The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
2. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
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 a 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 xx 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 xxii 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 iv 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 iii 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?
 To make a true image of God is impossible. God is a
spiritual essence and, being a Spirit, he is invisible. John iv 24.
'Ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake with
you out of the midst of the fire.' Deut iv 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.
 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 iii 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 xxvi 1. 'Neither shalt
thou set up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth.' Deut xvi 22.
'Confounded be all they that serve graven images.' Psa xcvii 7. Do we
think to please God by doing that which is contrary to his mind, and
that which he has expressly forbidden?
 Image worship is against the practice of the saints of old.
Josiah, that renowned king, destroyed the groves and images. 2 Kings
xxiii 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 xlii 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 i 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
'What profiteth the graven image, the molten image, and a
teacher of lies.' Hab ii 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 up?
That was done by God's special command. 'Make thee a brazen
serpent.' Numb xxi 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 xviii 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 i 15. Set the eyes of your faith on
Christ-God-man. 'He that has seen me, has seen the Father.' John 14
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 cvii 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
(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 x 30. For a Protestant and Papist to marry, is to be unequally
yoked (2 Cor vii 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 x 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 cvii 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 xxii 15. Senesius calls
the devil a rejoicer at idols, because the image-worshippers help to
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 cxix 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 xxxiv 14. Jealousy is taken,  In a good sense, as God is
jealous for his people.  In a bad sense, as he is jealous of his
 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 i 14. God has a dear affection for his
people, they are his Hephzibah, or delight. Isa lxii 4. They are the
apple of his eye, Zech ii 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 xlii 13. What is done to
the saints, God takes as done to himself (2 Kings xix 22); and the
Lord will undo all that afflict Zion. 'I will undo all that afflict
thee.' Zeph iii 19.
 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 iii 3. He cannot bear a rival. Our conjugal love, a
love joined with adoration and worship, must be given to God only.
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 lxxviii 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 ii 2. 'Jealousy is cruel as the grave.' Cant 8
6. As the grave devours men's bodies, so God will devour
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 xxvii 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 l25.
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 v 9. 'What will ye do in the
day of visitation?' that is, in the day when God shall visit with
his judgements. Isa x 3. Thus God's visiting is taken in this
commandment, 'visiting iniquity,' that is, punishing iniquity.
Observe here three things.
 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 lxxxix 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.
 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 vii 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 cxxii 4. But
for the high places and images, that city was besieged and taken by
the Chaldean forces. 2 Kings xxv 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
 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 xxv 4, Ezek
xviii 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 xxi 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 xiv 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 x 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.
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 v 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
xiv 21, 'Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of
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 xx 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 xxxiv 15.
How can they love God? I shall show that image-worshippers hate God,
whatever love they pretend.
 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 xvi 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?
 They who turned Jephthah out of doors hated him, therefore
they laboured to shut him out of his father's house. Judges xi 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.
 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
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. vii 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.
Let it exhort all to flee from Romish idolatry. Let us
not be among God-haters. 'Little children, keep yourselves from
idols.' 1 John v 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 xxxiii 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 xxxiv 6. Mercy proceeds primarily, and
originally from God. He is called the 'Father of mercies' (2 Cor i
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 xiv 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 i 4. Justification is free. 'Being
justified freely by his grace.' Rom iii 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 xxxiv 6. God
visits iniquity 'to the third and fourth generation' only, but he
shows mercy to a thousand generations. Exod xx 5, 6. The Lord has
treasures of mercy in store, and therefore is said to be 'plenteous
in mercy' (Psa lxxxvi 5), and 'rich in mercy' (Eph ii 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 xlii 8.
He has also mercies for the morning. His compassions 'are new every
morning.' Lam iii 23.
God has mercies for all sorts. Mercies for the poor 'He
raiseth up the poor out of the dust.' 1 Sam ii 8. Mercies for the
prisoner he 'despiseth not his prisoners.' Psa lxix 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 liv 8. He has
old mercies 'Thy mercies have been ever of old.' Psa xxv 6. New
mercies 'He has put a new song in my mouth.' Psa xl 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 cvi 17. God's anger to his
children lasts but a while (Psa ciii 9), but his mercy lasts for
ever. His mercy is not like the widow's oil, which ran awhile, and
then ceased (2 Kings iv 6), but overflowing and everflowing. As his
mercy is without bounds, so is it without end. 'His mercy endureth
for ever.' Psa cxxxvi. 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 xlviii 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 xvi 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 iii 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 iv 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 xxxviii 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 xx 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?  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 xvii 26.  A
spiritual guidance. 'Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.' Psa lxxiii
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
(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 xii 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 vii 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 xxxiii 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 xii 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 vii 19.
