Thomas Watson
The Ten Commandments
File 8
(... continued from file 7)

2.2 The Second Commandment 
    'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any 
likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the 
earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt 
not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God 
am o jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the 
children unto the third and fourth generation of then that hate me; 
and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my 
commandments.' Exod 20: 4-6. 
    I. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. 
    In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; 
in this, worshipping the true God in a false manner. 
    'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.' This forbids 
not making an image for civil use. 'Whose is this image and 
superscription? They say unto him, It is Caesar's.' Matt 22: 20, 2I. 
But the commandment forbids setting up an image for religious use or 
    'Nor the likeness of any thing,' &c. All ideas, portraitures, 
shapes, images of God, whether by effigies or pictures, are here 
forbidden. 'Take heed lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make the 
similitude of any figure.' Deut 4: 15, 16. God is to be adored in 
the heart, not painted to the eye. 
    'Thou shalt not bow down to them.' The intent of making images 
and pictures is to worship them. No sooner was Nebuchadnezzar's 
golden image set up, but all the people fell down and worshipped it. 
Dan 3: 7. God forbids such prostrating ourselves before an idol. The 
thing prohibited in this commandment is image-worship. To set up an 
image to represent God, is debasing him. If any one should make 
images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his 
prince, would not the prince take it in disdain? What greater 
disparagement to the infinite God than to represent him by that 
which is unite; the living God, by that which is without life; and 
the Maker of all by a thing which is made? 
    [1] To make a true image of God is impossible. God is a 
spiritual essence and, being a Spirit, he is invisible. John 4: 24. 
'Ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake with 
you out of the midst of the fire.' Deut 4: 15. How can any paint the 
Deity? Can they make an image of that which they never saw? Quod 
invisibile est, pingi non potest [There is no depicting the 
invisible]. Ambrose. 'Ye saw no similitude.' It is impossible to 
make a picture of the soul, or to paint the angels, because they are 
of a spiritual nature; much less can we paint God by an image, who 
is an infinite, untreated Spirit. 
    [2] To worship God by an image, is both absurd and unlawful. 
    (1) It is absurd and irrational; for, 'the workman is better 
than the work,' 'He who has builded the house has more honour than 
the house.' Heb 3: 3. If the workman be better than the work, and 
none bow to the workman, how absurd, then, is it to bow to the work 
of his hands! Is it not an absurd thing to bow down to the king's 
picture, when the king himself is present? It is more so to bow down 
to an image of God, when God himself is everywhere present. 
    (2) It is unlawful to worship God by an image; for it is 
against the homily of the church, which runs thus: 'The images of 
God, our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, are of all others the most 
dangerous; therefore the greatest care ought to be had that they 
stand not in temples and churches.' So that image-worship is 
contrary to our own homilies, and affronts the authority of the 
Church of England. Image-worship is expressly against the letter of 
Scripture. 'Ye shall make no graven image, neither shall ye set up 
any image of stone to bow down unto it.' Lev 26: 1. 'Neither shalt 
thou set up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth.' Deut 16: 22. 
'Confounded be all they that serve graven images.' Psa 97: 7. Do we 
think to please God by doing that which is contrary to his mind, and 
that which he has expressly forbidden? 
    [3] Image worship is against the practice of the saints of old. 
Josiah, that renowned king, destroyed the groves and images. 2 Kings 
23: 6, 24. Constantine abrogated the images set up in temples. The 
Christians destroyed images at Baste, Zurich, and Bohemia. When the 
Roman emperors would have thrust images upon them, they chose rather 
to die than deflower their virgin profession by idolatry; they 
refused to admit any painter or carver into their society, because 
they would not have any carved state or image of God. When Seraphion 
bowed to an idol, the Christians excommunicated him, and delivered 
him up to Satan. 
    Use one. The Church of Rome is reproved and condemned, which, 
from the Alpha of its religion to the Omega, is wholly idolatrous. 
