The Ten Commandments

by Thomas Watson



"O Israel, be quiet and listen! Today you have become the people of the Lord your God. So obey the Lord your God by keeping all these commands and laws that I am giving you today." Deuteronomy 27:9-10

What is the DUTY which God requires of man?

Obedience to his revealed will.

It is not enough to hear God's voice—but we must obey. Obedience is a part of the honor we owe to God. "If then I be a Father, where is my honor?" Mal 1:6. Obedience carries in it, the life-blood of religion. "Obey the Lord your God by keeping all these commands and laws that I am giving you today." Obedience without knowledge is blind, and knowledge without obedience is lame. Rachel was fair to look upon—but, being barren, said, "Give me children, or I die!" Just so, if knowledge does not bring forth the child of obedience, it will die. "To obey is better than sacrifice." 1 Sam 15:22. Saul thought it was enough for him to offer sacrifices, though he disobeyed God's command; but "to obey is better than sacrifice." God disclaims sacrifice, if obedience is lacking. "I spoke not unto your fathers concerning burnt offerings—but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice." Jer 7:22. Not but that God did enjoin those religious rites of worship; but the meaning is that he looked chiefly for obedience—without which, sacrifice was but devout folly! The end why God has given us his laws—is obedience. "You must obey all my regulations and be careful to keep my laws, for I, the Lord, am your God." Lev 18:4. Why does a king publish an edict—but that it may be observed?

What is the RULE of obedience?

The written Word of God. That is proper obedience—which the Word requires. Our obedience must correspond with the Word, as the copy with the original. To seem to be zealous, if it be not according to the Word, is not obedience—but will-worship. Popish traditions which have no footing in the Word, are abominable; and God will say, "Who has required this at your hand?" Isa 1:12. The apostle condemns the worshiping of angels, which had a show of humility. Col 2:18. The Jews might say they were loath to be so bold as to go to God in their own persons; they would be more humble, and prostrate themselves before the angels, and desire them to present their petitions to God; but this show of humility was hateful to God, because there was no Scripture to warrant it.

What are the INGREDIENTS in our obedience, which make it acceptable to God?

(1) It must be FREE and CHEERFUL, or it is penance, not sacrifice. "If you are willing and obedient." Isa 1:19. Though we serve God with weakness, it must be with willingness. You love to see your servants go cheerfully about their work. Under the law, God will have a free-will offering. Deut 16:10. Hypocrites obey God grudgingly, and against their will; they do good but not willingly. Cain brought his sacrifice—but not his heart. It is a true rule—what the heart does not do, is not done. Willingness is the soul of obedience. God sometimes accepts of willingness without the work—but never of the work without willingness. Cheerfulness shows that there is love in the duty. And love is to our services, what the sun is to fruit—it mellows and ripens them, and makes them come off with a better relish.

(2) Obedience must be DEVOUT and FERVENT. "Fervent in spirit," etc. Rom 12:11. As water that boils over; so the heart must boil over with hot affections in the service of God. The glorious angels, who, for burning in fervor and devotion, are called seraphim, are chosen by God to serve him in heaven. The snail under the law was unclean, because it is a dull, slothful creature. Obedience without fervency, is like a sacrifice without fire. Why should not our obedience be lively and fervent? God deserves the flower and strength of our affections. Domitian would not have his statue carved in wood or iron—but made of gold. Lively affections make golden services. It is fervency that makes obedience acceptable. Elijah was fervent in spirit, and his prayer opened and shut heaven; and again he prayed, and fire fell on his enemies. 2 Kings 1:10. Elijah's prayer fetched fire from heaven, because, being fervent, it carried fire up to heaven.

(3) Obedience must be EXTENSIVE, it must reach to all God's commands. "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all your commandments." Psalm 119:6. All God's requirements demand equal effort. There is a stamp of divine authority upon all God's commands,. If I obey one precept because God commands, I must obey all. True obedience runs through all duties of religion, as the blood through all the veins, or the sun through all the signs of the zodiac. A good Christian makes gospel piety and moral equity kiss each other. Herein some discover their hypocrisy: they will obey God in some things which are more easy—and may raise their reputation. But other things they leave undone. "One thing you lack!" Mark 10:21. Herod would hear John Baptist—but not leave his incest. Some will pray—but not give alms; others will give alms—but not pray. "You pay tithe of mint and anise—and have omitted the weightier matters of the law—judgement, mercy and faith." Matt 23:23. The badger has one foot shorter than the other; so these hypocrites are shorter in some duties than in others. God likes not such partial servants, who will do some part of the work he sets them about, and leave the other undone.

