DECALOGUE DOD AND HIS SEVENTEENTH CENTURY BESTSELLER
A Four Hundredth Anniversary Appreciation
St Antholin’s Lecture, 2004
"Decalogue" Dod …
The first thirty years
John Dod was born
in around 1549 near Malpas in
We know little of Dod's early spiritual life but at some point while a fellow at Jesus a false accusation was brought against him of having defrauded the college of a sum of money due from one of his pupils. Dod fell into a severe fever and while ill "his sins came upon him like armed men and the tide of his thoughts was turned." Dod was cleared of the charge and he thereafter began to preach at a weekly lecture set up by the godly of Ely.
It was around
this time that the incident of the Sermon on Malt occurred. As recounted by the
DNB, Dod "had preached strongly at
Ministry at Hanwell and beyond
In 1585, perhaps upon Dod's marriage to his first wife Anne, step-daughter of Richard Greenham and sister of the later renowned sabbatarian Nicholas Bownde, Chaderton recommended Dod to Sir Anthony Cope, patron of St Peter's, Hanwell in Oxfordshire. Cope was, in Knappen's words, "collecting a fine assortment of Puritan ministers" and in addition to bringing Dod to Hanwell, he secured, at around the same time, the appointment of Robert Cleaver as minister of nearby Drayton. Here Dod was to serve for almost twenty years and the shape and character of his ministry at Hanwell and in subsequent pastorates led Haller to make the remarkable claim that "no one probably did more than he to fix by personal influence and example the way of life and style of preaching followed for generations by the rank and file of the Puritan ministry."
Certainly his ministry made a great impact upon many people and in many ways. At his funeral sermon it was said that he gave himself at Hanwell to "much fasting and prayer and as his seed-time was painful, so his harvest was gainful, hundreds of souls being converted to his ministry." A number of local ministers, resenting the popularity of Dod's preaching forbade their parishioners to go to hear him. Instead, perhaps, they went to the weekly lecture at Banbury, (a town which, according to Collinson, was fast-becoming a "by-word for puritanism") where Dod was one of four lecturers. Others included Robert Cleaver and, later, Robert Harris and Henry Scudder. Dod was influential in knitting together a community of clergy in the area and himself took tutees at his own household seminary.
Dod's preaching was all that the puritans looked for. It was godly, learned, plain, pithy, affectionate and practical. His method was typical and formative of puritan preaching:
John Dod … would stand up to preach with nothing more in his hand than 'the Analisis of his Text, the proofs of Scripture for the Doctrines, with the Reasons and Uses.' … His manner was to begin by 'opening a verse or two, or more at a time, first clearing the drift and connection, then giving the sense and interpretation briefly, but very plainly, not leaving the text untill he had made it plain to the meanest capacity.' Next he cleared and exemplified the doctrines by reference to scripture itself, the preacher, 'opening his proofs, not multiplying particulars for oppressing memory, not dwelling so long as to make all truth run though a few texts.' Finally he spoke 'most largely and very home in application, mightily convincing and diving into mens hearts and consciences, leaving them little or nothing to object against it'.
His main themes were so clear that he became known as "Faith and Repentance" Dod. His directness was such that on one occasion "a person being … enraged at his close and awakening doctrine, picked a quarrel with him, smote him in the face and dashed out two of his teeth." At this, "this meek and lowly servant of Christ, without taking the least offence, spit out the teeth and blood into his hand, and said, 'See here, you have knocked out two of my teeth without any just provocation; but on condition I might do your soul good, I would give you leave to dash out all the rest'." And his insight into souls was so searching that "some said he must have had spies and informers at work for him." His reply, we are told was "that the Word of God was searching, and that if he was shut up in a dark Vault, where none could come at him, yet allow him but a Bible and a candle, and he should preach as he did."
Others were less appreciative and yet, again, his response tells us much about the man, his priorities and his character:
When someone complained at the length of his sermons, his rejoinder was that if 'Gentlemen will follow hounds from seven in the morning till four or five in the afternoon, because they love the cry of dogs, … we should be content though the Minister stood above his hour.' And he added, 'methinks it is much better to hear a Minister preach than a kennel of hounds to bark'.
His preaching was not, however, his whole ministry. After sermon any who wished to could go back to his house to eat and to rehearse and further apply the sermon. Dod loved to be with people and he loved to talk. He became known for his pithy sayings and later in the seventeenth century broadsides of "Dod's Droppings" were widely sold, providing biblical counsel, almanac style for generations to come.
Dod was also ready at all times to meet with needy souls. Haller, following Clarke, describes his practice:
His habit was to use the church edifice itself for his pastoral study … There perplexed souls would find him and "if he thought them bashful, he would meet them and say, 'Would you speak with me?' And when he found them unable to state their question, he would help them out with it, taking care to find the sore: But would answer and deal so compassionately and tenderly, as not to discourage the poorest soul from coming again.
Physician of souls and godly guide
Indeed, over the years at Hanwell and afterwards, Dod "built up a national reputation as a godly guide." On several occasions he helped dying believers to assurance. After early failures in which Dod declared that 'the Devill's rhetoricke taught her against herself', Dod and Thomas Hooker between them even brought the famously melancholic Joan Drake of Esher out of her spiritual distress before her death in 1625, something which John Preston, James Ussher, Richard Sibbes and Ezekiel Culverwell had all attempted without success.
Dod became a good friend of John Preston, and it was after Dod persuaded him that "English preaching was like to work more and win more souls to God" that Preston declined to become the Lady Margaret Divinity Professor at Cambridge. Later, in July 1628 and knowing that he had little time left to live, Preston asked to be taken to Fawsley in order to receive dying comfort from Dod. A few days later Dod preached Preston's funeral sermon.
His counsel was sought by several puritans as they tried to make up their minds in the 1630s whether or not to leave the country for New England. In 1633 he dissuaded George Hughes and John Ball from doing so. John Cotton and Thomas Hooker, on the other hand received a different reply. Dod explained that he believed it was legitimate to leave although as an elderly man he did not intend to do so himself: 'When Peter was young he might gird himself and go whither he would; but when he was old and unfit for travel, then indeed God called him rather than to suffer himself to be girt of others, and lead along to prison and death'. Cotton expressed concern for the congregations of those pastors who left and Dod at once replied, 'That the removing of a minister was like the draining of a fish pond: the good fish will follow the water, but eels, and other baggage fish, will stick in the mud.'
Nonconformist but no separatist
Collinson describes Dod as a "nonconformist within the Church of England" and in this sense he is the typical early English puritan.
When Simeon Ashe and John Wall wrote a commendatory epistle for one of [Samuel] Clarke's earliest ventures, in December 1649, they expressed interest in the further publication of the 'characters' of such as Preston, Sibbes, Dod and Hildersham who all their lives had 'kept a due distance from Brownistical separatism and were zealously affected towards the Presbyterial Government of the Church'.
His zeal for presbyterial government is unsurprising given his membership of Chaderton's group and his closeness to Cartwright back in the 1570s. Another indication of his nonconformity was his setting up of three benches at St Peter's, Hanwell for the reception of the elements of the Lord's Supper (this so that the elements would not be received kneeling). Three times he was suspended from the ministry and on numerous other occasions he was cited. In 1616 he approved of Henry Jacob gathering a covenanting church in Southwark.
Moreover, Webster tells us
There is a small hint of the practice of particular church discipline in the refusal of John Dod to read out in church the sentence of the ecclesiastical court on a fornicator of his flock because the young man had already taken penance before his fellow parishioners before he had been examined by the archdeacon in 1633.
And yet, for all this, Dod was no separatist. Spurr refers to a communication of 1637 in which,
A group of thirteen English nonconformist clergy, headed by the aged Dod and Cleaver, wrote to the New England clergy … reminding them that when they had all lived in the same kingdom, they had jointly 'maintained the purity of worship against corruptions, both on the right hand and on the left'. But now they had heard that their brethren in New England taught that set prayers were unlawful, and the godly should not 'join in prayer' or 'receive the sacraments' where such a 'stinted liturgy is used'. Did not this lend support to their opponents' charges that 'nonconformists in practice are separatists in heart?'
Dod would have none of it. Nonconformist in practice he certainly was and he suffered for it. Separatist in heart he emphatically was not, looking as he did for reform of the national church according to the Word of God.
In January 1604, Dod, along with another thirty or so puritan ministers held private meetings alongside the Hampton Court Conference. The outcome of the Conference itself was a great disappointment to the puritan party and over the next few years around three hundred ministers lost their livings. That Dod and Cleaver feared exactly this is clear from the Epistle Dedicatory of A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Tenne Commandements, dated September 1604. They give three reasons for dedicating the work to their patron, Sir Anthony Cope, and all three reasons have some foreboding about them:
First, to testifie our unfained thankfulnesse for all the singular favours, which we have received at your hands, for the space of these twentie yeares. Wherein you have alwayes shewed yourselfe as willing to ayde and defend us in our just cause, as you were carefull to make choice of us, at our first entrance into our places.
