With Every Good Intention
S. M. Hutchens on the Ninth Commandment
If the commandments are approached with the intention to follow them, they lead us into terminal stages of hypocrisy or despair, or to faith. It becomes clear soon enough that no one can follow them perfectly; there are always breaches, and our conscience convicts us of them. Hypocrisy is the result when we pretend to carry out the commandments while doing what we know deep within us is wrong.
Despair is what happens to those who cannot or will not pretend they are obeying the commandments but see no hope for themselves before a righteous God. There are many who appear as unbelievers who really believe in God but are in despair. Thoreau’s “quiet desperation” is often that of the lapsed Puritan—the man with high standards who has enough respect for God to know his own standards aren’t high enough. He is, to my mind, more noble (though not less wrong) than the man who defines sin down so he can enjoy Christian Perfection.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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