(4) Obedience must be SINCERE. We must aim at the glory of God in it. In religion—the end is all. The end of our obedience must not be to stop the mouth of conscience, or to gain applause or preferment; but that we may grow more like God, and bring more glory to him. "Do all to the glory of God." 1 Cor 10:31. That which has spoiled many glorious actions, and made them lose their reward, is, that men's aims have been wrong. The Pharisees gave alms—but blew a trumpet that they might have the glory of men. Matt 6:2. Alms should shine—but not blaze. Jehu did well in destroying the Baal-worshipers, and God commended him for it; but, because his aims were not good (for he aimed at settling himself in the kingdom), God looked upon it as no better than murder. "I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu." Hos 1:4. O let us look to our ends in obedience; it is possible the action may be right, and not the heart. 2 Chron 25:2. Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord—but not with a perfect heart. Two things are chiefly to be eyed in obedience, the principle and the end. Though a child of God shoots short in his obedience, he takes a right aim!

(5) Obedience must be in and through CHRIST. "He has made us accepted in the beloved." Eph 1:6. Not our obedience—but Christ's merits, which procure acceptance with God. In every part of worship we must present Christ to God in the arms of our faith. Unless we serve God thus, in hope and confidence of Christ's merits, we rather provoke him than please him. As, when king Uzziah would offer incense without a priest, God was angry with him, and struck him with leprosy (2 Chron 26:20). Just so, when we do not come to God in and through Christ, we offer up incense to him without a priest, and what can we expect but severe rebukes?

(6) Obedience must be CONSTANT. "Blessed is he who does righteousness at all times." Psalm 106:3. True obedience is not like a high flush of the face, when in a fit—but it is a steady complexion. It is like the fire on the altar, which was always kept burning. Lev 6:13. Hypocrites' obedience is but for a season; it is like plastering work, which is soon washed off; but true obedience is constant. Though we meet with affliction, we must go on in our obedience. "The righteous shall hold on his way." Job 17:9. We have vowed constancy; we have vowed to renounce the pomps and vanities of the world, and to fight under Christ's banner to death. When a servant has entered into covenant with his master, and the indentures are sealed, he cannot go back, he must serve out his time; so there are indentures drawn in baptism, and in the Lord's Supper the indentures are renewed and scaled on our part, that we will be faithful and constant in our obedience; therefore we must imitate Christ, who became obedient unto death. Phil 2:8. The crown is set upon the head of perseverance. "He who keeps my works unto the end, I will give him the morning star." Rev 2:26, 28.

Use 1. This condemns those who live in contradiction to the text, and have cast off the yoke of obedience. "As for the Word that you have spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto you." Jer 44:16. God bids men pray in their family—but they live in the total neglect of it; he bids them sanctify the Sabbath—but they follow their pleasures on that day; he bids them abstain from the appearance of sin—but they do not abstain from the act of sin; they live in the act of revenge, and in the act of uncleanness. This is a high contempt of God; it is rebellion, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.

Why is it, that men do not obey God? They know their duty—but do it not.

(1) The not obeying God is for lack of faith. "Who has believed our report?" Isa 53:1: Did men believe—that sin were so bitter, and that hell followed at the heels of it—would they go on in sin? Did they believe there was such a reward for the righteous, and that godliness was great gain—would they not pursue it? But they are atheists, not fully brought into the belief of these things; hence it is that they obey not. Satan's masterpiece, his dragnet by which he drags millions to hell, is to keep them in unbelief! He knows, if he can but keep them from believing the truth, he is sure to keep them from obeying it.

(2) The not obeying God, is for lack of self-denial. God commands one thing, and men's lusts command another; and they will rather die, than deny their lusts. If lust cannot be denied, God cannot be obeyed.