With pardoning love God gives subduing grace.
(9) God shows his mercy in sanctifying us. 'I am the Lord which
sanctify you.' Lev xx 8. This is the partaking of the divine
nature. 2 Pet i 4. God's Spirit is a spirit of consecration; though
it sanctify us but in part, yet it is in every part. 1 Thess v 23.
It is such a mercy that God cannot give it in anger. If we are
sanctified, we are elected. 'God has chosen you to salvation through
sanctification.' 2 Thess ii 13. This prepares for happiness, as the
seed prepares for harvest. When the virgins had been anointed and
perfumed, they were to stand before the king (Esth ii 12); so, when
we have had the anointing of God, we shall stand before the King of
(10) God shows mercy in hearing our prayers. 'Have mercy upon
me, and hear my prayer.' Psa iv 1. Is it not a favour, when a man
puts up a petition to the king, to have it granted? So when we pray
for pardon, adoption, and the sense of God's love, it is a signal
mercy to have a gracious answer. God may delay an answer, and yet
not deny. You do not throw a musician money at once, because you
love to hear his music. God loves the music of prayer, but does not
always let us hear from him at once; but in due season gives an
answer of peace. 'Blessed be God, which has not turned away my
prayer, nor his mercy from me.' Psa lxvi 20. If God does not turn
away our prayer, he does not turn away his mercy.
(11) God shows mercy in saving us. 'According to his mercy he
saved us.' Titus iii 5. This is the top-stone of mercy, and it is
laid in heaven. Here mercy displays itself in all its orient
colours. Mercy is mercy indeed, when God perfectly refines us from
all the lees and dregs of corruption; when our bodies are made like
Christ's glorious body, and our souls like the angels. Saving mercy
is crowning mercy. It is not merely to be freed from hell, but
enthroned in a kingdom. In this life we desire God, rather than
enjoy him; but what rich mercy will it be to be fully possessed of
him, to see his smiling face, and to lay us in his bosom! This will
fill us with 'joy unspeakable and full of glory.' 1 Peter i 8. 'I
shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.' Psa xvii 15.
Let us not despair. What an encouragement we have here
to serve God. He shows mercy to thousands. Who would not be willing
to serve a prince who is given to mercy and clemency? God is
represented with a rainbow round about him, as an emblem of his
mercy. Rev iv 3. Acts of severity are forced from God; judgement is
his strange work. Isa xxviii 21. The disciples, who are not said to
wonder at the other miracles of Christ, did wonder when the fig-tree
was cursed and withered, because it was not his manner to put forth
acts of severity. God is said to delight in mercy. Mic vii 18.
Justice is God's left hand mercy is his right hand. He uses his
right hand most; he is more used to mercy than to justice. Pronior
est Deus ad parcendum quam ad puniendum [God is more inclined to
mercy than to punishment]. God is said to be slow to anger (Psa ciii
8), but ready to forgive. Psa lxxxvi 5. This may encourage us to serve
him. What argument will prevail, if mercy will not? Were God all
justice, it might frighten us from him, but his mercy is a loadstone
to draw us to him.
Hope in God's mercies. 'The Lord taketh pleasure in
them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.' Psa cxlvii 11.
He counts it his glory to scatter pardons among men.
But I have been a great sinner and sure there is no mercy for
Not if thou goest on in sin, and art so resolved; but, if thou
wilt break off thy sins, the golden sceptre of mercy shall be held
forth to thee. 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and let him return
unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him.' Isa lv 7. Christ's
blood is 'a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.' Zech xiii
1. Mercy more overflows in God, than sin in us. His mercy can drown
great sins, as the sea covers great rocks. Some of the Jews who had
their hands imbrued in Christ's blood, were saved by that blood. God
loves to magnify his goodness, to display the trophies of free
grace, and to set up his mercy in spite of sin. Therefore, hope in
Labour to know that God's mercy is for you. He is
'the God of my mercy.' Psa. lix 17. A man who was being drowned,
seeing a rainbow, said, 'What am I the better, though God will not
drown the world, if I am drowned?' So, what are we the better,
though God is merciful, if we perish? Let us labour to know God's
special mercy is for us.
