The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced

By William S. Plumer, 1864

The Second Table of the Law

The sum of the last six commandments is by our Lord given in these few words: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matt. 22:39. He says of the second table of the law that "it is like unto the first." It is like unto it in these things: that it proceeds from the same divine authority; that in order to the fulfilling of it, we must have genuine love; that it is very comprehensive, involving many duties; that it requires our utmost care and vigilance to avoid transgression; that if we have a right spirit towards God, we shall not practice wickedness towards man; that the scope and aim of both are purity; that he who requires holiness in the church no less requires it "in the market, in the shop, at home, abroad; not only in prayer but at the plough." The law would have been an imperfect rule for the government of human beings, existing in society, if it had not as clearly taught us our duty to man, as our duty to God. Domat: "Man's first law is the spirit of his religion.... This implies a second law which obliges men to unity among themselves, and to the love of one another."

It was particularly necessary that we should have the second table, in order to avoid that fatal mistake made by many, that if we are strict in our conduct towards God, we may be lax in our demeanor towards men. At the very beginning of a revelation of true religion, God would have us to understand that genuine piety will surely manifest itself towards those around us. And in all the Scriptures God "has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8. If men "keep the way of the Lord," they will be sure to do justice and judgment. Gen. 18:19. No possible devotion to prescribed forms of religious worship is ever pleasing to the Almighty, or can save a people from ruin, unless they learn "to seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." Isaiah 1:17. Indeed, when God would save a backslidden church from utter extinction, he says, "These are the things that you shall do; Speak every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord." Zech. 8:16. In like manner does God instruct us by the pen of Paul. Romans 13:8-10.

The second table contains six precepts, beginning with the fifth commandment, which points out the duties of our stations in society; the sixth commandment is a bulwark around human life; the seventh is God's protection to chastity and domestic peace; the eighth warns all evil doers against infractions of rights of property; the ninth is God's law respecting the good name of man; and the tenth is the keystone to this arch of morals, covering everything that involves the temporal good of our fellow men. We have an excellent help in the study of the second table. It is given us by our Lord himself. It is simple, easily remembered and easily applied to all the diversified cases that arise in fellowship between men: "Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." Matt. 7:12. Another evangelist gives it in still fewer words. "Do for others as you would like them to do for you." Luke 6:31.

There is no possible situation in which men can be placed in their dealings with each other, where, if the heart be honest, this rule will not furnish a sufficient guide to our conduct. True indeed, no man will rightly use even this plain maxim, unless he has learned the meaning of Paul, when he says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Phil. 2:4.

The second table of the law is well sustained by many parts of Scripture, in showing that the will of God is that man's earthly existence should be social, and not secluded. The Author of our existence brings us into this world in a state of entire dependence on our fellow-creatures, and this dependence lasts longer in the case of man than of any other creature. Like dependence often recurs in old age. Nor can the perfection of man's nature in any sense be attained in absolute solitude. Hare: "Were we all so many hermits, made to live each by himself, having no ties or dealings with other men, the first table of the law would perhaps have been sufficient; as in that case, man would have owed no duties, except to God only. God, however, did not form men to live alone, but to live in society."