Secondly, because we know not how soone we shall finish the dayes of our Ministerie, we thought it our dutie to give some taste, and to leave some testimony thereof unto the world, to witnesse your godly desire to discharge the trust committed unto you, and our faithfull endevours to performe the dutie belonging unto us.
Lastly, for that having formerly heard whatsoever is here set downe in writing, and also having throughly knowne the manner of our doctrine and conversations, you are best able even of your owne knowledge, to make our defence to any that shall unjustly except against us.
Their anxieties were justified. Shortly afterwards, Dod was suspended from his living by Bishop Bridges of Oxford. For some while he remained in the area, supporting his successor, Robert Harris, later Master of Trinity Oxford and member of Westminster Assembly, and also preparing works on the Proverbs for publication. The first of these was issued in 1606 and Dod states simply, "We are now more willing to make some work for the press because we have no employment in the pulpit."
Taking into account what has already been said about Dod's preaching ministry and his counsel to many seeking godly guidance, the story of the next forty years is quickly told. He held positions in Fenny Compton in Warwickshire and then in Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire between 1607 and 1611, being 'silenced' by Archbishop Abbott in 1611. Little is known of the next twelve years of his life beyond the publication of a series of books on the Proverbs with Cleaver.
In 1624, however, he was settled as Rector of Fawsley in Northamptonshire under the protection of Sir Richard Knightley, the Puritan squire of Fawsley Hall. His preaching and lecturing, his cure of souls, his encouragement of godly learned ministers and his writing continued over the next twenty years. At over ninety years old he wrote to Lady Mary Vere and offered if he 'might any way be helpful to your Ladyship to resolve you of any doubts or questions in your heart, I should be glad ere my departure, now at hand, to do you any service this way.' In August 1645, at around 95 years of age, he died.
Little man though he was, Dod was a giant. Collinson, possibly the foremost living scholar of Elizabethan puritanism calls him, simply, "the great John Dod". Numerous writers refer to him as a "puritan patriarch". By personal contact and involvement he was at the heart of English puritanism from the 1570s right through until the 1630s. Thomas Cartwright, Arthur Hildersham, Richard Greenham, Laurence Chaderton, William Gouge, Ezekiel Culverwell, William Perkins, John Preston, Richard Sibbes, John Cotton, Thomas Hooker: the list of those who honoured him as personal friend and leader of the movement itself reads like a roll-call of puritan greats. Archbishop Ussher declared, "Whatever some affirm of Mr Dod's strictness, and scrupling some ceremonies, I desire that when I die my soul may rest with his." Further, by personal example and influence he advanced the cause of a learned and godly ministry and of biblically mature personal religion as few others have done in the history of this nation. And in his best-selling book, Dod's Decalogue, he provides us with classic puritan practical divinity, the pure embodiment of the genre, and a powerful example of what is and what is great about English puritanism. It is to that book that we now turn.
… and his seventeenth century bestseller
A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Tenne Commandements by John Dod and Robert Cleaver was first published in 1604 and became a publishing phenomenon of the seventeenth century. In the Epistle Dedicatory to their patron, Sir Anthony Cope, the authors explain the circumstances which occasioned the book's publication. In 1603, some enthusiastic hearers of Dod's and Cleaver's sermons on the commandments had "published their notes (as themselves could gather them in the time of the Sermon) without our knowledge or consent, and many faults were escaped in writing and Printing which by due care and foresight might have been prevented: therefore both for our clearing, and the better satisfying of the Christian Reader, we were compelled to review and refine the whole Treatise. Wherein we have jointly laboured as near as we could to set down every thing, without addition or detraction, as it was first delivered in the public Ministry."
The book proved to be immensely popular, running to nineteen editions over the next thirty years and, according to Collinson, making Dod and Cleaver "the most successful co-authors of the century" Other than the Bible and the Psalm-book, it was the most commonly-owned book in early Plymouth Colony and in his well-known description of "the poorest or smallest library that is tolerable", Richard Baxter places "Mr Dod. on the Commandments" in his list of must-have "affectionate practical English writers".
One of the earliest published commendations of the work combines quaintness with accuracy. William Gamage, a Welsh gentleman vicar-poet wrote two "centuries" of epigrams in 1613. One of them was for a friend who had lent him "Dod and Cleaver on the Decalogue" and ran as follows:
Dod with his
Cleaver cleaves the stonie rocke
Of our hard harts through their laborious paine:
And plaines the way most plaine for Christ his flock,
That leads o’re
hils to the celestiall plaine.
These paire of friends with thankes I send againe,
Though two in Name, in Nature yet not twaine.
The contents of the book are easily described. After the Epistle Dedicatory and "A Friendly Counsel to the Christian Reader" in verse, the body of the work consists of eleven sections, namely, one section on the prefatory words of Exodus 20.1-2 and then one section on each of the commandments. These sections are on average thirty pages long with the longest being the sixty-four page treatment of the fifth commandment and the shortest the nine page treatment of the tenth commandment. The main body of the work is followed by a thirteen page catechism borrowed from another author and giving such readers as are "wearied with the larger Discourse upon the Commandments … a compendious abridgement of all the substantial points of Religion." The book closes with a versified meditation on God's name from Exodus 34, a table of "Doctrines dispersed in this Book gathered together" and finally an index, "A Table of the principal things contained in this Exposition."
As to the genre of the book, it is that most characteristic of puritan published works, the printed sermon series and is therefore shaped by the distinctively puritan method of sermon structuring. The puritan sermon had three parts: exegetical, doctrinal and applicatory. In the first, relatively brief, exegetical part, the setting, the words and the divisions of the text would be explained. Next would follow "doctrine" and "use", sometimes just one doctrine followed by between two and five uses, and at other times a whole series of doctrines, each applied with a number of uses. The doctrinal part would be built around and upon a didactic proposition either stated in or deduced from the text and this would then be explained, confirmed and illustrated with reasons given and objections dealt with. The uses would bring the doctrine to bear upon the lives of the hearers. Common types of use were for trial ('where do I stand in relation to this teaching, this promise, threat, encouragement or warning?'), for reproof ('if this is true then the following beliefs and behaviours are shown to be wrong'), for consolation ('if this is true then the following people should feel encouraged'), and for consideration ('if this is true then think, think, think about what follows from it').
Various influences shaped this puritan method of preaching: the prophesyings of the 1570s; the spiritual brotherhood of the Cambridge circle: Chaderton, Cartwright, Hildersham, Dering, Greenham, Perkins, Ames and scores and scores of puritan ministers up and down the country who had learned pastoral ministry from these giants; the published distillation of method by Perkins and Ames (influenced by Ramus); the ease with which the method could be understood and practised; and its success in enabling hearers truly to hear the Word of God, to remember what they had learned, to think doctrinally, to see the demand of Scripture upon the details of their belief, conduct and experience and to reason with themselves and with others in accordance with Reformed divinity. And all these influences made the puritan way of handling and communicating the truth of Scripture the method for the moment, a moment, indeed, which lasted a century and more. Dod’s Decalogue reflects just this method.
Ames speaks for all puritans in his assertion that “the chief scope of the Sermon … [is] the edification of the hearers.” Theological innovation, unreachable exegetical certitude, man-pleasing rhetorical impressiveness were all set aside for the sake of plain declaration and powerful application of the Word. Ames again,
They faile therefore who stick to a naked finding out and explication of the truth … neglecting use and practice, in which Religion, and so blessedness, doth consist, [they] doe little or nothing edifie the conscience.
There is little question but that Ames would have been well-pleased with Dod’s Decalogue. It was not original and nor was it theologically distinctive but it was an early example of its type, an example which was followed many times over in the decades ahead. It did not break new ground theologically or exegetically but neither did it stick at the level of an expository lecture. It was intended by its authors to change lives by the plain statement and direct application of the truth and, in God’s hands, it achieved this to a remarkable extent and degree in the decades after it was published.
It is astonishing, then, given the very great influence of this book in the seventeenth century, that it has not been reprinted since. In introducing it, therefore, I wish much more to provide a taste than an analysis. (Analysis can follow if a way can be found of getting Dod's Decalogue reprinted). I will do this in four ways and, as much as possible, in Dod's own words. Over the next pages, then, we will firstly, explore Dod's Decalogue as a splendid example of puritan practical divinity; secondly, comment briefly upon Dod's treatment of particular commandments; thirdly, consider the challenge to us of Dod's views about law and obedience to law as categories of Christian thinking and living; and fourthly, enjoy a sampling of gems from Dod's Decalogue leaving us, hopefully, with an appetite for more.
1. Dod's Decalogue as an example of puritan practical divinity
This great work exemplifies what is best about puritan practical divinity in a hundred ways. Here are just seven.