How shall we know it belongs to us?
(1) If we put a high value and estimate upon it. He will not
throw away his mercy on them that slight it. We prize health, but we
prize adopting mercy more. This is the diamond ring; it outshines
all other comforts.
(2) If we fear God, if we have a reverend awe upon us, if we
tremble at sin, and flee from it, as Moses did from his rod turned
into a serpent. 'His mercy is on them that fear him.' Luke i 50.
(3) If we take sanctuary in God's mercy, we trust in it as a
man saved by catching hold of a cable. God's mercy to us is a cable
let down from heaven. By taking fast hold of this by faith, we are
saved. 'I trust in the mercy of God for ever.' Psa lii 8. As a man
trusts his life and goods in a garrison, so we trust our souls in
How shall we get a share in God's special mercy?
(1) If we would have mercy, it must be through Christ. Out of
Christ no mercy is to be had. We read in the old law, that none
might come unto the holy of holies, where the mercy-seat stood, but
the high-priest to signify that we have nothing to do with mercy
but through Christ our High-priest; that the high-priest might not
come near the mercy-seat without blood, to show that we have no
right to mercy, but through the expiatory sacrifice of Christ's
blood, Lev xvi 14; that the high-priest might not, upon pain of
death, come near the mercy-seat without incense, Lev xvi 13, to show
that there is no mercy from God without the incense of Christ's
intercession. If we would have mercy, we must get a part in Christ.
Mercy swims to us through Christ's blood.
(2) If we would have mercy, we must pray for it. 'Show us thy
mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.' Psa lxxxv 7. 'Turn thee
unto me, and have mercy upon me.' Psa xxv 16. Lord, put me not off
with common mercy; give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but
mercy to pardon me; not only sparing mercy, but saving mercy. Lord,
give me the cream of thy mercies; let me have mercy and loving
kindness. 'Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender
mercies.' Psa ciii 4. Be earnest suitors for mercy; let your wants
quicken your importunity. We pray most fervently when we pray most
VI. Of them that love me.
God's mercy is for them that love him. Love is a grace that
shines and sparkles in his eye, as the precious stone upon Aaron's
breastplate. Love is a holy expansion or enlargement of soul, by
which it is carried with delight after God, as the chief good.
Aquinas defines love - Complacentia amantis in amato; a complacent
delight in God, as our treasure. Love is the soul of religion; it is
a momentous grace. If we had knowledge as the angels, or faith of
miracles, yet without love it would profit nothing. 1 Cor xiii 2.
Love is 'the first and great commandment.' Matt. xxii 38. It is so,
because, if it be wanting, there can be no religion in the heart;
there can be no faith, for faith works by love. Gal v 6. All else
is but pageantry, or a devout compliment. It meliorates and sweetens
all the duties of religion, it makes them savoury meat, without
which God cares not to taste them. It is the first and great
commandment, in respect of the excellence of this grace. Love is the
queen of graces; it outshines all others, as the sun the lesser
planets. In some respects it is more excellent than faith; though in
one sense faith is more excellent, virtute unionis, as it unites us
to Christ. It puts upon us the embroidered robe of Christ's
righteousness, which is brighter than any the angels wear. In
another sense it is more excellent, respectu durationis, in respect
of the continuance of it it is the most durable grace; as faith and
hope will shortly cease, but love will remain. When all other
graces, like Rachel, shall die in travail, love shall revive. The
other graces are in the nature of a lease, for the term of life
only; but love is a freehold that continues for ever. Thus love
carries away the garland from all other graces, it is the most
long-lived grace, it is a bud of eternity. This grace alone will
accompany us in heaven.
How must our love to God be characterised?
(1) Love to God must be pure and genuine. He must be loved
chiefly for himself; which the schoolmen call amor amicitiae. We
must love God, not only for his benefits, but for those intrinsic
excellencies with which he is crowned. We must love God not only for
the good which flows from him, but for the good which is in him.
