Thomas Watson
The Ten Commandments
File 19
(... continued from file 18)

3.1 Man's Inability to keep the Moral Law 
    Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God? 
    No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to 
keep the commandments of God, but does daily break them, in thought, 
word, and deed. 
    'In many things we offend all.' James 3: 2. Man in his 
primitive state of innocence, was endowed with ability to keep the 
whole moral law. He had rectitude of mind, sanctity of will, and 
perfection of power. He had the copy of God's law written on his 
heart; no sooner did God command but he obeyed. As the key is suited 
to all the wards in the lock, and can open them, so Adam had a power 
suited to all God's commands, and could obey them. Adam's obedience 
ran parallel with the moral law, as a well made dial goes exactly 
with the sun. Man in innocence was like a well tuned organ, he was 
sweetly in tune to the will of God; he was adorned with holiness as 
the angels, but not confirmed in holiness as the angels. He was 
holy, but mutable; he fell from his purity, and we with him. Sin cut 
the lock of original righteousness where our strength lay; it 
brought a languor and faintness into our souls; and has so weakened 
us, that we shall never recover our full strength till we put on 
immortality. What I am now to demonstrate, is, that we cannot yield 
perfect obedience to the moral law. 
    I. The case of an unregenerate man is such, that he cannot 
perfectly obey all God's commands. He may as well touch the stars, 
or span the ocean, as yield exact obedience to the law. A person 
unregenerate cannot act spiritually, he cannot pray in the Holy 
Ghost, he cannot live by faith, he cannot do duty out of love to 
duty; and if he cannot do duty spiritually, much less perfectly. 
Now, that a natural man cannot yield perfect obedience to the moral 
law, is evident. (1) Because he is spiritually dead. Eph 2: 1. How 
can he, being dead, keep the commandments of God perfectly? A dead 
man is not fit for action. A sinner has the symptoms of death upon 
him. He has no sense; he has no sense of the evil of sin, of God's 
holiness and veracity; therefore he is said to be without feeling. 
Eph 4: 19. He has no strength. Rom 5: 6. What strength has a dead 
man? A natural man has no strength to deny himself, or to resist 
temptation; he is dead; and can a dead man fulfil the moral law? (2) 
A natural man cannot perfectly keep all God's commandments, because 
he is born in sin, and lives in sin. Psa 51: 5. 'He drinketh 
iniquity like water.' Job 15: 16. All the imaginations of his 
thoughts are evil, and only evil. Gen 6: 5. The least evil thought 
is a breach of the royal law; and if there be defection, there 
cannot be perfection. As a natural man has no power to keep the 
moral law, so he has no will. He is not only dead, but worse than 
dead. A dead man does no hurt, but there is a life of resistance 
against God that accompanies the death of sin. A natural man not 
only cannot keep the law through weakness, but he breaks it through 
wilfulness. 'We will do whatsoever goes out of our own mouth, to 
burn incense unto the queen of heaven.' Jer 44: 17. 
    II. As the unregenerate cannot keep the moral law perfectly, so 
neither can the regenerate. 'There is not a just man upon earth, 
that does good and sinneth not;' nay, that 'sins not in doing good.' 
Eccl 7: 20. There is that in the best actions of a righteous man 
that is damnable, if God should weigh him in the balance of justice. 
Alas! how are his duties fly-blown! He cannot pray without 
wandering, nor believe without doubting. 'To will is present with 
me, but how to perform I find not.' In the Greek it is, 'How to do 
it thoroughly I find not.' Rom 7: 18. Paul, though a saint of the 
first magnitude, was better at willing than at performing. Mary 
asked where they had laid Christ; for she had a mind to have carried 
him away, but she wanted strength: so the regenerate have a will to 
obey God's law perfectly, but they want strength; their obedience is 
weak and sickly. The mark they are to shoot at, is perfection of 
holiness; but though they take a right aim, yet do what they can, 
they come short of the mark. 'The good that I would, I do not.' Rom 
7: 19. A Christian, while serving God, like a ferry man that plies 
the oar, and rows hard, is hindered, for a gust of wind carries him 
back again: so says Paul, 'The good I would, I do not,' I am driven 
back by temptation. Now, if there be any failure in a man's 
obedience, he cannot be a perfect commentary upon God's law. The 
Virgin Mary's obedience was not perfect; she needed Christ's blood 
to wash her tears. Aaron was to make atonement for the altar, to 
show that the most holy offering has defilement in it, and needs 
atonement to be made for it. Exod 29: 37. 
