In his discussion of the First Commandment in the Enchiridion theologicum, Niels Hemmingsen observes that no man satisfies it–as, indeed, is true of the other nine as well. This should cause the mind “to contemplate its own impurity and to recognize its deserved punishment.”
The punishment our wickedness deserves in general is the curse; specifically, it is that each man is left to himself and his own lusts as long as he remains a “deserter of God” (Dei desertor).
If kept, of course, the commandment would have its rewards: “the favor and mercy of God.” If we truly reckon with our sorry state, we will long for these things, these things that we are unable to acquire due to our disobedience. What, then, are we to do?
We are to flee to Christ, in whom we have all the rewards promised in the Law that we could not obtain:
Deinde praemium praecepti favor Dei est, et misericordia. Verum quia omnes promissiones in Christo Iesu sunt etiam et Amen, tum demum haec legis praemia consequemur, ubi vestiti Christi iusticia in conspectu Patris appareamus.
Next, the reward of the commandment is the favor of God, and his mercy. But because all of the promises are yes and Amen in Christ Jesus, then at last shall we obtain these rewards of the Law, when clothed in the righteousness of Christ we appear in the sight of the Father. (Enchiridion theologicum, p. 150)1
Hemmingsen understands the full force of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1: all of the promises of God, including the promised rewards of obedience to the Law, are yes and Amen in Christ Jesus.
Note the pregnant weight of Hemmingsen’s tum demum. We know the promises and the threats of the Law. We therefore know that we are rightly left to wretchedness and misery because of our sin. And so: where can we get a gracious God? Only in this way: when at last–when finally–we abandon ourselves and all our perverse fantasies of self-sufficiency and throw ourselves wholly on the mercy of God in Christ in order to be clothed with his righteousness. As the great hymn of Joseph Hart has it:
Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.