True love is not mercenary, he who is deeply in love with God, needs
not be hired with rewards, he cannot but love God for the beauty of
his holiness; though it is not unlawful to look for benefits. Moses
had an eye to the recompense of reward (Heb xi 26); but we must not
love God for his benefits only, for then it is not love of God, but
(2) Love to God must be with all the heart. 'Thou shalt love
the Lord thy God with all thy heart.' Mark xii 30. We must not love
God a little, give him a drop or two of our love; but the main
stream must flow to him. The mind must think of God, the will choose
him, the affections pant after him. The true mother would not have
the child divided, nor will God have the heart divided. We must love
him with our whole heart. Though we may love the creature, yet it
must be a subordinate love. Love to God must be highest, as oil
swims above the water.
(3) Love to God must be flaming. To love coldly is the same as
not to love. The spouse is said to be amore perculsa, 'sick of
love.' Cant ii 5. The seraphim are so called from their burning
love. Love turns saints into seraphim; it makes them burn in holy
love to God. Many waters cannot quench this love.
How may we know whether we love God?
(1) He who loves God desires his presence. Lovers cannot be
long asunder, they soon have their fainting fits, for want of a
sight of the object of their love. A soul deeply in love with God
desires the enjoyment of him in his ordinances, in word, prayer, and
sacraments. David was ready to faint away and die when he had not a
sight of God. 'My soul fainteth for God.' Psa lxxxiv 2. Such as care
not for ordinances, but say, When will the Sabbath be over? plainly
discover want of love to God.
(2) He who loves God, does not love sin. 'Ye that love the
Lord, hate evil.' Psa xcvii 10. The love of God, and the love of sin,
can no more mix together than iron and clay. Every sin loved,
strikes at the being of God; but he who loves God, has an antipathy
against sin. He who would part two lovers is a hateful person. God
and the believing soul are two lovers; sin parts between them,
therefore the soul is implacably set against it. By this try your
love to God. How could Delilah say she loved Samson, when she
entertained correspondence with the Philistine, who were his mortal
enemies? How can he say he loves God who loves sin, which is God's
(3) He who loves God is not much in love with anything else.
His love is very cool to worldly things. His love to God moves
swiftly, as the sun in the firmament; to the world it moves slowly,
as the sun on the dial. The love of the world eats out the heart of
religion; it chokes good affections, as earth puts out the fire. The
world was a dead thing to Paul. 'The world is crucified unto me and
I to the world.' Gal vi 14. In Paul we may see both the picture and
pattern of a mortified man. He that loves God, uses the world but
chooses God. The world is his pension, but God is his portion. Psa
cxix 57. The world engages him, but God delights and satisfies him.
He says as David, 'God my exceeding joy,' the gladness or cream of
my joy. Psa xliii 4.
(4) He who loves God cannot live without him. Things we love we
cannot be without. A man can do without music or flowers, but not
food; so a soul deeply in love with God looks upon himself as undone
without him. 'Hide not thy face from me, lest I be like them that go
down into the pit.' Psa cxliii 7. He says as Job, 'I went mourning
without the sun;' chap. xxx xxviii. I have starlight, I want the Sun of
Righteousness; I enjoy not the sweet presence of my God. Is God our
chief good, and we cannot live without him? Alas! how do they show
they have no love to God who can do well enough without him! Let
them have but corn and oil, and you shall never hear them complain
of the want of God.
(5) He who loves God will be at any pains to get him. What
pains the merchant takes, what hazards he runs, to have a rich
return from the Indies! Extremos currit mercator ad Indos [The
merchant races to the farthest Indies]. Jacob loved Rachel, and he
could endure the heat by day, and the frost by night, that he might
enjoy her. A soul that loves God will take any pains for the
fruition of him. 'My soul followeth hard after thee.' Psa lxiii 8.
Love is pondus animae [the pendulum of the soul]. Augustine. It is
as the weight which sets the clock going. It is much in prayer,
weeping, fasting; it strives as in agony, that he may obtain him
whom his soul loves. Plutarch reports of the Gauls, an ancient
people of France, that after they had tasted the sweet wine of
Italy, they never rested till they had arrived at that country. He
who is in love with God, never rests till he has a part in him. 'I
will seek him whom my soul loveth.' Cant iii 2. How can they say they
love God, who are not industrious in the use of means to obtain him?
'A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom.' Prov xix 24. He is
not in agony, but lethargy. If Christ and salvation would drop as a
ripe fig into his mouth, he would be content to have them; but he is
loath to put himself to too much trouble. Does he love his friend,
who will not undertake a journey to see him?
(6) He who loves God, prefers him before estate and life. 