Romanists make images of God the Father, painting him in their 
church windows as an old man; and an image of Christ on the 
crucifix; and, because it is against the letter of this commandment, 
they sacrilegiously blot it out of their catechism, and divide the 
tenth commandment into two. Image worship must needs be very impious 
and blasphemous, because it is giving the religious worship to the 
creature which is due to God only. It is vain for Papists to say, 
they give God the worship of the heart, and the image only the 
worship of the body; for the worship of the body is due to God, as 
well as the worship of the heart; and to give an outward veneration 
to an image is to give the adoration to a creature which belongs to 
God only. 'My glory will I not give to another.' Isa 42: 8. 
    The Papists say they do not worship the image, but only use it 
as a medium through which to worship God. Ne imagini quidem Christi 
in quantum est lignum sculptum, ulla debetur reverentia [Not even to 
a statue of Christ is any reverence owed, since it is only a piece 
of carved wood]. Aquinas. 
    (1) Where has God bidden them worship him by an effigy or 
image? 'Who has required this at your hands?' Isa 1: 12. The Papists 
cannot say so much as the devil, Scriptum est: It is written. 
    (2) The heathen may bring the same argument for their gross 
idolatry, as the Papists do for their image-worship. What heathen 
has been so simple as to think gold or silver, or the figure of an 
ox or elephant, was God? These were emblems and hieroglyphics only 
to represent him. They worshipped an invisible God by such visible 
things. To worship God by an image, God takes as done to the image 
    But, say the Papists, images are laymen's books, and they are 
good to put them in mind of God. One of the Popish Councils 
affirmed, that we might learn more by an image than by long study of 
the Scriptures. 
    'What profiteth the graven image, the molten image, and a 
teacher of lies.' Hab 2: 18. Is an image a layman's book? Then see 
what lessons this book teaches. It teaches lies; it represents God 
in a visible shape, who is invisible. For Papists to say they make 
use of an image to put them in mind of God, is as if a woman should 
say she keeps company with another man to put her in mind of her 
    But did not Moses make the image of a brazen serpent? Why, 
then, may not images be set tip? 
    That was done by God's special command. 'Make thee a brazen 
serpent.' Numb 21: 8. There was also a special use in it, both 
literal and spiritual. What! does the setting up of the image of the 
brazen serpent justify the setting up images in churches? What! 
because Moses made an image by God's appointment, may we set up an 
image of our own devising? Because Moses made an image to heal them 
that were stung, is it lawful to set up images in churches to sting 
them that are whole? Nay, that very brazen serpent which God himself 
commanded to be set up, when Israel looked upon it with too much 
reverence, and began to burn incense to it, Hezekiah defaced, and 
called it Nehushtan, mere brass; and God commended him for so doing. 
2 Kings 18: 4. 
    But is not God represented as having hands, and eyes, and cars? 
Why nay we not, then, make an image to represent him, and help our 
    Though God is pleased to stoop to our weak capacities, and set 
himself out in Scripture by eyes, to signify his omniscience, and 
hands to signify his power, yet it is absurd, from such metaphors 
and figurative expressions, to bring an argument for images and 
pictures; for, by that rule, God may be pictured by the sun and the 
element of fire, and by a rock; for he is set forth by these 
metaphors in Scripture; and, sure, the Papists themselves would not 
like to have such images made of God. 
    If it be not lawful to make the image of God the Father, yet 
may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of 
    No! Epiphanies, seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, 
brake it in pieces. It is Christ's Godhead, united to his manhood, 
that makes him to be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when 
we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him to be 
but half Christ - we separate what God has joined, we leave out that 
which is the chief thing which makes him to be Christ. 
    But how shall we conceive of God aright, if we may not make any 
image or resemblance of him? 
