Thomas Watson
The Ten Commandments
File 6
(... continued from file 5)

1.4 The Right Understanding of the Law 
'Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.' Exod 20: 3. 
    Before I come to the commandments, I shall answer questions, 
and lay down rules respecting the moral law. 
    What is the difference between the moral laud and the gospel? 
    (1) The law requires that we worship God as our Creator; the 
gospel, that we worship him in and through Christ. God in Christ is 
propitious; out of him we may see God's power, justice, and 
holiness: in him we see his mercy displayed. 
    (2) The moral law requires obedience, but gives no strength (as 
Pharaoh required brick, but gave no straw), but the gospel gives 
strength; it bestows faith on the elect; it sweetens the law; it 
makes us serve God with delight. 
    Of what use is the moral law to us? 
    It is a glass to show us our sins, that, seeing our pollution 
and misery, we may be forced to flee to Christ to satisfy for former 
guilt, and to save from future wrath. 'The law was our schoolmaster 
to bring us unto Christ. Gal 3: 24. 
    But is the moral law still in force to believers; is it not 
abolished to them? 
    In some sense it is abolished to believers. (1) In respect of 
justification. They are not justified by their obedience to the 
moral law. Believers are to make great use of the moral law, but 
they must trust only to Christ's righteousness for justification; as 
Noah's dove made use of her wings to fly, but trusted to the ark for 
safety. If the moral law could justify, what need was there of 
Christ's dying? (2) The moral law is abolished to believers, in 
respect of its curse. They are freed from its curse and condemnatory 
power. 'Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made 
a curse for us.' Gal 3: Is. 
    How was Christ made a curse for us? 
    Considered as the Son of God, he was not made a curse, but as 
our pledge and surety, he was made a curse for us. Heb 7: 22. This 
curse was not upon his Godhead, but upon his manhood. It was the 
wrath of God lying upon him; and thus he took away from believers 
the curse of the law, by being made a curse for them. But though the 
moral law be thus far abolished, it remains as a perpetual rule to 
believers. Though it be not their Saviour, it is their guide. Though 
it be not foedus, a covenant of life; yet it is norma, a rule of 
life. Every Christian is bound to conform to it; and to write, as 
exactly as he can, after this copy. 'Do we then make void the law 
through faith? God forbid.' Rom 3: 31. Though a Christian is not 
under the condemning power of the law, yet he is under its 
commanding power. To love God, to reverence and obey him, is a law 
which always binds and will bind in heaven. This I urge against the 
Antinomians, who say the moral law is abrogated to believers; which, 
as it contradicts Scripture, so it is a key to open the door to all 
licentiousness. They who will not have the law to rule them, shall 
never have the gospel to save them. 
    Having answered these questions, I shall in the next place, lay 
down some general rules for the right understanding of the 
Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. These may serve to give us some 
light into the sense and meaning of the commandments. 
    Rule I. The commands and prohibitions of the moral law reach 
the heart. (1) The commands of the moral law reach the heart. The 
commandments require not only outward actions, but inward 
affections; they require not only the outward act of obedience, but 
the inward affection of love. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with 
all thine heart.' Deut 6: 5. 
    (2) The threats and prohibitions of the moral law reach the 
heart. The law of God forbids not only the act of sin, but the 
desire and inclination; not only does it forbid adultery, but 
lusting (Matt 5: 28): not only stealing, but coveting (Rom 7: 7). 
Lex humana ligat manum, lex divina comprimit animam 'Man's law binds 
the hands only, God's law binds the heart.' 
    Rule 2. In the commandments there is a synecdoche, more is 
intended than is spoken. (1) Where any duty is commanded, the 
contrary sin is forbidden. When we are commanded to keep the 
Sabbath-day holy, we are forbidden to break the Sabbath. When we are 
commanded to live in a calling, 'Six days shalt thou labour,' we are 
forbidden to live idly, and out of a calling. 
    (2) Where any sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded. 
When we are forbidden to take God's name in vain, the contrary duty, 
that we should reverence his name, is commanded. 'That thou mayest 
fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord Thy God.' Deut 28: 58. 
Where we are forbidden to wrong our neighbour, there the contrary 
duty, that we should do him all the good we can, by vindicating his 
name and supplying his wants, is included. 
    Rule 3. Where any sin is forbidden in the commandment, the 
occasion of it is also forbidden. Where murder is forbidden, envy 
and rash anger are forbidden, which may occasion it. Where adultery 
is forbidden, all that may lead to it is forbidden, as wanton 
glances of the eye, or coming into the company of a harlot. 'Come 
not nigh the door of her house.' Prov 5: 8. He who would be free 
from the plague, must not come near the infected house. Under the 
law the Nazarite was forbidden to drink wine; nor might he eat 
grapes of which the wine was made. 
    Rule 4. In relato subintelligitur correlatum. Where one 
relation is named in the commandment, there another relation is 
included. Where the child is named, the father is included. Where 
the duty of children to parents is mentioned, the duty of parents to 
children is also included. Where the child is commanded to honour 
the parent, it is implied that the parent is also commanded to 
instruct, to love, and to provide for the child. 
    Rule 5. Where greater sins are forbidden, lesser sins are also 
forbidden. Though no sin in its own nature is little, yet one may be 
comparatively less than another. Where idolatry is forbidden, 
superstition is forbidden, or bringing any innovation into God's 
worship, which he has not appointed. As the sons of Aaron were 
forbidden to worship an idol, so to sacrifice to God with strange 
fire. Lev 10: 1. Mixture in sacred things, is like a dash in wine, 
which though it gives a colour, yet does but debase and adulterate 
it. It is highly provoking to God to bring any superstitious 
ceremony into his worship which he has not prescribed; it is to tax 
God's wisdom, as if he were not wise enough to appoint the manner 
how he will be served. 