Before estate. 'For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.'
Phil iii 8. Who that loves a rich jewel would not part with a flower
for it? Galeacius, marquis of Vico, parted with a fair estate to
enjoy God in his pure ordinances. When a Jesuit persuaded him to
return to his popish religion in Italy, promising him a large sum of
money, he said, 'Let their money perish with them who esteem all the
gold in the world worth one day's communion with Jesus Christ and
his Holy Spirit.'  Before life. 'They loved not their lives unto
the death.' Rev xii 2 Love to God carries the soul above the love
of life and the fear of death.
(7) He who loves God loves his favourites, the saints. 1 John
v 1. Idem est motus animi in imaginem et rem [The mind reacts to
the likeness of an object just as it does to the object itself]. To
love a man for his grace, and the more we see of God in him, the
more we love him, is an infallible sign of love to God. The wicked
pretend to love God, but hate and persecute his image. Does he love
his prince who abuses his statue, or tears his picture? They seem
indeed to show great reverence to saints departed; they have great
reverence for St. Paul, and St. Stephen, and St. Luke; they canonise
dead saints, but persecute living saints; and do they love God? Can
it be imagined that he loves God who hates his children because they
are like him? If Christ were alive again, he would not escape a
(8) If we love God we cannot but be fearful of dishonouring
him, as the more a child loves his father the more he is afraid to
displease him, and we weep and mourn when we have offended him.
'Peter went out and wept bitterly.' Matt xxvi 75. Peter might well
think that Christ dearly loved him when he took him up to the mount
where he was transfigured, and showed him the glory of heaven in a
vision. That he should deny Christ after he had received such signal
tokens of his love, broke his heart with grief 'He wept bitterly.'
Are our eyes dropping tears of grief for sin against God? It is a
blessed evidence of our love to God; and such shall find mercy. 'He
shows mercy to thousands of them that love him.
Let us be lovers of God. We love our food, and shall we
not love him that gives it? All the joy we hope for in heaven is in
God; and shall not he who shall be our joy then, be our love now? It
is a saying of Augustine, Annon poena satis magna est non amare te?
'Is it not punishment enough, Lord, not to love thee?' And again,
Animam meam in odio haberem. 'I would hate my own soul if I did not
find it loving God.'
What are the incentives to provoke and inflame our love to God?
(1) God's benefits bestowed on us. If a prince bestows
continual favours on a subject, and that subject has any ingenuity,
he cannot but love his prince. God is constantly heaping benefits
upon us, 'filling our hearts with food and gladness.' Acts 14 17.
As streams of water out of the rock followed Israel whithersoever
they went, so God's blessings follow us every day. We swim in a sea
of mercy. That heart is hard that is not prevailed with by all God's
blessings to love him. Magnes amoris amor [Love attracts love].
Kindness works even on a brute the ox knows his owner.
(2) Love to God would make duties of religion facile and
pleasant. I confess that to him who has no love to God, religion
must needs be a burden; and I wonder not to hear him say, 'What a
weariness is it to serve the Lord!' It is like rowing against the
tide. But love oils the wheels, it makes duty a pleasure. Why are
the angels so swift and winged in God's service, but because they
love him? Jacob thought seven years but little for the love he bare
to Rachel. Love is never weary. He who loves money is not weary of
telling it and he who loves God is not weary of serving him.
(3) It is advantageous. There is nothing lost by love to God.
'Eye has not seen, &c., the things which God has prepared for them
that love him.' 1 Cor ii 9. Such glorious rewards are laid up for
them that love God, that as Augustine says, 'they not only transcend
our reason, but faith itself is not able to comprehend them.' A
crown is the highest ensign of worldly glory; but God has promised a
'crown of life to them that love him,' and a never-fading crown.
James i 12. 1 Pet v 4.
(4) By loving God we know that he loves us. 'We love him
because he first loved us.' 1 John v 19. If ice melts, it is
because the sun has shone upon it; so if the frozen heart melts in
love, it is because the Sun of Righteousness has shone upon it.
What means should be used to excite our love to God?
(1) Labour to know God aright. The schoolmen say truly, Bonum
non amatur quod non cognoscitur; 'we cannot love that which we do
not know.' God is the most eligible good; all excellencies which lie
scattered in the creature are united in him; he is Optimus maximus.