    If a man has no power to keep the whole moral law, why does God 
require it of him? Is this justice? 
    Though man has lost his power of obeying, God has not lost his 
right of commanding. If a master entrusts a servant with money to 
lay out, and the servant spends it dissolutely, may not the master 
justly demand it? God gave us power to keep the moral law, which by 
tampering with sin, we lost; but may not God still call for perfect 
obedience, or, in case of default, justly punish us? 
    Why does God permit such an inability in man to keep the law? 
    He does it: (1) To humble us. Man is a self-exalting creature; 
and if he has but anything of worth, he is ready to be puffed up; 
but when he comes to see his deficiencies and failings, and how far 
short he comes of the holiness and perfection which God's law 
requires, it pulls down the plumes of his pride, and lays them in 
the dust; he weeps over his inability; he blushes over his leprous 
spots; he says with Job, 'I abhor myself in dust and ashes.' (2) God 
lets this inability be upon us, that we may have recourse to Christ 
to obtain pardon for our defects, and to sprinkle our best duties 
with his blood. When a man sees that he owes perfect obedience to 
the law, but has nothing to pay, it makes him flee to Christ to be 
his friend, and answer for him all the demands of the law, and set 
him free in the court of justice. 
    Use one. Here is matter of humiliation for our fall in Adam. In 
the state of innocence we were perfectly holy; our minds were 
crowned with knowledge, and our wills, as a queen, swayed the 
sceptre of liberty; but now we may say, 'The crown is fallen from 
our head.' Lam 5: 16. We have lost that power which was inherent in 
us. When we look back to our primitive glory, when we shone as 
earthly angels, we may take up Job's words, 'Oh that I were as in 
months past!' chap 29: 2. 0 that it were with us as at first, when 
there was no stain upon our virgin nature, when there was a perfect 
harmony between God's law and man's will! But, alas! how is the 
scene altered, our strength is gone from us; we tread awry at every 
step: we come below every precept; our dwarfishness will not reach 
the sublimity of God's law; we fail in our obedience; and while we 
fail, we forfeit. This should put us in deep mourning, and spring a 
leak of sorrow in all our souls. 
    Use two. Of confutation. (1) It confutes the Armenians, who cry 
up the power of the will. They hold they have a will to save 
themselves. But by nature, we not only want strength, but we want 
will to that which is good. Rom 5: 6. The will is not only full of 
weakness, but obstinacy. 'Israel would none of me.' Psa 81: 11. The 
will hangs forth a flag of defiance against God. Such as speak of 
the sovereign power of the will, forget 'It is God that worketh in 
you both to will and to do.' Phil 2: 13. If the power be in the will 
of man, then what need is there for God to work in us to will? If 
the air can enlighten itself, what need is there for the sun to 
shine? Such as talk of the power of nature, and their ability to 
save themselves, disparage Christ's merits. I may say (as Gal 5: 4), 
'Christ has become of no effect to them.' They who advance the power 
of their will in matters of salvation, without the medicinal grace 
of Christ, do absolutely put themselves under the covenant of works. 
I would ask, 'Can they perfectly keep the moral law?' Malum oritur 
ex quolibet defectu [Evil is manifested in any blemish at all]. If 
there be but the least defect in their obedience, they are lost. For 
one sinful thought the law of God curses them, and the justice of 
God condemns them. Confounded be their pride, who cry up the power 
of nature, as if, by their own inherent abilities, they could rear 
up a building, the top whereof should reach to heaven. 
    (2) It confutes that sort of people who brag of perfection; and 
who, according to that principle, can keep all God's commandments 
perfectly. I would ask such whether at no time a vain thought has 
come into their minds? If there has, then they are not perfect. The 
Virgin Mary was not perfect. Though her womb was pure (being 
overshadowed by the Holy Ghost), yet her soul was not perfect. 