1) Human life, as well as Christian theology, is the "art of living to God"
The puritan vision of Christian discipleship was, quite simply, God-centred. A life of communion with God and service to him is a life of utmost blessedness and yet the focus of attention must be God himself rather than the blessedness. Our confidence comes from him, from his greatness and perfection:
This must teach us earnestly to seek his love and favour, which if we have, nothing can hurt us: For in him we live, move, and have our being. Having his love, we have all power, wisdom, and counsel on our side. If he be perfect in himself, and all creatures have what ever they have, from him, what need we fear (he being with us) what all the creatures can do against us? Seeing that all their power is derived from him, and used at his direction.
This sense of the greatness and the reality of God brings boldness:
We may learn not to be afraid or ashamed to stand for [the commandments], as also to practise them in our lives, though the atheists and profane sinners of the world mock and scoff at us never so much for the same. For what need we be ashamed to maintain those words which God himself was not ashamed in his own person to speak?
This serves therefore exceedingly to condemn their dastardliness, that are afraid to keep the Sabbath, or to do any other religious duty, because they should be counted and called Puritans. But is it not better that men should hate us without cause than that God should have a quarrel against us upon a just cause? Is it not much better that they should scoff at us for good, than that God should plague us for evil?
Nothing has any power to do a man any good but God.
Furthermore, the whole of life is to be lived in the knowledge that God not only sees all that we do but also that he is dealing with us in all things. In avoiding rash anger, for example, the Christian must,
labour to get wisdom always and in every thing to behold God's providence, to see his hand ruling every thing and to persuade ourselves that all things come to pass according to his purpose and direction …: and then we shall not so soon fret against men … though it be unjust with men, yet it is just with God and though we have not deserved it at their hand and so they wrong us, yet we have deserved that at God's hands and much more too: he does us no wrong at all though he appoints such evil instruments to afflict us.
One of the keys lessons of God’s unchangeableness is that the record of God’s dealings with people in the pages of Scripture can be directly applied to our own lives. God afflicts and prospers, blesses and curses, delays and delivers now as he did in Scripture times. This is not naïve; if anything, and so soon in the early modern period, Dod has moved through suspicion to the second naïvete. He knows that God is exalted and majestic but this grounds rather than undermines a confidence that he is intimately involved with human beings in the details of their lives. He knows that reading providence is no easy task, that the righteous are afflicted for a variety of reasons and that the human heart is deceitful beyond knowledge but this leads him to humility in interpreting how God deals with men and women rather than to abandoning the belief that he does so.
Thus, life with our eyes towards God is life as life should be.
2) The gravity of spiritual matters requires that we be in earnest about them
The matters of eternity weigh more heavily than the transient. Only a fool would prefer stubble to gold or value a dumb beast more highly than a human soul. How, for example, should one decide where to live?
This also serves much for the reproof of them that only look to their bodies and present estate, without any regard to their souls: and therefore whithersoever their commodities lead them there they plant themselves. Be the towns or families never so superstitious, that is not respected, so that gain and honour may arise to them from thence, there they will dwell, and there they will match their children.
And we therefore argue from the greater to the lesser to comfort ourselves in temporal affliction:
Has he removed the tyranny of sin, which would have damned our souls and cannot he give us refreshing from the misery of our bodies? If God deliver from sin, death and hell, never faint, as though he could not, or would not rid us from outward afflictions. If he have overcome the greater, the lesser shall not withstand him. If God grant us freedom from those things that are simply evil (as sin is) and the cause of all ills then it is easier to succour us against those which are medicines against evil and are often turned into blessings.
If the teachings of Scripture are true then one cannot be too serious about spiritual realities. It is vital that individuals know where they stand spiritually and self-examination is a key means to this which puritan preachers constantly urged upon their hearers. For example, Dod tells us that since obedience is rendered by those who know God to be their God, this raises the question as to how a person is to know whether or not he or she is the Lord's. To find out, self-examination is necessary in order to seek certain marks. Dod lists several:
So that, if God the Father has regenerated us, and Christ has killed our sins; and the holy Ghost has made us ashamed of them, to confess them, likewise if it work in us love, and patience, and moderation of our affections, and make us able to pray to God, then God is our God, and this will make us obey: but if this be shaken, all is shaken: for this is the foundation of all obedience.
And in describing them more fully it becomes clear that attention must be given to spiritual experience as well as to outward conduct:
Also God the Son, Christ Jesus, where he comes, he kills sin, he abates our lust and worldliness, and works a fresh spring of grace and holiness: but if we feel no work of death in us to mortify our sin, then how can we know that he died for us?
Particular circumstances, too, will prompt self-examination. For example,
… when we see that God does not bless us according to his promises made to those that keep his commandments, then we must examine our selves diligently concerning our obedience to this his law, whether we live not in some sin, or whether some old sin lie not in us, which has never been repented of. Wherefore, when he strikes us, we must begin to examine our obedience.
Spiritual seriousness shows itself not only in self-examination but in endeavours after universal obedience. After all, if the Ten Commandments are the demands of God, obedience must be universal.
Whence it is to be learned, that whosoever will have any true comfort by his obedience to God's law, must not content himself to look to one, or two: but must make conscience, and have a care to keep them all and every one.
Partial obedience is insincere because in reality it is serving self rather than recognising the loving authority of God. And partial obedience is also unstable:
And this was Herod's case, he did many things according to John' preaching, and did hear him gladly, and for some other commandments was reasonably willing to be ruled: but for the seventh he must needs have a dispensation; and he kept this resolution that let all the preachers in the world say what they could, he would not be brought to leave his incest, nor to part with his brother's wife. Therefore we see how soon he fell to break, first the third commandment, in swearing sinfully to that light and wanton woman, to give her whatsoever she should ask, and then also he grew to persecute John and cut off his head: so, taking liberty to himself to break the seventh commandment, he cast off all care and regard of the rest.
A further aspect of this universal obedience and earnestness about spiritual realities is, of course, the famed puritan concern for detail, the response to the charge that puritans were "precisians" being, simply, "I serve a precise God". Dod expresses this concern too. On the tenth commandment:
The least motion after the least thing of our neighbour's is sin … there is nothing so small but it is something … though the matter be small wherein one offends, yet it is not a small matter to offend God.
And he proves that "the first motion and inclination of the heart to any sin … is a sin" because
… these lusts break God's commandments, and are against the law of charity, and come from an evil cause, and bring with them such evil effects, therefore the least evil imagination arising in the heart, without any agreement of the mind to put it into practice, is sin, and deserves the curse of God.
3) The presentation of Christian truth must be Scripture-saturated
This may be briefly stated. The whole of Dod’s Decalogue demonstrates the puritan conviction not only that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture but also that the preaching of one Scripture is an occasion for instruction in other Scriptures besides. To give illustrations of various human traits and behaviours from Scripture stories will thus simultaneously strengthen doctrinal grasp and increase the Bible knowledge of the hearer. Within the first few pages of the book Dod is using as illustrations, Eglon listening to Ehud, David listening to Abigail and Balak listening to Balaam; Jacob examining himself; Esther and the Jews being delivered on the day of their greatest threat; Herod obeying many commands but not all and thus falling into judgment; David, Zechariah and Elizabeth yielding true though not perfect obedience; and Lot being vexed in Sodom.
And this cross-referencing is for interpretation as well as for illustration: Dod is unafraid, for example, to use the Old Testament case law in expounding the Ten Commandments, whether with regard to the due penalty for adultery, the twenty per cent to be added to what was stolen when making voluntary restitution, or the application of kidnapping laws to the treatment of servants.
Dod is at home everywhere else in Scripture too. Passages from the Old Testament prophets are frequently used and the book of Proverbs is a particularly favourite source of illustration and example: it is unsurprising that Dod's next published work was an exposition of some chapters of Proverbs itself. To listen to his preaching was a workshop for the Bible student as well as a workout for the Christian disciple.
4) True religion begins in the heart …
One of recurring themes of the whole work is that true obedience is spiritual and inward and must both proceed from a renewed heart and affect a person's inner thoughts and affections and motivations as well as his outward conduct.
Therefore all the obedience performed to God, must proceed from within, and come from the heart, else it shall be no whit acceptable to him. That which grows without, if it come not from the root of sincerity within, shall afford no comfort to our souls in the time of trial. But if we will have our outward obedience to bring forth any fruit to our own souls, or glory to God, we must look that it have its beginning from an upright, sound, and faithful heart.
There is real insight into the mixed motives which characterise the sinner. On anger:
We must never be moved without a just cause … and we [must] proportion our anger to the sin committed against God and not to the injury done to us, for that proceeds from pride and is no better than revenge.
None are exempt. On the false gods of preachers:
For a man may preach and exhort others to the love of God and yet if he do this for vain-glory and not for God's glory, to get promotion to himself and not salvation to God's people, he at that very time sets up an idol in his heart.
And it is because of this that the "how to" sections of the work often begin with the exhortation to appeal to God for his purifying work upon the heart.
5) … yet, as preached and as lived, the Christian life is immensely action-oriented
Faith is a busy, active, productive grace:
But men will say they have faith, and believe in God: which if they had, it would bring forth obedience and have works. For how can they choose but obey God, if they hold this sure, that God loves and regards them, and will give them reward for every good thing that they do? And this every one must perform, that will say, God is my God.