    We must conceive of God spiritually. (1) In his attributes - 
his holiness, justice, goodness - which are the beams by which his 
divine nature shines forth. (2) We must conceive of him as he is in 
Christ. Christ is the 'Image of the invisible God' as in the wax we 
see the print of the seal. Col 1: 15. Set the eyes of your faith on 
Christ-God-man. 'He that has seen me, has seen the Father.' John 14: 
    Use two. Take heed of the idolatry of image-worship. Our nature 
is prone to this sin as dry wood to take fire; and, indeed, what 
need of so many words in the commandment: 'Thou shalt not make any 
graven image, or the likeness of anything in heaven, earth, water,' 
sun, moon, stars, male, female, fish; 'Thou shalt not bow down to 
them.' I say, what need of so many words, but to show how subject we 
are to this sin of false worship? It concerns us, therefore, to 
resist this sin. Where the tide is apt to run with greater force, 
there we had need to make the banks higher and stronger. The plague 
of idolatry is very infectious. 'They were mingled among the 
heathen, and served their idols.' Psa 106: 35, 36. It is my advice 
to you, to avoid all occasions of this sin. 
    (1) Come not into the company of idolatrous Papists. Dare not 
to live under the same roof with them, or you run into the devil's 
mouth. John the divine would not be in the has where Cerinthus the 
heretic was. 
    (2) Go not into their chapels to see their crucifixes, or hear 
mass. As looking on a harlot draws to adultery, so looking on the 
popish gilded picture may draw to idolatry. Some go to see their 
idol-worship. A vagrant who has nothing to lose, cares not to go 
among thieves; so such as have no goodness in them, care not to what 
idolatrous places they come or to what temptations they expose 
themselves; but you who have a treasure of good principles about 
you, take heed the popish priests do not rob you of them, and defile 
you with their images. 
    (3) Dare not join in marriage with image-worshippers. Though 
Solomon was a man of wisdom, his idolatrous wives drew his heart 
away from God. The people of Israel entered into an oath and curse, 
that they would not give their daughters in marriage to idolaters. 
Neh 10: 30. For a Protestant and Papist to marry, is to be unequally 
yoked (2 Cor 6: 14); and there is more danger that the Papist will 
corrupt the Protestant, shall hope that the Protestant will convert 
the Papist. Mingle wine and vinegar, the vinegar will sooner sour 
the wine, than the wine will sweeten the vinegar. 
    (4) Avoid superstition, which is a bridge that leads over to 
Rome. Superstition is bringing any ceremony, fancy, or innovation 
into God's worship, which he never appointed. It is provoking God, 
because it reflects much upon his honour, as if he were not wise 
enough to appoint the manner of his own worship. He hates all 
strange fire to be offered in his temple. Lev 10: 1. A ceremony may 
in time lead to a crucifix. They who contend for the cross in 
baptism, why not have the oil, salt, and cream as well, the one 
being as ancient as the other? They who are for altar-worship, and 
will bow to the east, may in time bow to the Host. Take heed of all 
occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil-worship. Psalm 106: 37. 
If you search through the whole Bible, there is not one sin that God 
has more followed with plagues than idolatry. The Jews have a 
saying, that in every evil that befalls them, there is uncia aurei 
vituli, an ounce of the golden calf in it. Hell is a place for 
idolaters. 'For without are idolaters.' Rev 22: 15. Senesius calls 
the devil a rejoicer at idols, because the image-worshippers help to 
fill hell. 
    Use three. That you may be preserved from idolatry and 
image-worship. (1) Get good principles, that you may be able to 
oppose the gainsayer. Whence does the popish religion get ground? 
Not from the goodness of their cause, but from the ignorance of 
their people. (2) Get love to God. The wife that loves her husband 
is safe from the adulterer; and the soul that loves Christ is safe 
from the idolater. (3) Pray that God will keep you. Though it is 
true, there is nothing in an image to tempt (for if we pray to an 
image, it cannot hear, and if we pray to God by an image, he will 
not hear), yet we know not our own hearts, or how soon we may be 
drawn to vanity, if God leaves us. Therefore pray that you be not 
enticed by false worship, or receive the mark of the beast in your 
right hand or forehead. Pray, 'Hold thou me up, and I shall be 
safe.' Psa 119: 117. Lord, let me neither mistake my way for want of 
light, nor leave the true way for want of courage. (4) Let us bless 
God who has given us the knowledge of his truth, that we have tasted 
the honey of his word, and our eyes are enlightened. Let us bless 
him that he has shown us the pattern of his house, the right mode of 
worship; that he has discovered to us the forgery and blasphemy of 
the Romish religion. Let us pray that God will preserve pure 
ordinances and powerful preaching among us. Idolatry came in at 
first by the want of good preaching. The people began to have golden 
images when they had wooden priests. 