    Rule 6. The law of God is entire. Lex est copulativa [The law 
is all connected]. The first and second tables are knit together; 
piety to God, and equity to our neighbour. These two tables which 
God has joined together, must not be put asunder. Try a moral man by 
the duties of the first table, piety to God, and there you will find 
him negligent; try a hypocrite by the duties of the second table, 
equity to his neighbour, and there you will find him tardy. If he 
who is strict in the second table neglects the first, or he who is 
zealous in the first, neglects the second, his heart is not right 
with God. The Pharisees were the highest pretenders to keeping the 
first table with zeal and holiness; but Christ detects their 
hypocrisy: 'Ye have omitted judgement, mercy and faith.' Matt 23: 
23. They were bad in the second table; they omitted judgement, or 
being just in their dealings; mercy in relieving the poor; and 
faith, or faithfulness in their promises and contracts with men. God 
wrote both the tables, and our obedience must set a seal to both. 
    Rule 7. God's law forbids not only the acting of sin in our own 
persons, but being accessory to, or having any hand in, the sins of 
    How and in what sense may we be said to partake of, and have a 
hand in the sins of others? 
    (1) By decreeing unrighteous decrees, and imposing on others 
that which is unlawful. Jeroboam made the people of Israel to sin; 
he was accessory to their idolatry by setting up golden calves. 
Though David did not in his own person kill Uriah, yet because he 
wrote a letter to Joab, to set Uriah in the forefront of the battle, 
and it was done by his command, he was accessory to Uriah's death, 
and the murder of him was laid by the prophet to his charge. 'Thou 
hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword.' 2 Sam 12: 9. 
    (2) We become accessory to the sins of others by not hindering 
them when it is in our power. Qui non prohibit cum potest, jubet 
[The failure to prevent something, when it lies within your power, 
amounts to ordering it]. If a master of a family see his servant 
break the Sabbath, or hear him swear, and does not use the power he 
has to suppress him, he becomes accessory to his sin. Eli, for not 
punishing his sons when they made the offering of the Lord to be 
abhorred, made himself guilty. 1 Sam 3: 13, 14. He that suffers an 
offender to pass unpunished, makes himself an offender. 
    (3) By counselling, abetting, or provoking others to sin. 
Ahithophel made himself guilty of the fact by giving counsel to 
Absalom to go in and defile his father's concubines. 2 Sam 16: 21. 
He who shall tempt or solicit another to be drunk, though he himself 
be sober, yet being the occasion of another's sin, he is accessory 
to it. 'Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest 
thy bottle to him.' Hab 2: 15. 
    (4) By consenting to another's sin. Saul did not cast one stone 
at Stephen, yet the Scripture says, 'Saul was consenting unto his 
death.' Acts 8: 1. Thus he had a hand in it. If several combined to 
murder a man, and should tell another of their intent, and he should 
give his consent to it, he would be guilty; for though his hand was 
not in the murder, his heart was in it; though he did not act it, 
yet he approved it, and so it became his sin. 
    (5) By example. Vivitur exemplis [We live by example]. Examples 
are powerful and cogent. Setting a bad example occasions another to 
sin, and so a person becomes accessory. If the father swears, and 
the child by his example, learns to swear, the father is accessory 
to the child's sin; he taught him by his example. As there are 
hereditary diseases, so there are hereditary sins. 
    Rule 8. The last rule about the commandments is, that though we 
cannot, by our own strength, fulfil all these commandments, yet 
doing quod posse, what we are able, the Lord has provided 
encouragement for us. There is a threefold encouragement. 
    (1) That though we have not ability to obey any one command, 
yet God has in the new covenant, promised to work that in us which 
he requires. 'I will cause you to walk in my statutes.' Ezek 36: 27. 
God commands us to love him. Ah, how weak is our love! It is like 
the herb that is yet only in the first degree; but God has promised 
to circumcise our hearts, that we may love him. Deut 30: 6. He that 
commands us, will enable us. God commands us to turn from sin, but 
alas! we have not power to turn; therefore he has promised to turn 
us, to put his Spirit within us, and to turn the heart of stone into 
flesh. Ezek 36: 26. There is nothing in the command, but the same is 
in the promise. Therefore, Christian, be not discouraged, though 
thou hast no strength of thy own, God will give thee strength. The 
iron has no power to move, but when drawn by the loadstone it can 
move. 'Thou hast wrought all our works in us.' Isa 26: 12. 
    (2) Though we cannot exactly fulfil the moral law, yet God for 
Christ's sake will mitigate the rigour of the law, and accept of 
something less than he requires. God in the law requires exact 
obedience, yet will accept of sincere obedience; he will abate 
something of the degree, if there be truth in the inward parts. He 
will see the faith, and pass by the failing. The gospel remits the 
severity of the moral law. 
    (3) Wherein our personal obedience comes short, God will be 
pleased to accept us in our Surety. 'He has made us accepted in the 
Beloved.' Eph 1: 6. Though our obedience be imperfect, yet, through 
Christ our Surety, God looks upon it as perfect. That very service 
which God's law might condemn, his mercy is pleased to crown, by 
virtue of the blood of our Mediator. Having given you these rules 
about the commandments, I shall come next to the commandments 

Watson, The Ten Commandments
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file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: wat10-06.txt