Use 2. Obey God's voice. This is the beauty of a Christian.

What are the great arguments or incentives to obedience?

(1) Obedience makes us precious to God, his favorites. "Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure!" You shall be my portion, my jewels, the apple of my eye. Exod 19:5. "You are honored, and I love you." Isa 43:4.

(2) There is nothing lost by obedience. To obey God's will is the wav to have our will.

[1] Would we have a blessing in our estates? Let us obey God. "If you shall hearken to the voice of the Lord, to do all his commandments, blessed shall you be in the field: blessed shall be your basket and your store." Deut 28:1, 3, 5. To obey is the best way to thrive in your estates.

[2] Would we have a blessing in our souls? Let us obey God. "Obey, and I will be your God." Jer 7:23. My Spirit shall be your guide, sanctifier, and comforter. Christ "became the author of eternal salvation unto all those who obey him." Heb 5:9. While we please God with our obedience, we also please ourselves. While we give him the duty—he gives us the dowry. You lose nothing by obeying God. The obedient son has the inheritance settled on him. Obey, and you shall have a kingdom. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32.

(3) Disobedience is a great sin!

[1] Disobedience is an IRRATIONAL sin. We are not able to stand it out, in defiance against God. "Are we stronger than he?" Will the sinner go to measure arms with God? 1 Cor 10:22. He is God Almighty, who can command legions of angels. If we have no strength to resist him—it is irrational to disobey him.

It is irrational, as it is against all law and equity. We have our daily subsistence from him; in him we live and move. Is it not just that as we live by him, we should live to him? that as he gives us our allowance, so we should give him our allegiance?

[2] Disobedience is a DESTRUCTIVE sin. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who obey not the gospel." 2 Thess 1:7, 8. He who refuses to obey God's will in commanding, shall be sure to obey his will in punishing! While the sinner thinks to slip the knot of obedience, he twists the cord of his own damnation, and he perishes without excuse. "The servant which knew his lord's will, neither did according to his will—shall be beaten with many stripes!" Luke 12:47. God will say, "Why did you not obey? you knew how to do good—but did not; therefore your blood is upon your own head."

Use 3. What MEANS shall we use that we may obey?

(1) Serious consideration. Consider, that God's commands are not grievous: he commands nothing unreasonable. 1 John 5:3. It is easier to obey the commands of God, than the commands of sin. The commands of sin are burdensome—let a man be under the power of any lust, how he tires himself! what hazards he runs, even to endangering his health and soul, that he may satisfy his lusts! "They weary themselves to commit iniquity;" and are not God's commands more easy to obey? Chrysostom says, "Virtue is easier than vice; temperance is less burdensome than drunkenness." Some have gone with less pains to heaven—than others to hell!

God commands nothing but what is beneficial. "And now, Israel, what does the Lord require of you—but to fear the Lord your God, and to keep his statutes, which I command you this day, for your good." Deut 10:12, 13. To obey God, is not so much our duty—as our privilege; his commands carry food in the mouth of them. He bids us repent—and why? That our sins may be blotted out. Acts 3:19. He commands us to believe—and why? That we may be saved. Acts 16:31. There is love in every command. It is as if a king should bid one of his subjects dig in a gold mine, and then keep the gold for himself.

(2) Earnest supplication. Implore the help of the Spirit to carry you on in obedience. God's Spirit makes obedience easy and delightful. If the loadstone draws the iron—it is not hard for it to move; so if God's Spirit quickens and draws the heart—it is not hard to obey. When a gale of the Spirit blows, we go full sail in obedience. Turn his promise into a prayer. "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." Ezek 36:27. The promise encourages us, the Spirit enables us to obey.


The rule of obedience being the moral law, comprehended in the Ten Commandments; the next question is: What is the SUMMARY of the Ten Commandments?

"You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5

The summary of the Ten Commandments is love. The duty called for is love, yes, the strength of love, "with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength." God will lose none of our love. Love is the soul of religion, and that which constitutes a real Christian. Love is the queen of graces; it shines and sparkles in God's eye, as the precious stones on the breastplate of Aaron.