Wisdom, beauty, riches, love, all concentrate in him. How fair was
that tulip which had the colours of all tulips in it! All
perfections and sweetnesses are eminently in God. Did we know God
more, and by the eye of faith see his orient beauty, our hearts
would be fired with love to him.
(2) Make the Scriptures familiar to you. Augustine says that
before his conversion he took no pleasure in Scripture, but
afterwards it was his chief delight. The book of God discovers God
to us, in his holiness, wisdom, veracity, and truth; it represents
him as rich in mercy, and encircled with promises. Augustine calls
the Scripture a golden epistle, or love-letter, sent from God to us.
By reading this love-letter we become more enamoured with God; as by
reading lascivious books, comedies, romances, &c., lust is excited.
(3) Meditate much upon God, and this will promote love to him.
'While I was musing, the fire burned.' Psa xxxix 3. Meditation is as
bellows to the affections. Meditate on God's love in the gift of
Christ. 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,'
&c. John iii 16. That God should give Christ to us, and not to angels
that fell, that the Sun of Righteousness should shine in our
horizon, that he is revealed to us, and not to others; what
wonderful love is this! 'Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not
be burned?' Prov vi 28. Who can meditate on God's love, who can
tread on these hot coals, and his heart not burn in love? Beg a
heart to love God. The affection of love is natural, but not the
grace of love. Gal v 22. This fire of love is kindled from heaven;
beg that it may burn upon the altar of your heart. Surely the
request is pleasing to God, and he will not deny such a prayer as
'Lord, give me a heart to love thee.'
VII. And keep my commandments.
Love and obedience, like two sisters, must go hand and hand.
'If ye love me, keep my commandments.' John xiv 15. Probatio
delectionis est exhibitio operis [We show our love by performing the
work]. The son that loves his father will obey him. Obedience
pleases God. 'To obey is better than sacrifice.' 1 Sam xv 22. In
sacrifice, a dead beast only is offered; in obedience, a living
soul; in sacrifice, only a part of the fruit is offered; in
obedience, fruit and tree and all; man offers himself up to God.
'Keep my commandments.' It is not said, God shows mercy to thousands
that know his commandments, but that keep them. Knowing his
commandments, without keeping them, does not entitle any to mercy.
The commandment is not only a rule of knowledge, but of duty. God
gives us his commandments, not only as a landscape to look upon, but
as his will and testament, which we are to perform. A good
Christian, like the sun, not only sends forth light, but makes a
circuit round the world. He has not only the light of knowledge; but
moves in a sphere of obedience.
 We should keep the commandments from faith. Our obedience
ought, profluere a fide 'to spring from faith.' It is called,
therefore, 'the obedience of faith.' Rom xvi 26. Abel, by faith,
offered up a better sacrifice than Cain. Heb xi 4. Faith is a vital
principle, without which all our services are opera mortua, dead
works. Heb vi 1. It meliorates and sweetens obedience, and makes it
come off with a better relish.
But why must faith be mixed with obedience to the commandments?
Because faith eyes Christ in every duty, in whom both the
person and offering are accepted. The high-priest under the law laid
his hand upon the head of the slain beast, which pointed to the
Messiah. Exod xxix 10. So faith in every duty lays its hand upon the
head of Christ. His blood expiates their guilt, and the sweet odour
of his intercession perfumes our works of obedience. 'He has made us
accepted in the beloved.' Eph i 6.
 Keeping the commandments must be uniform. We must make
conscience of one commandment as well as of another. 'Then shall I
not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.' Psa
cxix 6. Every commandment has jus divinum, the same stamp of divine
authority upon it; and if I obey one precept because God commands,
by the same reason I must obey all. Some obey the commands of the
first table, but are careless of the duties of the second some of
the second and not of the first. Physicians have a rule that when
the body sweats in one part, and is cold in another, it is a sign of
a distemper; so when men seem zealous in some duties of religion,
but are cold and frozen in others, it is a sign of hypocrisy. We
must have respect to all God's commandments.
But who can keep all his commandments?
There is a fulfilling God's commands, and a keeping of them.
Though we cannot fulfil all, yet we may be said to keep them in an
evangelical sense. We may facere, though not perficere [build,
though not complete]. We keep the commandments evangelically (1)
When we make conscience of every command, when, though we come short
in every duty, we dare not neglect any. (2) When our desire is to
keep every commandment. 'O that my ways were directed to keep thy
statutes!' Psa cxix 5. What we want in strength we make up in will.