    II. I the Lord thy God am a jealous God. The first reason why 
Israel must not worship graven images is, because the Lord is a 
jealous God. 'The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.' 
Exod 34: 14. Jealousy is taken, [1] In a good sense, as God is 
jealous for his people. [2] In a bad sense, as he is jealous of his 
    [1] In a good sense; as God is jealous for his people. 'Thus 
saith the Lord, I am jealous for Jerusalem, and for Zion, with a 
great jealousy.' Zech 1: 14. God has a dear affection for his 
people, they are his Hephzibah, or delight. Isa 62: 4. They are the 
apple of his eye, Zech 2: 8, to express how dear they are to him, 
and how tender he is of them, Nihil carius pupilla oculi [Nothing is 
dearer than the apple of the eye]. Drusius. They are his spouse, 
adorned with jewels of grace; they lie near his heart. He is jealous 
for his spouse, therefore he will be avenged on those who wrong her. 
'The Lord shall stir up jealousy like a man of war; he shall roar, 
he shall prevail against his enemies.' Isa 42: 13. What is done to 
the saints, God takes as done to himself (2 Kings 19: 22); and the 
Lord will undo all that afflict Zion. 'I will undo all that afflict 
thee.' Zeph 3: 19. 
    [2] Jealousy is taken in a bad sense, in which God is jealous 
of his people. It is so taken in this commandment, 'I the Lord thy 
God am a jealous God.' I am jealous lest you should go after false 
gods, or worship the true God in a false manner; lest you defile 
your virgin-profession by images. God will have his spouse to keep 
close to him, and not go after other lovers. 'Thou shalt not be for 
another man' Hos 3: 3. He cannot bear a rival. Our conjugal love, a 
love joined with adoration and worship, must be given to God only. 
    Use one. Let us give God no just cause to be jealous. A good 
wife will be so discreet and chaste, as to give her husband no just 
occasion of jealousy. Let us avoid all sin, especially this of 
idolatry, or image-worship. It is heinous, after we have entered 
into a marriage covenant with God, to prostitute ourselves to an 
image. Idolatry is spiritual adultery, and God is a jealous God, he 
will avenge it. Image-worship makes God abhor a people. 'They moved 
him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he 
was wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel.' Psa 78: 58, 59. 'Jealousy 
is the rage of a man.' Prov 6: 34. Image-worship enrages God; it 
makes God divorce a people. 'Plead with your mother, plead; for she 
is not my wife.' Hos 2: 2. 'Jealousy is cruel as the grave.' Cant 8: 
6. As the grave devours men's bodies, so God will devour 
    Use two. If God be a jealous God, let it be remembered by those 
whose friends are popish idolaters, and who are hated by their 
friends, because they are of a different religion, and perhaps their 
maintenance cut off from them. Oh, remember, God is a jealous God; 
better move your parents to hatred, than move God to jealousy! Their 
anger cannot do you so much hurt as God's. If they will not provide 
for you, God will. 'When my father and my mother forsake me, then 
the Lord will take me up.' Psa 27: 10. 
    III. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children 
unto the third and fourth generation. Here is the second reason 
against image-worship. There is a twofold visiting. There is God's 
visiting in mercy. 'God will surely visit you:' that is, he will 
bring you into the land of Canaan, the type of heaven. Gen 50:25. 
Thus God has visited us with the sunbeams of his favour; he has made 
us swim in a sea of mercy. This is a happy visitation. There is 
God's visiting in anger. 'Shall I not visit for these things?' that 
is, God's visiting with the rod. Jer 5: 9. 'What will ye do in the 
day of visitation?' that is, in the day when God shall visit with 
his judgements. Isa 10: 3. Thus God's visiting is taken in this 
commandment, 'visiting iniquity,' that is, punishing iniquity. 