What is love?

It is a holy fire kindled in the affections, whereby a Christian is carried out strongly after God as the supreme good.

What is the antecedent of love to God?

The antecedent of love is knowledge. The Spirit shines upon the understanding, and reveals the beauties of wisdom, holiness, and mercy in God; and these are the loadstone to entice and draw out love to God. Those who do no know God, cannot love him. If the sun has set in the understanding, there must needs be night in the affections.

Wherein does the formal nature of love consist?

The nature of love consists in delighting in an object. "The lover's delight in his beloved," Aquinas. This is loving God, to take delight in him. "Delight yourself also in the Lord" (Psalm 37:4), as a bride delights herself in her jewels. Grace changes a Christian's aims and delights.

How must our love to God be qualified?

(1) If it is a sincere love, we love God with all our heart. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart." God will have the whole heart. We must not divide our love between him, and sin. The true mother would not have the child divided, nor will God have the heart divided; it must be the whole heart.

(2) We must love God for himself, for his own intrinsic excellencies. We must love him for his loveliness. "It is a harlot's love to love the portion, more than the person." Hypocrites love God because he gives them corn and wine. The sincere Christian loves God for himself; for those shining perfections which are in him. Gold is loved for itself.

(3) We must love God with all our might, in the Hebrew text, "with all our vehemency." We must love God, as much as we are able. Christians should be like seraphim, burning in holy love. We can never love God as much as he deserves. Even the angels in heaven cannot love God as much as he deserves.

(4) Love to God must be active in its sphere. Love is an industrious affection! It sets the head studying for God, hands working, feet running in the ways of his commandments. It is called the labor of love. 1 Thess 1:3. Mary Magdalene loved Christ, and poured her ointments on him. We think we never do enough, for the person whom we love.

(5) Love to God must be superlative. God is the essence of beauty, a whole paradise of delight. He must have a priority in our love. Our love to God must be above all other things—as the oil swims above the water. We must love God above estate and relations. Great is the love to relations. There is a story in the French Academy, of a daughter, who, when her father was condemned to die by hunger, gave him suck with her own breasts. But our love to God must be above father and mother. Matt 10:37. We may give the creature the milk of our love—but God must have the cream! The spouse keeps the juice of her pomegranates, for Christ. Canticles 8:2.

(6) Our love to God must be constant, like the fire which the Vestal virgins kept in Rome, which did not go out. Love must be like the motion of the pulse, which beats as long as there is life. "Many waters cannot quench love," not the waters of persecution. Canticles 8:7. "Rooted in love." Eph 3:17. A branch withers, which does not grow on a root; so love, that it may not die, must be well rooted.

What are the visible SIGNS of true love to God?

1. If we love God—our desire will be after him. "The desire of our soul is to your name." Isa 26:8. He who loves God, breathes after communion with him. "My soul thirsts for the living God." Psalm 42:2. People in love desire to be often conferring together. He who loves God, desires to be much in his presence. He loves the ordinances: they are the looking-glass where the glory of God is resplendent; in the ordinances we meet with him whom our souls love; we have God's smiles and whispers, and some foretastes of heaven. Such as have no desire after ordinances, have no love to God.

2. He who loves God—cannot find contentment in anything without him. Give a hypocrite who pretends to love God corn and wine—and he can be content without God; but a soul fired with love to God, cannot be without him. Lovers faint away, if they have not a sight of the object loved. A gracious soul can do without health—but cannot do without God, who is the health of his countenance. Psalm 43:5. If God should say to a soul that entirely loves him, "Take your ease, swim in pleasure, solace yourself in the delights of the world; but you shall not enjoy my presence;" this would not content it. Nay, if God should say, "I will let you be taken up to heaven—but I will retire into another room, and you shall not see my face;" it would not content the soul. It is hell to be without God. The philosopher says there can be no gold without the influence of the sun; certainly there can be no golden joy in the soul, without God's sweet presence and influence.

3. He who loves God—hates that which would separate between him and God—and that is sin. Sin makes God hide his face; therefore, the keenness of a Christian's hatred is set against it. "I hate every false way." Psalm 119:128. Antipathies can never be reconciled; one cannot love health—but he must hate poison; so we cannot love God—but we must hate sin, which would destroy our communion with him.