True repentance will bear fruit:
We cannot be assured of pardon for that which is past nor perseverance in a better course, unless there be true repentance. And true repentance never goes before but willingness to make restitution follows presently after.
There is, therefore, a resolve to clear any and all obstacles put in the way of obedience. They may be obstacles of understanding (why does God punish the children for the sin of the fathers?) or of nervousness, such as the fear that Sabbath-keeping may cost us too much:
Better it were that we should hazard some part of our outward estate than the wrath of God to fall upon us. "But when our corn or hay lies in hazard like to be spoiled by ill weather, what will you have us do then?" Trust in God's providence, who as he has commanded you to rest, so he will see that you shall be no loser by your resting … faithful obedience was never any man's hindrance, but negligence and infidelity brings all their misery.
Or, indeed, it may be the obstacle of plausible-sounding excuses for sin. With regard to taking something very small from another's goods:
Yet men have excuses for this their stealing. As first, "it is a small thing, you should not make so much ado about so little a matter." Is it a small thing? Then, the more wretched and abject sinner you, that will corrupt yourself for so small a thing.
"Oh, but … he can spare it well enough." God has absolutely forbidden to take any man's goods without any such exception as this, 'unless he can spare it'.
"It will do him no harm". This is not the question whether it will hurt him or not: it offends God, he has forbidden it and therefore if you do it you sin against God and hurt your own soul.
"It will do me good". … That is not true, it will hinder you rather and bring a further curse on you than before.
In addition to removing excuses and doubts, Dod energetically provides encouragements and motivations. The God who gave the command will also give the power to obey:
Also this serves for the singular comfort of all God's children that since all these be God's commandments, even all as well as any one, therefore they shall have power to obey them all, as well as one. For that God that has enabled us to keep some, can as well strengthen us to keep all the rest: because that power which we have to obey one, is not from our selves, but from the work of God in us. And indeed God does not give us these laws, that we should imagine that we can obey them of our selves, but that (seeing our own wants) we should go to him for help.
And if any fear that there are some sins which they simply will not be able to defeat, some duties which are beyond them, Dod will strengthen their hands:
So that no man ought to discourage himself in respect of the corruption and frailty that cleaves most fast to him. But oh, will some say, for other things I have some hope that I shall overcome them: but I shall never get the better of this or that sin while I live. Well then, other sins you hope you can overcome: but whither have you power to subdue them - by any virtue of your own, or from the working of God's Spirit in you? If you say, from your self, then you speak ignorantly and foolishly: for flesh cannot kill any sin, this must be the work only of God: but if you say that Christ Jesus did give help to you against them, why should you doubt of victory against this? He that gave you ability to over-rule your flesh in some things, cannot he give the like in all? Yea, this very mercy, that he has given you a disposition and power to obey him in one commandment is a sure testimony to you that he will do the like in the rest: so that by humble, faithful and fervent prayer, you crave this grace at his hands. This therefore which he says, "God spoke all these words", is a marvellous encouragement to the saints that therefore seeing their wants in any duty they may go to God and say, "Lord, you are the author of all these commandments alike and the keeping of them all pertains to me as well as to any other: you know, O Lord, that there is no power in me to obey the least of them; therefore I come now for help and grace from you to make me obedient to all as well as you have to some". So we shall obtain grace to keep every one as well as any one.
Warnings may be given:
This is also for the terror of the wicked. Is God Jehovah, constant and unchangeable? Then look what plagues proud persons have had heretofore, the same they shall have now, unless they repent and get pardon in Christ.
Basic Bible truths will be rehearsed:
The want of this persuasion, that God looks always fully upon us, is the cause why men have so many covetous, so many crafty and cruel thoughts and such impure cogitations. Yea, many are not afraid nor ashamed to think and say that, "Thought is free". But they shall find that though it be free from men, it is not free from God.
And the unexpressed objections or beliefs hindering obedience will be brought to the surface and exposed:
Consider the deceitfulness of our own hearts. One thinks now that if he had a fairer house he should be more at quiet but may not this be a false persuasion? May not God cross him with sickness and diseases, with shame and disgrace, with troubles and horror of conscience? And then the walls will not comfort him, the roof and covering will not bring him any peace. It is not the dwelling that will bring quietness, nor the change of the house that can settle the heart: unless we change our covetousness and wickedness for contentedness and goodness, we shall have great grief and vexation in great and fair houses and in the midst of our abundance. But if our heart be good and reformed, we shall live quietly and die blessedly in whatsoever house or place we live and die.
This was not called practical divinity for nothing. In his Exposition of the Ten Commandments Dod deals with an astonishing array of specific life situations in which biblical wisdom is needed. He explains why putting young children into the full-time care of others is often unloving; he gives warnings against standing surety unwisely; he comments on enclosure, the use of lots and the timely payment of wages; he insists that husbands should never criticise their wives in front of others; he explains why sodomy and oppression of the poor are alike; he shows that bad ministers are soul-murderers; and he describes the the characteristics of rash and sinful anger.
Three further examples may be of interest. What are the marks of the godly application of corporal punishment?
First, let it be seasonable and done in time … for indeed a small twig and a few blows when he is a child and not hardened in sin will do more good than many rods and abundance of stripes afterwards … Secondly, it must be done in great compassion and mercy not in bitterness, to ease oneself with the pain of the child, for that is rage and cruelty … Thirdly, it must be done with prayer, that God would give them wise hearts to give due and seasonable correction and their children also soft hearts to receive it humbly and meekly and to their profit.
What must a person say who has stolen but no longer has the means of making restitution?
Yet I resolve with myself and make a covenant with mine own conscience, that if ever I have it, I will pay him and if I had it now, I would defer no longer, he should have it now. In the meantime I will not cease to supply that by my prayers which by reason of poverty is wanting in my payment; that my humble suit to God for him may as much profit him as my sin against God and against him has damaged him.
Who is to be given what when you draw up your will?
Let this be the first and main rule: that those children be best respected which are best, and those have most goods given them that have most grace in their hearts.
No unreal heavenly-mindedness here. Common sense and down-to-earth realism shine out on every page. How are we and how are we not to judge others:
But yet this must be known by the way, that though love will not allow suspicion yet it does not thrust out discretion. It judges not rashly but it judges justly. It is not so sharp-sighted as to see a mote where none is, nor so purblind but it can discern a beam where it is.
And even in matters of what today we might call "spirituality", Dod knows how sinners work. He describes how "Popery" proceeds in trying to win adherents to its false worship:
For as an adulterer will first strive to draw the wife's mind from her husband by accusing his government and dealings as hard and unjust, and afterwards endeavour to entice her to his lure, so it is with these spiritual adulterers. First, they will do what they can to bring us to dislike God's service and his ministers and ministries (as indeed our love to Christ and his Word and ministers is not so hot, for the most part, but that a few clamorous and false accusations will quickly cool it). And then, having withdrawn us from the true worship of God, we are easily caught and persuaded to anything. So that no opinion can be so fantastical and heretical but if the author of it can bring us out of our liking with God's service and his ministers we shall be ready enough to embrace and follow it.
6) … and realistic and thoughtful in regard to human affliction
Christian preaching and living must be active and confident, it is true, and yet this does not mean that they are to be activist or triumphalist. Few groups in the history of the church so far have wrestled as deeply, experientially and systematically with questions of suffering and affliction as the puritans. Compassion, realism and confidence in God mark their treatment of the subject. Dod, again, is typical. Having just described how God blesses obedience, he goes on:
Oh, but this makes me doubt whether I am God's child or not, because I have such long and fiery troubles: if God loved me would he afflict me thus? … [But] … outward ease is no sure sign of God's favour, else none should have been so much in God's favour as the Sodomites, Canaanites and such like: for they had all the ease, wealth, and outward prosperity of the world. … But let us keep God's favour, let us fear him and pray to him and then our long and strong crosses shall bring long and strong comforts.
And since afflictions will come then it is Christian wisdom to prepare for them:
Let us learn hence to prepare for crosses, since God's children may be sore afflicted: else little do we know how they will sting us when they come. It is our best course therefore to get wisdom while the price is in our hands, to labour to get patience and to acquaint ourselves with God, that we may seek him and wait for deliverance at his hands. For that makes crosses tedious and grievous, when they hit us on the bare: whereas if we had patience to bear them and wisdom to make a good use of them, and faith to empty our hearts by prayer, they would be easy. Nothing makes afflictions so burdensome as when they meet with an heart in which remains some sin unrepented or some passion not subdued.
And on the same theme:
Prepare therefore for crosses and we shall be able to bear them. But if we go on in a fool's paradise and think indeed this world is a vale of tears to others but to me it shall be a place of pleasure: they must have trouble but I must have ease: then, when, instead of joy, we find grief that we look not for, and we dream of credit but there comes nothing but contempt; we imagine that God should lift us up higher and higher and he casts us down lower and lower; this casts us into such desperate passions, that we are neither fit to serve God nor man.