Observe here three things. 
    [1] That sin makes God visit. 'Visiting iniquity.' Sin is the 
cause why God visits with sickness, poverty, &c. 'If they keep not 
my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with the 
rod.' Psa 89: 31, 32. Sin twists the cords which pinch us; it 
creates all our troubles, is the gall in our cup, and the gravel in 
our bread. Sin is the Trojan horse, the Phaeton that sets all on 
fire; it is the womb of our sorrows, and the grave of our comfort. 
God visits for sin. 
    [2] One special sin for which God's visits, is idolatry and 
image-worship. 'Visiting the iniquity of the fathers.' Most of his 
envenomed arrows have been shot among idolaters. 'Go now unto my 
place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see 
what I did to it.' Jer 7: 12. For Israel's idolatry he suffered 
their army to be routed, their priests slain, the ark taken captive, 
of the returns of which to Shiloh we never read any more. Jerusalem 
was the most famous metropolis of the world; there was the temple. 
'Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord.' Psa 122: 4. But 
for the high places and images, that city was besieged and taken by 
the Chaldean forces. 2 Kings 25: 4. When images were set up in 
Constantinople, the chief seat of the Eastern empire, a city which 
in the eye of the world was impregnable, it was taken by the Turks, 
and many cruelly massacred. The Turks in their triumphs at that time 
reproached the idolatrous Christians, caused an image or crucifix to 
be carried through the streets in contempt, and threw dirt upon it, 
crying, 'This is the god of the Christians.' Here was God's 
visitation for their idolatry. God has set special marks of his 
wrath upon idolaters. At a place called Epoletium, there perished by 
an earthquake 350 persons, while they were offering sacrifice to 
idols. Idolatry brought misery upon the Eastern churches, and 
removed the golden candlesticks of Asia. For this iniquity God 
    [3] Idolatrous persons are enemies not to their own souls only, 
but to their children. 'Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon 
their children.' As an idolatrous father entails his land of 
inheritance, so he entails God's anger and curse upon his children. 
A jealous husband, finding his wife has stained her fidelity, may 
justly cast her offend her children too, because they are none of 
his. If the father be a traitor to his prince, no wonder if all the 
children suffer. God may visit the iniquity of image-worshippers 
upon their children. 
    But is it not said, 'Every man shall die for his own sin; the 
son shall not bear the iniquity of the father?' 2 Chron 25: 4, Ezek 
18: 20. How then does God say, he 'will visit the iniquity of the 
fathers upon the children?' 
    Though the son be not damned, yet he may be severely punished 
for his father's sin. 'God layeth up his iniquity for his children' 
(Job 21: 19); that is, God lays up the punishment of his iniquity 
for his children - the child smarts for the father's sin. Jeroboam 
thought to have established the kingdom by idolatrous worship, but 
it brought ruin upon him, and all his posterity. 1 Kings 14: 10. 
Ahab's idolatry wronged his posterity, which lost the kingdom, and 
were all beheaded. 'They took the king's sons, and slew seventy 
persons.' 2 Kings 10: 7. Here God visited the iniquity of the father 
upon the children. As a son catches an hereditary disease from his 
father, the stone or gout, so he catches misery from him: his 
father's sin ruins him. 
    Use one. How sad is it to be the child of an idolater! It had 
been sad to have been one of Gehazi's children, who had leprosy 
entailed upon them. 'The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee 
and unto thy seed for ever.' 2 Kings 5: 27. So it is sad to be a 
child of an idolater, or image-worshipper; for his seed are exposed 
to heavy judgements in this life. 'God visits the iniquity of the 
fathers upon their children.' Methinks I hear God speak, as in Isa 
14: 21, 'Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of 
their fathers.' 