(3) When we grieve that we can do no better; weep when we fail;
prefer bills of complaint against ourselves; and judge ourselves for
our failings. Rom vii 24. (4) When we endeavour to obey every
commandment, elicere conatum. 'I press toward the mark.' Phil iii 14.
We strive as in agony; and, if it lay in our power, we would fully
comport with every commandment. (5) When, falling short, and unable
to come up to the full latitude of the law, we look to Christ's
blood to sprinkle our imperfect obedience, and, with the grains of
his merits cast into the scales, to make it pass current. This, in
an evangelical sense, is to keep all the commandments; and though it
be not to satisfaction, yet it is to acceptation.
 Keeping God's commandments must be voluntary. 'If ye be
willing and obedient.' Isa i 19. God required a free-will offering.
Deut 16 10. David will run the way of God's commandments, that is
freely and cheerfully. Psa cxix 32. Lawyers have a rule that adverbs
are better than adjectives; that it is not the bonum, but the bene;
not the doing much, but the doing well. A musician is not commended
for playing long, but for playing well. Obeying God willingly is
accepted. Virtus nolentium nulla est [Righteous deeds done
unwillingly are worthless]. The Lord hates that which is forced;
which is paying a tax rather than an offering. Cain served God
grudgingly; he brought his sacrifice, not his heart. To obey God's
commandments unwillingly, is like the devils who came out of the men
possessed, at Christ's command, but with reluctance, and against
their will. Matt viii 29. Obedientia praest and adest non timore
poenae, sed amore Dei [Obedience is the chief thing, and this not
through fear of punishment, but for love of God]. God duties must
not be pressed nor beaten out of us, as the waters came from the
rock, when Moses smote it with his rod, but must drop freely from us
as myrrh from the tree, or honey from the comb. If a willing mind be
wanting, the flower is wanting to perfume our obedience, and to make
it a sweet-smelling savour to God.
That we may keep God's commandments willingly, let these things
be well weighed (I) Our willingness is more esteemed than our
service. David counsels Solomon not only to serve God, but with a
willing mind. 1 Chron xxviii 9. The will makes sin to be worse, and
duty to be better. To obey willingly shows we do it with love; and
this crowns all our services.
(2) There is that in the law-giver which may make us willing to
obey the commandments, which is God's indulgence to us.  God does
not require the summum jus as absolutely necessary to salvation; he
expects not perfect obedience, he requires sincerity only. Do but
act from a principle of love, and aim at honouring God in your
obedience, and it is accepted.  In the gospel a surety is
admitted. The law would not favour us so far; but now God so
indulges us, that what we cannot do of ourselves we may do by proxy.
Jesus Christ is 'a Surety of a better testament.' Heb vii 22. We fall
short in everything, but God looks upon us in our Surety; and Christ
having fulfilled all righteousness, it is as if we had fulfilled the
law in our own persons.  God gives strength to do what he
requires. The law called for obedience, but though it required
brick, it gave no straw; but in the gospel, God, with his commands,
gives power. 'Make ye a new heart.' Ezek xviii 31. Alas! it is above
our strength, we may as well make a new world. 'A new heart also
will I give you.' Ezek xxxvi 26. God commands us to cleanse ourselves.
'Wash you, make you clean.' Isa i 16. But 'who can bring a clean
thing out of an unclean?' Job xiv 4. Therefore the precept is turned
into a promise. 'From all your filthiness will I cleanse you.' Ezek
xxxvi 25. When the child cannot go, the nurse takes it by the hand. 'I
taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms.' Hos xi 3.
(3) There is that in God's commandments which may make us
willing. They are not burdensome.
 A Christian, so far as he is regenerate, consents to God's
commands. 'I consent to the law that it is good.' Rom vii 16. What is
done with consent is no burden. If a virgin gives her consent, the
match goes on cheerfully; if a subject consents to his prince's laws
because he sees the equity and reasonableness of them they are not
irksome. A regenerate person in his judgement approves, and in his
will consents, to God's commandments and therefore they are not
 God's commandments are sweetened with joy and peace. Cicero
questions whether that can properly be called a burden which is
carried with delight and pleasure. Utrum onus appellatur quod
laetitia fertur [Is a task performed with joy rightly so called]? If
a man carries a bag of money that has been given him, it is heavy,
but the delight takes off the burden. When God gives inward joy, it
makes the commandments delightful. 'I will make them joyful in my
house of prayer.' Isa lvi 7. Joy is like oil to the wheels, which
makes a Christian run in the way of God's commandments, so that it
is not burdensome.