Christ tacitly supposes a failing in her. Luke 2: 49. And are they 
more perfect than the blessed Virgin was? Such as hold perfection, 
need not confess sin. David confessed sin, and Paul confessed sin. 
Psa 32: 5; Rom 7: 25. But they are got beyond David and Paul; they 
are perfect, they never transgress; and where there is no 
transgression, what need for confession? Again, if they are perfect, 
they need not ask pardon. They can pay God's justice what they owe; 
therefore, why pray, 'Forgive us our debts'? Oh, that the devil 
should rock men so fast asleep, as to make them dream of perfection! 
Do they plead, 'Let us therefore as many as be perfect be thus 
minded'? Phil 3: 15. Perfection there, is meant of sincerity. God is 
best able to interpret his own word. He calls sincerity perfection. 
'A perfect and an upright man.' Job 1: 8. But who is exactly 
perfect? A man full of diseases may as well say he is healthful, as 
a man full of sins say he is perfect. 
    Use three. For encouragement to regenerate persons. Though you 
fail in your obedience, and cannot keep the moral law exactly, yet 
be not discouraged. 
    What comfort may be given to a regenerate person under the 
failures and imperfections of his obedience? 
    That a believer is not under the covenant of works, but under 
the covenant of grace. The covenant of works requires perfect, 
personal, perpetual obedience; but in the covenant of grace, God 
will make some abatements; he will accept less than he required in 
the covenant of works. (1) In the covenant of works God required 
perfection of degrees; in the covenant of grace he accepts 
perfection of parts. There he required perfect working, here he 
accepts sincere believing. In the covenant of works, God required us 
to live without sin; in the covenant of grace he accepts of our 
combat with sin. (2) Though a Christian cannot, in his own person, 
perform all God's commandments; yet Christ, as his Surety, and in 
his stead, has fulfilled the law for him: and God accepts of 
Christ's obedience, which is perfect, to satisfy for that obedience 
which is imperfect. Christ being made a curse for believers, all the 
curses of the law have their sting pulled out. (3) Though a 
Christian cannot keep the commands of God to satisfaction, yet he 
may to approbation. 
    How is that? 
    (1) He gives his full assent and consent to the law of God. 
'The law is holy and just:' there was assent in the judgement. Rom 
7: 12. 'I consent unto the law;' there was consent in the will. Rom 
7: 16. 
    (2) A Christian mourns that he cannot keep the commandments 
fully. When he fails he weeps; he is not angry with the law because 
it is so strict but he is angry with himself because he is so 
    (3) He takes a sweet complacent delight in the law. 'I delight 
in the law of God after the inward man.' Rom 7: 22. Greek: 'I take 
pleasure in it.' 'O! how love I thy law.' Psa 119: 97. Though a 
Christian cannot keep God's law, yet he loves his law; though he 
cannot serve God perfectly, yet he serves him willingly. 
    (4) It is his cordial desire to walk in all God's commands. 'O 
that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes.' Psa 119: 5. Though 
his strength fails, yet his pulse beats. 
    (5) He really endeavours to obey God's law perfectly; and 
wherein he comes short he runs to Christ's blood to supply his 
defects. This cordial desire, and real endeavour, God esteems as 
perfect obedience. 'If there be a willing mind, it is accepted.' 2 
Cor 8: 12. 'Let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice.' Cant 2: 
14. Though the prayers of the righteous are mixed with sin, yet God 
sees they would pray better. He picks out the weeds from the 
flowers; he sees the faith and bears with the failing. The saints' 
obedience, though short of legal perfection, yet having sincerity in 
it, and Christ's merits mixed with it, finds gracious acceptance. 
When the Lord sees endeavours after perfect obedience, he takes it 
well at our hands; as a father who receives a letter from his child, 
though there be blots in it, and false spellings, takes all in good 
part. Oh! what blotting are there in our holy things; but God is 
pleased to take all in good part. He says, 'It is my child, and he 
would do better if he could; I will accept it.'

Watson, The Ten Commandments
(continued in file 20...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: wat10-19.txt