7) These things will only be understood and lived if taught plainly and directly
In some ways this is a further element of the action-orientation discussed above: the demand that preachers be "plain". When matters of life and death and more were at stake then clarity and directness were demanded. Never minding the sneers of the elegant rhetoricians, the puritan minister (who was, recall, generally well-acquainted with the original languages and university-educated) was determined that the word of God should be heard by all.
And the godly hearer, marked by the dual conviction that preaching was the release of the Word and that the Word was really that of God, should not be stumbled by the ordinariness of the messenger:
We shall in truth show ourselves to believe, that God is the Author of these words, if we can be content to endure that these precepts should be pressed and urged upon us, though by one that is our inferior, and baser in outward respect then ourselves. … So then, will we show that we do in truth believe that these be the words of God? Then must we, when any man shall press any of these laws upon us, straightways yield and stoop to them, and then in deed we confess that God spoke all these words. But if we begin to shift and cloak and colour, and distinguish, then we declare evidently, that our heart is not persuaded that God is the author of them.
A large part of puritan plainness was directness. Hearers were spiritually sleepy and needed waking up. Dod could hardly be more direct.
On avoiding evil company:
Ministers and other faithful professors … will not willingly come into ill company and among ill persons and hear ill words … because they know the curse of God be on those that do so and fear their own weakness and frailty.
On the use of images as "laymen's books":
But what be the lessons they teach? Even lies. And what get the scholars of these teachers? Even the curse of God.
On theft by stealth:
So many things as a man gets by stealth from his neighbour, so many curses he gets to his soul.
Where lust has dominion, it whets the wit to speak for it, and the devil helps: but if God's Spirit come once, it drives men to a plain confession, and casts down Satan's strongest holds and then lust rules the wit no more.
On whom you serve:
For he that does God's work, he worships God and he that does the Devil's work, he worships the Devil.
When it comes to what we might call illustration, Dod's way is again both plain and direct. When he wishes for examples and stories, he finds them in Scripture and thereby deepens his hearers' knowledge of the Word. When he needs analogies they come not from literature but from everyday life.
On radical dependence upon God as a motive for obedience:
We see, among men if there be one whose estate depends wholly upon his landlord’s courtesy, that may put him out and beggar him when he please, how careful is he to please him and have his favour lest (through his displeasure) he should be turned out of all? So it is with all the men on earth: they be all God’s tenants and that at will: no man holds anything by lease for an hour: our breath is not our own but his. It is at his appointment what shall become of our souls and bodies whether they shall be saved or damned. And he is such a God, whose anger is an eternal anger, and his wrath an eternal wrath, and his plagues everlasting plagues: therefore how careful and diligent should we be to please him? And then we show ourselves to believe his eternal and unchangeable truth, power, justice, goodness and mercy when it is our greatest care to seek his favour and always to endeavour to do the things that are pleasing in his sight.
From the second commandment on the evil of inventing our own ways of worshipping God:
He is a good servant that does his master's will, not his own.
From the eighth commandment on hiding the possessions of others:
A man were as good put a coal of fire into the thatch of his house or in the barn as bring any stolen goods among his goods.
Here, then, we have a presentation of practical Christianity which is theocentric, deeply serious about spiritual realities, and Scripture-saturated. It begins with the depths of a person's heart and extends to action and change in every area of life. It is careful and compassionate in the face of suffering and presented with clarity and energy. These are, in fact, the characteristics of true religion as understood bu the puritans. Dod's Decalogue, that is to say, is a perfect example of puritan practical divinity.
2. Dod's treatment of particular commandments
In his comments on Exodus 20.1-2, Dod gives some "Rules for the better understanding of the whole Law" telling us that the law is spiritual and makes demands upon the inner person; that it is perfect and requires comprehensive obedience; that "whatsoever the law commands, it forbids the contrary"; that "many more evils are forbidden and many more good things are commanded in every commandment than in words is expressed" and that "where the law commands or forbids anything, it commands and forbids all means and occasions leading thereto". In the body of the work he applies these principles thoroughly, yielding a directory for the conduct of the Christian in every area of life.
The First Commandment
Dod's treatment of the first commandment is foundational in content and the most sermonic in style. As he does with all the others he treats the requirements of first commandment as both negative and positive. Negatively,
To have none other gods is, not to have anything whereon we set our delight or which we esteem more than God.
We are commanded four special things: to know God, to love him, to fear him, to trust in him. If we have these things in our hearts, then God bears the sway there and is the chief commander of our souls and bodies.
The Second Commandment
Unsurprisingly, Dod's emphasis in his exposition of the second commandment is anti-Roman. He states a form of the regulative principle of worship and spends much time arguing against the use of images, the Mass, the sign of the cross, prayers to and for the dead, swearing by the Mass, instituting holy days while neglecting the Sabbath, and in any other way showing "fond love" or making oneself wiser than God.
A brief discussion of less ordinary means of worship, namely, fasting, vows and the use of lots leads to a general exhortation to spiritual worship and, in dealing with the phrase, "that love him and keep his commandments", an important discussion of the possibility of true, though not perfect obedience.
The Fourth Commandment
The brother-in-law of the great sabbatarian Nicholas Bownde does not disappoint. He gives more space to the treatment of the fourth commandment than to any other, bar the fifth, and deals with numerous objections to Christian sabbatarianism including the claims that the change of day, or Christ's attitude to the sabbath, or Colossians 2.16, or the ceremonial dimension of the sabbath somehow show that the fourth commandment was dispensed with in a way that the other nine were not.
The Fifth Commandment
Dod bases a discussion of a whole range of social relationships upon the fifth commandment and is typical of Reformed commentators in so doing. He writes of the relative duties of parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, ministers and their congregations, magistrates and their people.
The Sixth Commandment
An outline of the teachings of the sixth commandment is typical of Dod's treatment of others. He divides the requirements of the commandment into things prohibited and things required. The chapter is structured as follows:
1. Things prohibited
a) omission of good
i. to body
§ the omission of works of mercy
§ failure of charity
§ failure to pay wages
§ sodomy and lack of charity are alike
ii. to soul
§ bad ministers are guilty of soul murder
§ fathers must not omit good to the souls of those in their household
§ and masters must seek the spiritual welfare of their servants
b) practice of evil
a) rash anger
· what it is: anger which hinders the doing of good to another or which is conceived without sufficient cause or exceeds in the time or in the measure;
· how to keep from rash anger
1. Meditate upon our own sin and vileness: "None are more eager and passionate against the slips of others than those that are most slack and negligent to examine their own great sins."
2. "Labour to get wisdom always and in every thing to behold God's providence, to see his hand ruling every thing and to persuade ourselves that all things come to pass according to his purpose and direction …”
3. "Avoid the occasions that will provoke us to it."
4. "Mark and observe those that be stirred up with passionate anger, beholding their countenance, how unseemly and disfigured it is, how rude their actions, how absurd their words, how base and contemptible all their behaviour is. And the sight of this in another will be some means to loathe it in himself."
5. "Consider what testimony the word of God gives of this hastiness and of froward and unquiet persons: … so much fury, so much folly; the more chafing, the less wisdom."
6. "Weigh the punishment which it deserves and draws upon us."
· definition of envy: "bitter affection against the prosperity and the pre-eminence of another."
· examples of envy: Cain, Joseph's brothers;
· causes of envy: "The causes are pride, and abundance of self-love, but exceeding want of true love. For love envies not but self-love and pride would have all themselves and think that they are wronged if another have anything more than they."
· the remedy against envy: "The way to keep out this monster is to get store of charity into our hearts for then we are armed and fenced against repining at another's good. When shall you have a loving mother grudge at her child's beauty, goods, good name or such like? When will she think her child does too well and be sorry because he is in so good an estate? Surely never. And why? Because she loves it. And this is a buckler against all envy."
