If there was any concern about these commandments getting too abstract, this eight mandate blows that completely away. For although the command is very abstract (restrain yourself from doing evil works, and don’t restrain yourself from doing good works), the bulk of the text in this section is focused on listing examples of bad and good works! Let’s look at these lists and compare them to what we see in Scripture.
Restrain yourself from evil deeds such as…
- adultery & fornication (Gal. 5:19)
- unlawful revelling (Gal. 5:21)
- wicked luxury – when externals get excessive, cf. I Peter 3
- indulgence in many kinds of foods and the extravagance of riches -“sensuality” in Gal. 5:19
- boastfulness and haughtiness (Gal. 5:25)
- insolence (Prov. 13:10)
- lies (Ex. 20:16)
- backbiting (spite) (Prov. 25:23)
- hypocrisy (I Peter 2:1-3)
- remembrance of wrong (Matt. 6:14)
- slander (2nd Mandate)
- also theft, lying, robbery, false witness, overreaching, wicked lust, deceit, vainglory, boastfulness, and all other similar vices.
Do not restrain yourself from doing good works such as…
- faith (4th Vision)
- fear of the Lord (7th Mandate)
- concord (peace) (Rom. 12:8)
- words of righteousness (I Thess. 5:11)
- truth (Eph. 4:15)
- patience (Gal. 5:22)
- helping widows (Acts 6)
- looking after orphans and the needy (James 1:27, James 2:15-16)
- rescuing the servants of God from necessities (I Cor. 12:24-26)
- being hospitable (Heb. 13:2)
- never opposing anyone (Matt. 5)
- being quiet (Matt. 6:1-2)
- having fewer needs than all men (Phil. 4:11-12)
- reverencing the aged/elders (I Pet. 5:5)
- practicing righteousness (I John 3)
- watching the brotherhood – “watching” seems to have the idea of guarding or observing or participating in, cf. Acts 2:42 or Heb. 10:24-25
- bearing insolence, being longsuffering (I Pet. 4:13-14)
- encouraging those who are sick in soul (Matt. 25:36 or James 5:14)
- not casting those who have fallen into sin from the faith, but turning them back and restoring them to peace of mind (Matt. 18 or II Cor. 5:18-20)
- admonishing sinners (Col. 3:16)
- not oppressing debtors and the needy (Matt. 18)
- and if there are any other actions like these.
Roman Catholic tradition has made some nice lists of good works which look quite similar to the Biblical lists, and do better at summing things up quickly than Hermas does:
Corporal Works of Mercy (corporal refers to bodily needs):
- To feed the hungry
- To give drink to the thirsty.
- To shelter the homeless.
- To clothe the naked.
- To visit and ransom the captive, (prisoners).
- To visit the sick.
- To bury the dead.
Spiritual Acts of Mercy:
- Instruct the uninformed
- Counsel the doubtful;
- Admonish sinners;
- Bear wrongs patiently;
- Forgive offenses willingly;
- Comfort the afflicted;
- Pray for the living, the sick and the dead.
All of these are included in Hermas‘ exceedingly long lists except for #7 of each list. Hermas doesn’t mention burying the dead or praying for anyone. Of course, it’s fair to say that both of these things fall under the final category of “any other actions like these.” Honestly, I’m much more fond of shorter categorized lists, like the Corporal & Spiritual Acts of Mercy lists, but sometimes it can be helpful to look at much longer stream-of-consciousness lists like in Hermas to remind myself of just how widely these good works can be specifically carried out.