4. The fourth visible sign of love to God—is sympathy. Friends who love, grieve for the evils which befall each other. Homer, describing Agamemnon's grief, when he was forced to sacrifice his daughter, brings in all his friends weeping with him, and accompanying him to the sacrifice, in mourning. Lovers grieve together. If we have true love in our heart to God, we cannot but grieve for those things which grieve him; we shall lay to heart his dishonors; the luxury, drunkenness, contempt of God and true religion. "Rivers of waters run down my eyes," etc. Psalm 119:136. Some speak of the sins of others, and laugh at them; but they surely have no love to God—who can laugh at that which grieves his Spirit! Does he love his father who can laugh to hear him reproached?

5. He who loves God—labors to render him lovely to others. He not only admires God—but speaks in his praises, that he may allure and draw others to be in love with him. She that is in love, will commend her lover. The lovesick spouse extols Christ, she makes a praiseful oration of his worth, that she might persuade others to be in love with him. "My lover is dark and dazzling, better than ten thousand others! His head is the finest gold, and his hair is wavy and black. His eyes are like doves beside brooks of water; they are set like jewels. His cheeks are like sweetly scented beds of spices. His lips are like perfumed lilies. His breath is like myrrh. His arms are like round bars of gold, set with chrysolite. His body is like bright ivory, aglow with sapphires. His legs are like pillars of marble set in sockets of the finest gold, strong as the cedars of Lebanon. None can rival him. His mouth is altogether sweet; he is lovely in every way! Such, O women of Jerusalem, is my Lover, my Friend." Song of Songs 5:10-16

True love to God cannot be silent, it will be eloquent in setting forth his renown. There is no better sign of loving God—than to make him appear lovely, and to draw converts to him.

6. He who loves God—weeps bitterly for his absence. Mary comes weeping, "They have taken away my Lord!" John 20:13. One cries, "My health is gone!" another, "My estate is gone!" but he who is a lover of God, cries out, "My God is gone! I cannot enjoy him whom I love!" What can all worldly comforts do, when once God is absent? It is like a funeral banquet, where there is much food—but no cheer. "I went mourning without the sun." Job 30:28. If Rachel mourned greatly for the loss of her children, what pencil can shadow out the sorrow of that Christian who has lost God's sweet presence? Such a soul pours forth floods of tears; and while it is lamenting, seems to say thus to God, "Lord, you are in heaven, hearing the melodious songs and triumph of angels; but I sit here in the valley of tears, weeping because you are gone. Oh, when will you come to me, and revive me with the light of your countenance! Or, Lord, if you will not come to me, let me come to you, where I shall have a perpetual smile of your face in heaven and shall never more complain—that My beloved has withdrawn himself."

7. He who loves God—is willing to do and suffer for him. He subscribes to God's commands, he submits to his will. He subscribes to his commands. If God bids him mortify sin, or love his enemies, or be crucified to the world—he obeys. It is a vain thing for a man to say he loves God—and slight his commands! He submits to his will. If God would have him suffer for him, he does not dispute—but obeys. "Love endures all things." 1 Cor 13:7. Love made Christ suffer for us—and love will make us suffer for him. It is true that every Christian is not a martyr, but he has a spirit of martyrdom in him; he has a disposition of mind to suffer, if God calls him to it. "I am ready to be offered." 2 Tim 4:6. Not only the sufferings were ready for Paul—but he was ready for the sufferings. Origin chose rather to live in exile, than to deny the faith, and be great in the prince's favor. Rev 12:11. Many say they love God—but will not suffer the loss of anything for him. If Christ would have said to us, "I love you well, you are dear to me—but I cannot suffer for you, I cannot lay down my life for you," we would have questioned his love very much; and may not the Lord question ours, when we pretend love to him—but will endure nothing for his sake?