i. to strike to hurt without death
· the wickedness of revenge with regard to the attacked, the attacker and God
ii. actual murder
· secret murder
· all murder
· self-murder, proceeding from pride, unbelief and cruelty
2. Things required
- the parts of meekness
b) construing the best
c) being peaceable
ii. compassion and pity
- the example of Jesus and Paul
- compassion to soul and compassion to body
i. amiable behaviour - modesty and love
ii. defend the oppressed and succour those that suffer wrong
- various failures of this and the excuses given
iii. show mercy to the needy
- store up treasure in heaven to have a merciful and generous heart here
- rules for works of mercy
c) to the household of faith
3. Things to avoid which lead to a breach of the sixth commandment
c) riotousness and drunkenness
On eleven occasions in the book Dod provides his own diagrammed outline, usually representing only one half of his treatment of the commandment in question. Three examples will give a taste:
The Seventh Commandment
Things forbidden in the commandment are
1. Inward - all unchaste lusts
2. Outward [taking a fourfold division from Galatians 5.19 in the Geneva Bible]
A. with others [sodomy and bestiality]
B. with oneself
ii. natural - in marriage
A. entering unlawfully [marrying another of a contrary religion; within
the degrees of consanguinity; without consent of
1. out of time
i. things pertaining to the body
C. sleep etc
ii. body itself in
3. foot etc
B. whole - as in dancing immodestly
The Eighth Commandment
Things forbidden are either
1. Inward - as the desire of the heart
i. ill-using of a man's own goods
1. excess in anything
ii. unjust pursuit of other men's goods by
A. some show or colour of law
1. crafty bargaining
B. some means without colour as
1. by force
The Ninth Commandment
The things commanded are either
1. Inward, contrary to suspicion: a charitable opinion and good hope of our neighbour which must be showed by
a) taking doubtful things in the best part
b) defending his name if we hear him slandered
c) being grieved when we hear true report of his ill deed
a) general, to speak the truth from one's heart and that,
i. with a good affection
ii. to a good end
b) special, touching
i. others - to speak of
A. faults before their face
B. virtue behind their back
ii ourselves - to speak sparingly either of our
A. faults or
B. good deeds
3. Dod's views on law and obedience
John Dod, in respect of the use of Old Testament law, was a mainstream puritan and typically reformed. He believed that the law had a threefold use: to restrain the evil-doer, to drive the sinner to Christ and to instruct the righteous in ways pleasing to God. He believed that law was an inescapable concept in a universe with a God who was neither morally indifferent nor silent. God has standards and reveals those standards and those revealed standards represent authoritative moral demands upon his creatures. He further believed that the Ten Commandments represented a distinct and special summary of God's universal moral law which in addition to being written by the finger of God on stone was also stamped upon the conscience of all humankind. These commandments were specially given to Israel not to show that they were not binding upon all humankind but rather to show that they could only be kept by a redeemed people. No human being, the Lord Jesus Christ excepted, has ever kept these Ten Commandments, the summary of which is the twofold love command, and thus all men and women deserve the curses announced by the law. The Lord Jesus Christ came not to set aside the moral law but rather to keep it, confirm it, expound it and intensify it and to bear the punishment due to the elect for their transgression of it. And more, he came to enable his redeemed people to keep it themselves and thus enjoy the blessings of obedience. The law, after all, was not a malicious imposition of a spiteful tyrant but the loving, righteous, wise instruction of a Fatherly God who loves to bless. Obedience to it by the pardoned and renewed people of God represents the path to true human maturity and to the flourishing not only of individuals but of societies. Those individuals and societies that live by the law of God will enjoy the blessings of God and those that do not will suffer the curse of God. Many times in his life Jesus, who declared that Scripture cannot be broken and who lived by every word that came from the mouth of God, sang, "Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" and "I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments" and "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules". Far from setting aside the law, Jesus by his Spirit causes the law, which his servant Paul calls holy, righteous, good and spiritual and says he delights in in his inner man, to be written upon the hearts of his people. He gives them the new hearts which are essential to a life of loving God which is, of course, a life of obeying his not-burdensome commands. He also gives them all manner of encouragements and motivations to obey, knowing that obedience is a blessing and a delight to the renewed people of God. Those with new hearts will seek to please God with their every thought, word and deed and will pursue universal obedience in the fear and love of God.
The Ten Commandments are expounded in the case law which helps us to understand specific applications. They are spiritual and require heart obedience. They bring positive and negative requirements, touch the inner life and the outer life, direct the individual by himself and in all his roles, responsibilities and relationships. Even now no believer perfectly obeys the requirements of the law - far from it - and yet true and sincere obedience is possible and God is - and does not merely pretend to be - truly pleased with it, rewarding it with all manner of blessings in this life and the next. Such is his providence, however, that the righteous continue to suffer much affliction, which, it should be understood, God allows and uses for their real good; and also that the curse which rests upon the unrighteous is rarely manifest in its full force this side of judgment.
This is the Reformed synthesis and Dod's Decalogue is fully in tune with it. He pays almost no attention to what some would see as "negative" statements about the law on the simple grounds that the law is negative only when misunderstood and misused by sinners. Rightly understood and rightly used by the right people it is nothing but a good gift of a loving God whose will for the faithful, who delight in and constantly meditate upon the law, is prosperity, life, maturity, and true humanness; in a word, blessing.
After this synopsis, let us hear these things in Dod's own words.
The very first sentence of the book, referring to Exodus 20.1-2, makes plain Dod's basic position:
These words contain a preparation to stir us up with all care and conscience to keep the law of God.
"We" are to "keep the law of God", we are to do so "with all care and conscience" and we need to be "stirred up" to do so.
The law in question is expressed in the Ten Commandments which "must be exceedingly reverenced because God’s own voice did speak them" and because "God himself wrote them with his own finger". There is no expression of God's perfect standards for humankind quite like the Ten Commandments. In them there is a
wonderful and perfect holiness [… which] shows who is the maker of them, because there is no good duty, which God bound Adam to perform, but is comprehended and commanded in one of these: and there is no sin that we are bound to abstain from and eschew, which is not forbidden in some of these ten words. It was above the wit of men or angels to contain in so few words, the whole perfection of our duty to God and man.
this law is so absolute, and sets out so full and complete a righteousness, that if one could fulfil them all, he should be fully acceptable to God, and need not flee to Christ to be his Redeemer.
The Ten Commandments summarize the moral law and thus they
are written and engraven in every man’s conscience … for, God has not left himself without witness: but in every man's bosom, and everyone's nature, has planted so much of his law, as will serve to leave them without excuse … Who can raze these laws out of their own consciences, though they do what they can, and strive never to much to extinguish this natural light?
Since this is a summary of the moral law, rather like the twofold love command, then Dod will go so far as to claim that
all the punishments that are at any time inflicted upon the world, have come from the disobedience against this law; and all the mercies and benefits which men enjoy, proceed from the obedience yielded to it. For when God sets down his curses and blessings, do they not run thus? If you observe and keep these Commandments, then you shall be blessed in soul, and body, in children, in cattle, in field, and in all things you put your hand to. Contrariwise, if you will not obey but neglect them, then you shall be cursed in all things.
And Christ did not come to set these laws aside, neither in their substance nor in their (positive and negative) sanctions, but rather:
Christ himself came into the world to keep these laws. For they require a perfect and absolute obedience, as they are perfect; which seeing no man could do, therefore Christ took our flesh upon him to fulfil them; that as Adam by his disobedience had cast us out of Paradise, so he by his obedience, might bring us into heaven: and he came not only to perform them himself fully, but also to make his saints able to obey them, though not in perfection, and without any defect, (for that only he himself could do) yet in truth and sincerity for that he requires of all his members.
The law is spiritual and has intensive reach: "It reaches therefore to the inward parts of every man and lies close upon his conscience."
It is all from God and therefore requires universal obedience:
Though one be no thief, nor adulterer, yet if he be a Sabbath breaker, he breaks the whole law. For if one ask him why do you not commit adultery? and he say, because God commands that I should not; then he would keep the Sabbath also, for they be both alike in the commandments of God: but if it be not because God commands, then he does not obey the law, but serve himself." Therefore he that makes no conscience of all God's laws has no soundness and fidelity in him, because he does not remember that God spoke all these words.
And therefore he has no sound heart that allows himself in the breach of any one, and addicts not himself to keep them all.
Though binding upon all, it is only the redeemed who are able to keep the law truly (and even they, not perfectly) and they also have the strongest incentives for doing so - incentives of redeemed status, covenant relationship with God, and assurance of his goodness towards them:
Almighty indeed I am, infinite, eternal and perfect, yet so as that I abase myself to take care for you, to have a loving heart towards you, and to be your father and to make you my child, to be your husband also and to make you my spouse; one that have promised to give you all good things and to remove all ill things from you: this is to be your God. If God had set down only his infinite majesty and greatness and his glorious incommunicable name, that would have feared us and made us flee from him: but now he encourages us by this, that he is our God and gives us these commandments for our own benefit and because he loves us, to submit ourselves to him and with all willingness to serve him.
The commandments are given for our good
[He] gives us these commandments for our own benefit and because he loves us, to submit ourselves to him and with all willingness to serve him.
And there are, as mentioned above, some important "rules for the better understanding of the whole law," namely,
The first is, that the law is spiritual, reaching to the soul and all the powers thereof. For it charges the understanding to know the will of God: it charges the memory to retain and the will to choose the better and leave the worse. It charges the affection to love the things to be loved and to hate the things to be hated.
Secondly, the law is perfect and requires full obedience of the whole man, not only commanding the soul but the whole soul, not only to know, retain, will and follow good, but also to do the same perfectly. So in condemning evil, it condemns all evil and in commanding good, it commands all good in the fullest measure and longest continuance.
Thirdly, whatsoever the law commands, it forbids the contrary. As where all the false means of God's worship are forbidden, all the true means are commanded. And where the sanctification of God's name is required, there all abuse of his holy name is condemned. And the law that forbids murder and cruelty does as strongly command compassion and mercy: and so all the rest.
Fourthly, many more evils are forbidden and many more good things are commanded in every commandment than in words is expressed: as under idolatry is contained all means of false worship: by killing all hindering of life and all unmercifulness.