    Use two. What a privilege it is to be the children of good 
parents. The parents are in covenant with God, and God lays up mercy 
for their posterity. 'The just man walketh in his integrity, his 
children are blessed after him.' Prov 20: 7. A religious parent does 
not procure wrath, but helps to keep off wrath from his child; he 
seasons his child with religious principles, he prays down a 
blessing on it; he is a loadstone to draw his child to Christ by 
good counsel and example. Oh, what a privilege is it to be born of 
godly, religious parents! Augustine says that his mother Monica 
travailed with greater care and pains for his new birth, than for 
his natural. Wicked idolaters entail misery on their posterity; God 
'visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children;' but 
religious parents procure a blessing upon their children; God 
reserves mercy for their posterity. 
    IV. Of them that hate me. Another reason against image-worship 
is, that it is hating God. The Papists, who worship God by an image, 
hate God. Image-worship is a pretended love to God, but God 
interprets it as hating him. Quae diligit alienum odit sponsum, 'she 
that loves another man, hates her own husband.' An image-lover is a 
God hater. Idolaters are said to go a whoring from God. Exod 34: 15. 
How can they love God? I shall show that image-worshippers hate God, 
whatever love they pretend. 
    [1] They who go contrary to his express will hate him. He says, 
you shall not set up any statue, image, nor picture, to represent 
me; these things I hate. 'Neither shalt thou set up any image; which 
the Lord thy God hateth.' Deut 16: 22. Yet the idolater sets up 
images, and worships them. This God looks upon as hating him. How 
does the child love his father that does all it can to cross him? 
    [2] They who turned Jephthah out of doors hated him, therefore 
they laboured to shut him out of his father's house. Judges 11: 7. 
The idolater shuts the truth out of doors; he blots out the second 
commandment; he makes an image of the invisible God; he brings a lie 
into God's worship; which are clear proofs that he hates God. 
    [3] Though idolaters love the false image of God in a picture, 
they hate his true image in a believer. They pretend to honour 
Christ in a crucifix, and yet persecute him in his members. Such 
hate God. 
    Use one. This confutes those who plead for image-worshippers. 
They are very devout people; they adore images; they set up the 
crucifix; kiss it; light candles to it; therefore they love God. 
Nay, but who shall be judge of their love? God says they hate him, 
and give religious adoration to a creature. They hate God, and God 
hates them; and they shall never live with God whom he hates; he 
will never lay such vipers in his bosom. Heaven is kept as paradise, 
with a flaming sword, that they shall not enter in. He 'repayeth 
them that hate him to their face.' Deut. 7: 10. He will shoot all 
his deadly arrows among idolaters. All the plagues and curses in the 
book of God shall befall the idolater. The Lord repays him that 
hates him to his face. 
    Use two. Let it exhort all to flee from Romish idolatry. Let us 
not be among God-haters. 'Little children, keep yourselves from 
idols.' 1 John 5: 21. As you would keep your bodies from adultery, 
keep your souls from idolatry. Take heed of images, they are images 
of jealousy to provoke God to anger; they are damnable. You may 
perish by false devotions as much as by real scandal; by 
image-worship, as by drunkenness and whoredom. A man may die by 
poison as much as a pistol. We may go to hell by drinking poison in 
the Romish cup of fornication, as much as by being pistoled with 
gross and scandalous sins. To conclude, 'God is a jealous God,' who 
will admit of no co-rival; He will 'visit the iniquities of the 
fathers upon their children;' he will entail a plague upon the 
posterity of idolaters. He interprets idolaters to be such as hate 
him. He that is an image-lover is a God-hater. Therefore keep 
yourself pure from Romish idolatry; if you love your souls, keep 
yourselves from idols. 
    V. Showing mercy unto thousands. 
    Another argument against image-worship, is that God is merciful 
to those who do not provoke him with their images, and will entail 
mercy upon their posterity. 'Shewing mercy unto thousands.' 
    The golden sceptre of God's mercy is here displayed, 'shewing 
mercy to thousands.' The heathen thought they praised Jupiter enough 
when they called him good and great. Both excellencies of majesty 
and mercy meet in God. Mercy is an innate propensity in God to do 
good to distressed sinners. God showing mercy, makes his Godhead 
appear full of glory. When Moses said to God, 'I beseech thee, show 
me thy glory;' 'I will,' said God, 'show mercy.' Exod 33: 19. His 
mercy is his glory. Mercy is the name by which he will be known. 
