee any graven image, or... bow down
thyself to them, nor serve them." This is negative, restraining from
either making or worshiping any THING as a god; also from either worship, or
obedience to, such false god. To the true God we owe both worship and
obedience. Notice the principle of GOVERNMENT in this, as in all the commands.
THE WHOLE ISSUE IS ONE OF GOVERNMENT. Adam and Eve rejected God's government,
refused His rule over their lives, disobeyed four of the Laws of His government.
Christ came preaching the "KINGDOM of God," which is the government
of God - commanding men to repent of their rejection of that government and
the transgression of its laws (sin is the transgression of the law -1 John 3:4)
- providing the way of atonement for that transgression, and reconciliation to
the worship and government of GOD.
3. "THOU SHALT NOT take the NAME of the Eternal thy God in vain."
This is a restraint - negative to prevent cutting man off from the POWER and
BENEFITS of the right use of GOD'S NAME. If we repent of sin, and come to God
by Jesus Christ, He puts within us the impregnating gift of His Holy Spirit,
and thus we become His actual begotten children - begotten into HIS FAMILY -
bearing HIS NAME (the true name of His Church is Church of GOD) - and having
access to all the BENEFITS, BLESSINGS, and POWER of that name. This command is
a negative, making possible the POSITIVE and vitally needed blessings thru
4. "REMEMBER the Sabbath Day, to KEEP IT HOLY… the seventh day is
the Sabbath of the Eternal thy GOD." Here is another POSITIVE command -
the only one God specifically commanded us to 'REMEMBER," and the very
one mankind insists above all upon forgetting. Is it not an indicting
commentary on the unrestrained human nature, and irrational thinking of the
self-professed RATIONALS who imagine themselves superior to God, and who
insist His Commandments ought to be all POSITIVE and not negative, that this
most positive of all the Commandments they flout and disobey with greatest
impunity. Again, notice the perfection - here again is a command including
both positive and negative, for while it is primarily positive, yet it
includes negative restraints to make possible that positive - "in it thou
SHALT NOT do any work, thou, nor thy son," etc.
5. "HONOR thy father and thy mother." Do you see any negative
statement in this command? Here is a POSITIVE command, with a definite promise
of blessing. This heads the six commands regulating man's relationship with
neighbor. However, the negative opposite is implied, tho not stated.
6. thru 10. "THOU SHALT not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false
witness or covet." Here are the famous negatives, yet each implies the
opposite POSITIVE: as, Thou SHALT love an have charitable tolerant patience
toward your neighbor; BE TRUE to your wife and RESPECT your neighbor's
Here is a PERFECT LAW (Psalm 19: 7). It outlines, in broad detail, man's
right relationship with the true GOD that be my have all the needed guidance,
help, and blessings from God; and also man's right relationship toward human
neighbors - including parents, children, husband and wife, andall
neighbors. This law provides for both WORSHIP of God, religiously, and OBEDIENCE
To God, and BLESSINGS FROM God - every need of man for his own good in living,
active, continuous relationship with the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God.
This perfect Law forms the basis of ALL human relationships, as well as man's
God-relationship. It provides the wide, basic general rules affecting every
phase of his life -
a) Religious, in his relationship to GOD;
b) Family, in his relationship to parents, children, wife and husband, and
is designed to preserve the blessed sanctity and dignity of the HOME:
c) Next-door and personal neighbors and friends;
d) Civil relationships - here are found the very BASIC civil laws
respecting murder, larceny (theft), adultery, perjury;
e) Economic life - honesty, not coveting other's money, goods, or property
or possessions, which coveting is the very root source of today's economic
principle of competition;
f) Social life - such commands as those respecting adultery, false witness
against, coveting. stealing, form the foundation principle of right social
attitude and relationship with neighbors.
This Law, in its basic principles, defines THE WHOLE DUTY OF MAN
(Eccl. 12:13). It is the basis, in principle, for ALL THE BIBLE. The entire
Bible is, so far as its TEACHING is concerned, a magnification in specific
detail of these basic principles.
This Law is COMPLETE. It contains in brief summation-principle, all the
positive and negative obligations of the PERFECT, rightly-balanced life. It
expresses and reflects the very character of God.
The whole law is summed in one word, LOVE. It is like God, for God is
LOVE. Just as His law is LOVE. It was given in love for us, and LOVE is the
fulfilling of the law - LOVE IN ACTION.
It is love to GOD, and love to NEIGHBOR. It is PERFECT. It is complete.