Fifthly, where the law commands or forbids anything, it commands and forbids all means and occasions leading thereto: as in the second commandment we are forbidden to be present in body at idolatrous service or to reserve any special monument of idolatry or to be companions with idolaters. And on the contrary we are here required to use good books written according to God's word and to be companions of the true worshippers of God which be special means of keeping this commandment.
Although it is true that these laws were given to Israel on their deliverance from Egypt, the greater deliverance which the new Israel enjoys makes them all the more compelling:
For that is more excellent than the deliverance out of bondage, by how much the state of unregeneration is more grievous than their corporal thraldom. In that, men tyrannized over them; in this, the devil, sin and death. There, the body only was tormented; here the soul deadly wounded. There was some intermission; this is perpetual, day and night. There death made an end of this misery; here it begins it. That was felt, and therefore they were willing to be relieved; this spiritual servitude is not perceived and therefore they will neither seek help nor receive it when it is offered.
And Christians understand the Ten Commandments better than old Israel because "Christ [is] the Law-Maker and therefore also the best expounder of it."
For any foolish enough to think that redemption can be found in the law, there are only two possibilities, which quickly resolve to one: render perfect, total, constant, flawless obedience to each and every law of God in its comprehensive requirement or fall under the curse. When thinking of those redeemed by Christ, however, we may speak in another way. Dod calls it "a sincere (but not perfect) obedience." The issue for the believer is no longer one of perfect obedience or death. Rather it may be one of sincere and true obedience which enjoys the blessing. Dod brings Scripture examples to bear:
Why then should not every Christian hope to be able to yield obedience to God, in whatsoever God commands him? As God witnesses of David that he was a man after his own heart in all things, save in the matter of Uriah: for there he sinned presumptuously, his heart was upright in all things else. And likewise as it is spoken of Zachariah and Elizabeth that they were perfect and unblameable in all things: not that they were quit from all infirmities (or had not their faults as well as other saints) but they were upright and sincere, their heart was true with God and so God can and will give grace unto all his, to obey every one of his commandments with a true and upright obedience.
Dod anticipates the obvious objection:
Some will object that if the love of God consist in the keeping of his commandments then it should seem that none love him because in many things we offend all. But for resolving of this know that there is a great difference between these two, to keep God's commandments and to fulfil his commandments. For keeping denotes a truth, fulfilling a perfection. Perfection, Christ only had; but truth, every Christian must have. … This true keeping must be known by these notes. First, we must aim at all, there must be a full purpose and true desire to keep [each] one … Secondly, this obedience must be done willingly, with a free and cheerful heart … Thirdly, the end of our actions must be good, to show our loyalty to God, to approve our hearts to him in obedience to his commandments and not for any other end or intent of our own.
The obedience of Christians is never perfect but this does not mean that it is not real, nor that God is not truly pleased with it:
He requires not of his children that they should perfectly fulfill his law, for that Jesus Christ has done for them already, but that they should constantly and faithfully endeavour to know and keep it according to that measure of grace and strength which God has given them. If we will stand to be justified by our own righteousness then we must either have perfection or confusion. But if we trust to Christ, then we are under grace and there is mercy in Christ, rewarding all our good, pitying and passing by all our infirmities.
And the announced sanctions still apply:
For in the Law, God threatens that if we be disobedient to him and his commandments, we shall be cursed in soul, body, wife, children, and all that we put our hand to. But, on the other side, if we be upright and with a perfect heart set ourselves to follow God's commandments, then we shall be blessed in soul, body, wife, children and all that belongs to us, so that the blessing of God shall meet us at every turn.
The closing paragraph of the book sums up much what we have just studied:
And so much for the exposition of the law which must serve to this end, that seeing our own unrighteousness and insufficiency, we should be humbled in our souls before the judgment seat of the Almighty, and then to fly to Christ to be our righteousness and sufficiency. And finally, to make this the rule of our life and a lantern to our feet, that though we cannot attain to the perfection which the law requires, yet we may have that uprightness which God accepts in Jesus Christ. For if we have respect to all the Commandments, and labour faithfully to keep them (though we cannot perfectly fulfill them) then shall we constantly enjoy all those blessings and graces which God has promised to his righteous servants, all the days of our life: and when we have finished this short and troublesome pilgrimage, we shall for ever inherit that glorious kingdom which our Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for us with his most precious blood. Unto whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, three persons, and one only wise, holy, and eternal God, be ascribed all power, praise and glory for evermore. Amen.
4. A handful of other gems from Dod's Decalogue
That the puritans ever came to be widely portrayed as sour, holier-than-thou, repressive, world-denying, spiritually proud, pleasure-haters who could never say anything briefly runs so far counter to the truth of the matter that only the father of lies could have generated and nurtured such hostile prejudice. Lovers of Biblical Christianity, who are necessarily lovers of much that the puritans stood and lived for, must fight battles for words and perceptions as well as for hearts and lives. Happily, Dod's Decalogue provides us with some powerful weaponry with which to attack anti-puritan prejudice.
Humility and judgmentalism
Dod's puritanism has no place for Pharisaical judgmentalism:
None are more suspicious of other men's truth and fidelity than they who have been the greatest deceivers and defrauders of others.
When one never examines his own life then he is most ready to pry into another man's conscience and he that (for the most part) spares himself will lay the heaviest load upon another.
James 3.17 - He shows the cause why the best men be never forward to judge nor hasty to pass sentence upon other men even because they, having good hearts and desiring to be as good as they seem to be, have so much to do in fighting and striving with their own corruptions as that they have no leisure to examine other men's dealings which belong not to them, but would rather reform the things which be amiss in themselves.
The godly are not only slow to judge, but also deeply consciousness of sin:
[We have] continual humiliation for that our nature and the whole frame of our soul is such as no minute (almost) goes over our head but some evil and vain motion or other goes through our heart and springs our of the sink and puddle of our flesh.
Enjoying the good gifts of creation
Puritan Dod celebrates the good gifts of creation.
Husbands and wives:
The first duty of the husband is to dwell with his wife: that, since there is a near and dear society between them, and of all others the nearest (for so she is to him as the Church is to Christ, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone) therefore he must be willing constantly and kindly to converse with her, to walk with her, talk with her and let her have all comfortable familiarity with him: that she may see he delights in her company and may well know that of all others she is his most loved and welcome companion … This reproves those foolish men (indeed not worthy to carry the name of husbands) that can take more delight in any vain, riotous and unthrifty company and take more pleasure in any lewd exercises than in the society of the loving and kind wife; that are never so merry as when the wife is absent and never dumpish and churlish but with her. Such also as dwell with hawks and hounds and drunkards and gamesters not with their wives: these shall carry the brand and name of fools.
On the eighth commandment:
They be thieves that will not thankfully use his benefits, but defraud and starve themselves.
Proverbs 21.20: [the wise man] has joy and comfort and a blessing in the use of them and he has not for necessity only but also for delight … for refreshing and recreation.
It is our duty to take part of those things that God has given us and with a thankful and cheerful heart to enjoy his kindness.
It is a most miserable and base thing for one to restrain himself of his lawful liberty in meat, drink, apparel and honest recreation.
And of those who are too busy working or saving to enjoy good things:
This men commonly call good husbandry and thrift for a man to wear out and waste himself with immoderate travail and to pinch and starve his household by miserable sparing; but it is plain theft in the sight of God for one to spend himself and pull a want upon himself when he may live in plenty. God's marks be found upon him for a wicked man and a cursed sinner when he has much but can use nothing … miserable bondslaves to lucre and covetousness.
Real obedience flows from assurance and is a matter of delight
Neither the alleged anxiety nor sourness of puritans find a place with Dod.
The doctrine hence gathered is that if ever we will obey God in soundness then we must know him to be our God, to have a tender care over us, to love us and that we shall speed best when we yield most obedience to him.
Therefore if ever we would yield any cheerful obedience to God, let us labour to feel the truth of that which God speaks, that he is our God, our Saviour, and has done, and always will do more for us, then any other can, and therefore we will obey him above all.
On assurance and obedience:
[Papists make] this a certain point of their religion, that no man stands certain of salvation: and by this means they hinder men from cheerful obedience, and cut off all sound thankfulness.
It is a most tedious thing to a Christian heart to obey the Devil's commandments but most joyous to follow God's … to pray, to hear the Word, to read, confer, or do works of mercy and the rest of that kind, it is even a recreation and delightful exercise for him.
On sabbath-keeping and recreation:
Is it not a recreation for a Christian to hear the voice of Christ.
The shortest way to defeat sin is to embrace righteousness
Joyless repression is no spiritual weapon for Dod. Rather the expulsion of sin is achieved by the glad embrace of what is good for us.
We must labour to get the true and sound knowledge out of his word and a fervent love of him: for till then a man is in danger to fall to idolatry … then we are safe from idols when we have gotten a fervent love of Christ.