Use one. What shall we say to those who have not a grain of love in their hearts to God? They have their life from him—yet do not love him. He spreads their table every day—yet they do not love him. Sinners dread God as a judge—but do not love him as a father. All the strength in the angels cannot make the heart love God; judgements will not do it. Omnipotent grace alone, can make a stony heart melt in love to God. How sad is it to be void of love to God. When the body is cold, and has no heat, it is a sign of death. Just so, he is spiritually dead—who has no heat of love in his heart to God. Shall such live with God—who do not love him? Will God lay an enemy in his bosom? Those who will not be drawn with cords of love—shall be bound in chains of darkness!

Use two. Let us be persuaded to love God with all our heart and might. O let us take our love off from other things, and place it upon God. Love is the heart of religion, the fat of the offering; it is the grace which Christ inquires most after. "Simon do you love me?" John 21:15. Love makes all our services acceptable, it is the musk which perfumes them. It is not so much duty, as love to duty, which God delights in; therefore serving and loving God are put together. Isa 56:6. It is better to love him than to serve him. Obedience without love, is like wine without the spirits. O then, be persuaded to love God with all your heart and might.

(1) It is nothing but your love, which God desires. The Lord might have demanded your children to be offered in sacrifice; he might have bid you cut and lance yourselves, or lie in hell awhile! But he only desires your love—he would only have this flower. Is it a hard request, to love God? Was ever any debt easier paid than this? Is it any labor for the wife to love her husband? Love is delightful. "Love must by definition be sweet." Bernard. What is there in our love—that God should desire it? Why would a king desire the love of a woman who is in debt and diseased? God does not need our love. There are angels enough in heaven to adore and love him! What is God the better for our love? It adds not the least cubit to his essential blessedness. He does not need our love, and yet he seeks it. Why does he desire us to give him our heart? Prov 23:26. Not that he needs our heart—but that he may make it better.

(2) Great will be our advantage if we love God. He does not court our love—that we should lose by it. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the things which God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Cor 2:9. If you will love him, you shall have such a reward as exceeds your imagination. He will betroth you to himself in the dearest love. "I will betroth you unto me forever, in loving kindness and in mercies." Hos 2:19. "The Lord your God will rest in his love, he will joy over you with singing." Zeph 3:17. If you love God, he will give you an interest in all his riches and glories; he will give you heaven and earth for your dowry; he will set a crown on your head. Vespasian the emperor gave a great reward to a woman who came to him, and professed she loved him; but God gives a crown of eternal life to those who love him. James 1:12.

(3) Love is the only grace that shall live with us in heaven. In heaven we shall need no repentance, because we shall have no sin. We shall need no faith, because we shall see God face to face. But love to God shall abide forever. "Love never fails." 1 Cor 13:8. How should we nourish this grace which shall outlive all the graces, and run parallel with eternity!

(4) Our love to God, is a sign of his love to us. "We love him because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19. By nature we have no love to God; we have hearts of stone. Ezek 36:26. And how can any love be in hearts of stone? Our loving him—is a result of his loving us. If the glass burn, it is because the sun has shone on it; so if our hearts burn in love, it is a sign the Sun of Righteousness has shone upon us.

Use three. What shall we do in order to love God aright?

(1) Wait on the preaching of the Word. As faith comes by hearing, so does love. The Word sets forth God in his incomparable excellencies; it deciphers and pencils him out in all his glory, and a sight of his beauty inflames love.

(2) Beg of God that he will give you a heart to love him. When king Solomon asked wisdom of God, it pleased the Lord. 1 Kings 3:10. So, when you cry to God, "Lord give me a heart to love you, it is my grief I can love you no more!" Surely this prayer will please the Lord, and he will pour out his Spirit upon you. His golden oil will make the lamp of your love burn bright.

(3) You who have love to God, keep it flaming upon the altar of your heart. Love, like fire, is ever ready to go out. "You have left your first love." Rev 2:4. Through neglect of duty, or too much love of the world, our love to God will cool. O preserve your love to him. As you would be careful to preserve the natural heat in your body, so be careful to preserve the heat of love to God in your soul. Love is like oil to the wheels, it quickens us in God's service. When you find love abate and cool, use all means to quicken it. When the fire is going out, you throw on fuel; so when the flame of love is going out, make use of the ordinances as sacred fuel to keep the fire of your love burning!