'The Lord passed by, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, 
merciful and gracious.' Exod 34: 6. Mercy proceeds primarily, and 
originally from God. He is called the 'Father of mercies' (2 Cor 1: 
3), because he begets all the mercies which are in the creature. Our 
mercies compared with his are scarcely so much as a drop to the 
    What are the properties of God's mercy? 
    (1) It is free and spontaneous. To set up merit is to destroy 
mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy or force it; we cannot deserve it 
nor force it, because of our enmity. We may force God to punish us, 
but not to love us. 'I will love them freely.' Hos 14: 4. Every link 
in the golden chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free 
grace. Election is free. 'He has chosen us in him according to the 
good pleasure of his will.' Eph 1: 4. Justification is free. 'Being 
justified freely by his grace.' Rom 3: 24. Say not I am unworthy; 
for mercy is free. If God should show mercy only to such as deserve 
it, he must show mercy to none. 
    (2) The mercy which God shows is powerful. How powerful is that 
mercy which softens a heart of stone! Mercy changed Mary Magdalen's 
heart, out of whom seven devils were cast: she who was an inflexible 
adamant was made a weeping penitent. God's mercy works sweetly, yet 
irresistibly; it allures, yet conquers. The law may terrify, but 
mercy mollifies. Of what sovereign power and efficacy is that mercy 
which subdues the pride and enmity of the heart, and beats off those 
chains of sin in which the soul is held. 
    (3) The mercy which God shows is superabundant. 'Abundant in 
goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands.' Exod 34: 6. God 
visits iniquity 'to the third and fourth generation' only, but he 
shows mercy to a thousand generations. Exod 20: 5, 6. The Lord has 
treasures of mercy in store, and therefore is said to be 'plenteous 
in mercy' (Psa 86: 5), and 'rich in mercy' (Eph 2: 4). The vial of 
God's wrath drops only, but the fountain of his mercy runs. The sun 
is not so full of light as God is of love. 
    God has mercy of all dimensions. He has depth of mercy, it 
reaches as low as sinners; and height of mercy, it reaches above the 
    God has mercies for all seasons; mercies for the night, he 
gives sleep; nay, sometimes he gives a song in the night. Psa 42: 8. 
He has also mercies for the morning. His compassions 'are new every 
morning.' Lam 3: 23. 
    God has mercies for all sorts. Mercies for the poor: 'He 
raiseth up the poor out of the dust.' 1 Sam 2: 8. Mercies for the 
prisoner: he 'despiseth not his prisoners.' Psa 69: 33. Mercies for 
the dejected: 'In a little wrath I hid my face from thee but with 
everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.' Isa 54: 8. He has 
old mercies: 'Thy mercies have been ever of old.' Psa 25: 6. New 
mercies: 'He has put a new song in my mouth.' Psa 40: 3. Every time 
we draw our breath we suck in mercy. God has mercies under heaven, 
and those we taste; and mercies in heaven, and those we hope for. 
Thus his mercies are superabundant. 
     (4) The mercy of God is abiding. 'The mercy of the Lord is 
from everlasting to everlasting.' Psa 103: 17. God's anger to his 
children lasts but a while (Psa 103: 9), but his mercy lasts for 
ever. His mercy is not like the widow's oil, which ran awhile, and 
then ceased (2 Kings 4: 6), but overflowing and everflowing. As his 
mercy is without bounds, so is it without end. 'His mercy endureth 
for ever.' Psa 136. God never cuts off the entail of mercy from the 
    In how many ways is God said to show mercy? 
    (1) We are all living monuments of his mercy. He shows mercy to 
us in daily supplying us. He supplies us with health. Health is the 
sauce which makes life sweeter. How would they prize this mercy who 
are chained to a sick-bed! God supplies us with provisions. 'God 
which fed me all my life long.' Gen 48: 15. Mercy spreads our 
tables, and carves for us every bit of bread we cat; we never drink 
but in the golden cup of mercy. 