Let us learn to set our minds on work always with some good meditation and holy desires and thoughts … if we do not by grace direct our heart towards God and man, corruption will draw it to all disorder and confusion. Therefore it is that many are so troubled with ill motions and continual boiling of ill thoughts because the heart is not busied and taken up with some good thing.
If married persons get fervent and pure love one to the other, this will keep them safe. For it is not the having of a wife but the loving of her that makes a man live chastely … pure love is a gift of God and a spark that comes from heaven and has this virtue to make a man live chastely.
To delight then and rejoice in the pure Word of God and to embrace it in one's heart, this will so satisfy the mind and content the soul with sweet comfort and delight … for no man can live without his delight.
Whilst affirming God's hierarchical ordering of human society, the puritans were no mere social traditionalists.
On the equality of servants and masters:
Both were made in the womb, both had one nature, one Creator and Redeemer. In all the former respects there is no difference of bond or free but there is an equality between the servant and master. The servant, if he be elect and holy has as much right in the blood of Christ and shall have as good part on the glory of Christ in heaven as the master.
On coercive redistribution as theft:
Ill kings would take away the people's vineyards and fields and olives to bestow them on their servants and on whom it pleased them. This is not mercy, nor to be accounted liberality, neither does it deserve any better name than theft.
On the justice of enjoying earnings:
Let the calling be good and the means good and then a man may with a good conscience take the blessing and fruits thereof.
On right regard for servants:
The most contemptible servant in the world is of more worth, by nature, than the most excellent brute beast.
And, briefly …
And finally, Dod, like many another of the great puritan communicators, knew how to be pithy and brief.
On transgressions of the first commandment:
That is every man's God that every man's heart is most set upon.
And self as our chief idol: So that every carnal man sets up himself, he does nothing but seek and serve himself and therefore is his own idol, and another god to himself.
On the need for inward religion:
If we say and swear and protest never so much that we love and fear him, if this be not in our soul, it is not before his face.
Nothing is worse than sin:
One had better therefore die the death than use any bodily gesture of reverence to an idol.
On parents and children:
The best way for any man to do good to his children is to be godly himself.
It is better to be the child of a godly than a wealthy parent.
Every man is a bishop in his own house.
Idleness as theft:
An idle man is a thief to himself: he does that to himself that if another should do it all men would take heed of him for a notorious stealer.
How covetousness gets a grip:
The ground of covetousness is this that men have a false and foolish imagination that wealth will bring some happiness and if they have a great store of riches then they should be in good safety.
Wantonness of the eye:
Reading loving books of dalliance and filthiness … is a kind of contemplative fornication.
Greater and lesser enemies:
So that if Christ have washed us from our sins, the worst and sorest enemy (for all the world cannot wash away one sin) then never fear these less matters.
The hatred of God:
False love is true hatred: and in that they do those things which God hates and forbids, whatever their pretence is, they are haters of God … sinful fond affection is hatred.
The want of them shall not hurt us, if God be with us; for we live by his blessing.
It is no surprise that people travelled for miles to hear this man preach. The clarity and order, the depth and reach, the urgency and considered-ness, the seriousness and joy of his presentation of life with and for God are compelling.
And it is no surprise that Dod’s Decalogue became a seventeenth century bestseller. It was quintessential puritan practical divinity from a master of the art of living to God and teaching others to do the same. John Dod had a profound knowledge both of the Word of God and of the heart of the sinner and was resolved that the one should so impact the other that all of human life should come to be lived under and according to the holy, righteous and good laws of God by men and women who had been pardoned and renewed by his grace in Christ and through the Spirit. Dod’s work was both formative and typical of the puritan approach to the Christian life as well as massively popular in his own day. It provides a fine example and sets a humbling standard for those called to be physicians of the soul by being teachers of the word. And it lays out, for all those who are privileged to read it, a vision of the all-encompassing renewal of the human individual and human society which God brings about in his redeeming and restoring work through his authoritative and life-giving Word.
APPENDIX: DOCTRINES DISPERSED IN THIS BOOK GATHERED TOGETHER
Doctrines out of the Preface
Doctrines out of the first commandment
Doctrines out of the second commandment
Doctrines out of the third commandment
Doctrines out of the fourth commandment
Doctrines out of the fifth commandment
Doctrines out of the sixth commandment
Doctrines out of the seventh commandment
Doctrines out of the eighth commandment
Doctrines out of the ninth commandment
Doctrines out of the tenth commandment
Brook, Benjamin, The Lives of the Puritans, London: James Black, 1813, 3 vols
Clarke, Samuel, Lives of Sundry Modern Divines appended to A General Martyrologie, 1677
Collinson, Patrick, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, London: Jonathan Cape, 1967
Collinson, Patrick, Godly People, London: The Hambledon Press, 1983
Dever, Mark, Richard Sibbes, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2000
Durston, Christopher & Eales, Jacqueline (eds), The Culture of English Puritanism 1560-1700, London: Macmillan, 1996
Haller, William, The Rise of Puritanism, New York: Columbia University Press, 1938
Hulse, Erroll, Who were the Puritans?, Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2000
Kevan, Ernest F., The Grace of Law, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976
Kishlanksy, Mark, A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714, London: Penguin Books, 1997
Knappen, M.M., Tudor Puritanism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939, 1966
Lake, Peter, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982
Morgan, Irvonwy, Prince Charles's Puritan Chaplain, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957
Packer, J.I., A Quest for Godliness, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1990
Parker, Kenneth L., and Carlson, Eric J., "Practical Divinity": The Works and Life of Revd Richard Greenham, Aldershot: Ashgate 1998
Seaver, Paul, The Puritan Lectureships, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970
Shapiro, Barbara J., John Wilkins: An Intellectual Biography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969
Spurr, John, English Puritanism, 1603-90, Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1998
Stephen, Sir Leslie, and Lee, Sir Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, 22 vols, 1908-9
Webster, Tom, Godly Clergy in Early Stuart England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997
 The main seventeenth century source for Dod's life is Samuel Clarke's account in his Lives of Sundry Modern Divines appended to A General Martyrologie, 1677. The outline given here follows that given in DNB with additional details from Brook, Haller, Webster, Eales, Collinson, for which bibliographical details of which, see Further Reading.
 Clarke, Lives p.168-9, cited by Haller, p.56
 Webster, Godly Clergy, p.20
 Cited by Haller, p.58
 Anne was to bear Dod twelve children. After her death he married for a second time.
 M M Knappen, Tudor Puritanism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939, 1966), p.292
 Haller, p.58
 Eales, p.195
 Collinson, Godly People, p.484
 The words are from Webster, Godly Clergy, p.28
 Haller, pp.134-5
 Brook, Lives of the Puritans, vol III, p.6
 Haller, p.132, following Clarke
 Haller, p.60
 Haller, p.58
 Eales, "A Road to Revolution: The Continuity of Puritanism, 1559-1642" in Durston and Eales, Culture (184-209), p.193
 Webster, Godly Clergy, p.50. Hooker gained not only spiritual insight but also a wife from the case: he met, fell in love with and subsequently married Mrs Drake's woman-in-waiting, Susannah Garbrand.
 Haller, p.73
 Seaver, Lectureships, p.265; Webster, Godly Clergy, pp.13, 42
 Webster, Godly Clergy, p.277-8; see also p.169
 Collinson, Godly People, p.516. Clarke's Lives of sundry eminent persons appended to his General Martyrologie would, of course, provide exactly the account which Ashe and Wall sought.
 Webster, Godly Clergy, p.295
 Webster, Godly Clergy, p.234
 Spurr, English Puritanism, p.93
 Dod and Cleaver, A Plain and Familiar Exposition of the Ninth and Tenth Chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon, Epistle Dedicatorie.
 Eales, p.194
 Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, p.456
 Brook, vol III, p.5
 Exposition, A2. All footnotes that follow with nothing other than a page number refer to the Exposition. Spelling has been modernized and some small editorial changes made for the sake of clarity.
 Godly People, p.496
 http://www.mayflowerhistory.com/History/religion.php accessed
 Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory in Practical Works, vol.I, p.732 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 2000)
 William Gamage, Linsi-Woolsie
or two centuries of epigrammes, (
 Epistle Dedicatorie, A3
 See Appendix
 William Ames, Marrow of Sacred Divinity, 1641, p.157
 Ames, Marrow, p.157
 The phrase, of course, is William Ames: Marrow, pp.1-3
 All four of these quotations are from pp.286f.
 Forty years later the Westminster Divines would gives a very similar list of "rules for the right understanding of the ten commandments" in Q.99 of the Larger Catechism
 These six points are all to be found on p.235f.
 See above, 1.a) for the full paragraph
 John Calvin, Institutes, II.vii; Francis Turretin, Institutes, Eleventh Topic; Westminster Confession, Chapter XIX; Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 92-115; William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, 1606; Edward Elton, An Exposition of the Ten Commandments, 1623; William Ames, Marrow of Sacred Divinity, 1641; Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, 1646; Thomas Shepard, Theses Sabbaticae, 1649; James Durham, The Law Unsealed, 1676
 Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), does a fine job of refuting some of the most common errors about the character of puritanism.