    (2) God shows mercy in lengthening out our gospel-liberties. 1 
Cor 16: 9. There are many adversaries; many would stop the waters of 
the sanctuary that that they should not run. We enjoy the sweet 
seasons of grace, we hear joyful sounds, we see the goings of God in 
his sanctuary, we enjoy Sabbath after Sabbath; the manna of the word 
falls about our tents, when in other parts of the land there is no 
manna. God shows mercy to us in continuing our forfeited privileges. 
    (3) He shows mercy in preventing many evils from invading us. 
'Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.' Psa 3: 3. God has restrained 
the wrath of men, and been a screen between us and danger; when the 
destroying angel has been abroad, and shed his deadly arrow of 
pestilence, he has kept off the arrow that it has not come near us. 
    (4) He shows mercy in delivering us. 'And I was delivered out 
of the mouth of the lion' (viz., Nero). 2 Tim 4: 17. He has restored 
us from the grave. May we not write the writing of Hezekiah, 'when 
he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness?' Isa 38: 9. 
When we thought the sun of our life was setting God has made it 
return to its former brightness. 
    (5) He shows mercy in restraining us from sin. Lusts within are 
worse than lions without. The greatest sign of God's anger is to 
give men up to their sins. 'So I gave them up to their own hearts' 
lust.' Psa 81: 12. While they sin themselves to hell, God has laid 
the bridle of restraining grace upon us. As he said to Abimelech, 'I 
withheld thee from sinning against me.' Gen 20: 6. So he has 
withheld us from those sins which might have made us a prey to 
Satan, and a terror to ourselves. 
    (6) God shows mercy in guiding and directing us. Is it not a 
mercy for one that is out of the way to have a guide? [1] There is a 
providential guidance. God guides our affairs for us; chalks out the 
way he would have us to walk in. He resolves our doubts, unties our 
knots, and appoints the bounds of our habitation. Acts 17: 26. [2] A 
spiritual guidance. 'Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.' Psa 73: 
24. As Israel had a pillar of fire to go before them, so God guides 
us with the oracles of his word, and the conduct of his Spirit. He 
guides our heads to keep us from error; and he guides our feet to 
keep us from scandal. Oh, what mercy is it to have God to be our 
guide and pilot! 'For thy name's sake, lead me and guide me.' Psa 
31: 3. 
    (7) God shows mercy in correcting us. He is angry in love; he 
smites that he may save. His rod is not a rod of iron to break us, 
but a fatherly rod to humble us. 'He, for our profit, that we might 
be partakers of his holiness.' Heb 12: l0. Either he will mortify 
some corruption, or exercise some grace. Is there not mercy in this? 
Every cross, to a child of God, is like Paul's cross wind, which, 
though it broke the ship, it brought Paul to shore upon the broken 
pieces. Acts 27: 44. 
    (8) God shows mercy in pardoning us, 'Who is a God like unto 
thee, that pardoneth iniquity?' Mic 7: 18. It is mercy to feed us, 
rich mercy to pardon us. This mercy is spun out of the bowels of the 
free grace, and is enough to make a sick man well. 'The inhabitant 
shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be 
forgiven their iniquity.' Isa 33: 24. Pardon of sin is a mercy of 
the first magnitude. God seals the sinner's pardon with a kiss. This 
made David put on his best clothes, and anoint himself. His child 
was newly dead, and God had told him the sword should not depart 
from his house, yet he anoints himself. The reason was that God had 
sent him pardon by the prophet Nathan. 'The Lord has put away thy 
sin.' 2 Sam 12: 13. Pardon is the only fit remedy for a troubled 
conscience. What can give ease to a wounded spirit but pardoning 
mercy? Offer him the honours and pleasure of the world. It is as if 
flowers and music were brought to one that is condemned. 
    How may I know that my sins are pardoned? 
    Where God removes the guilt, he breaks the power of sin. 'He 
will have compassion: he will subdue our iniquities.' Mic 7: 19. 
With pardoning love God gives subduing grace.

Watson, The Ten Commandments
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