 God's commandments are advantageous. They are preventive of
evil; a curb-bit to check us from sin. What mischiefs should we not
run into if we had not afflictions to humble us, and the
commandments to restrain us! God's commandments keep us within
bounds, as the yoke keeps the beast from straggling. We should be
thankful to God for precepts. Had he not set his commandments as a
hedge or bar in our way, we might have run to hell and never
stopped. There is nothing in the commandments but what is for our
good. 'To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which
I command thee for thy good.' Deut x 13. God commands us to read
his word; and what hurt is in this? He bespangles the word with
promises; as if a father should bid his son read his last will and
testament, wherein he makes over a fair estate to him. He bids us
pray and tells us if we 'ask, it shall be given.' Matt vii 7. Ask
power against sin, ask salvation, and it shall be given. If you had
a friend who should say, 'Come when you will to me, I will supply
you with money,' would you think it a trouble to visit that friend
often? God commands us to fear him. 'But fear thy God.' Lev xxv 43.
There is honey in the mouth of this command. 'His mercy is on them
that fear him.' Luke i 50. God commands us to believe, and why so?
'Believe, and thou shalt be saved.' Acts xvi 31. Salvation is the
crown set upon the head of faith. Good reason then have we to obey
God's commands willingly, since they are for our good, and are not
so much our duty as our privilege.
 God's commandments are ornamental. Omnia quae praestari
jubet Deus, non onerant nos sed ornant. Salvianus. 'God's
commandments do not burden us, but adorn us.' It is an honour to be
employed in a king's service; and much more to be employed in his
'by whom kings reign.' To walk in God's commandments proves us to be
wise. 'Behold, I have taught you statutes keep, therefore, and do
them; for this your wisdom.' Deut iv 5, 6. To be wise is a great
honour. We may say of every commandment of God, as Prov iv 9 It
'shall give to thy head an ornament of grace.'
 The commands of God are infinitely better than the commands
of sin, which are intolerable. Let a man be under the command of any
lust, and how he tires himself! What hazards he runs to endangering
his health and soul, that he may satisfy his lust! 'They weary
themselves to commit iniquity.' Jer ix 5. And are not God's
commandments more equal, facile, pleasant, than the commands of sin?
Chrysostom says true, 'To act virtue is easier than to act vice.'
Temperance is less troublesome than drunkenness; meekness is less
troublesome than passion and envy. There is more difficulty in the
contrivance and pursuit of a wicked design than in obeying the
commands of God. Hence a sinner is said to travail with iniquity.
Psa vii 14. A woman while she is in travail is in pain - to show what
pain and trouble a wicked man has in bringing forth sin. Many have
gone with more pains to hell, than others have to heaven. This may
make us obey the commandments willingly.
 Willingness in obedience makes us resemble the angels. The
cherubim, types representing the angels, are described with wings
displayed, to show how ready the angels are to serve God. God no
sooner speaks the word, but they are ambitious to obey. How are they
ravished with joy while praising God! In heaven we shall be as the
angels, and by our willingness to obey God's commands, we should be
like them here. We pray that God's will may be done by us on earth
as it is in heaven; and is it not done willingly there? It is also
done constantly. 'Blessed is he who does righteousness at all
times.' Psa cvi 3. Our obedience to the command must be as the fire
of the altar, which never went out. Lev vi 13. It must be as the
motion of the pulse, always beating. The wind blows off the fruit;
but the fruits of our obedience must not be blown off by any wind of
persecution. 'I have chosen you that ye should go and bring forth
fruit, and that your fruit should remain.' John xv 16.
They are reproved who live in a wilful breach of God's
commandments, in malice, uncleanness, intemperance; and walk
antipodes to the commandments. To live in a wilful breach of the
(1) Against reason. Are we able to stand out against God? 'Do
we provoke the Lord, are we stronger than he?' 1 Cor x 22. Can we
measure arms with God? Can impotence stand against omnipotence? A
sinner acts against reason.
(2) It is against equity. We have our being from God; and is it
not just that we should obey him who gives us our being? We have all
our subsistence from him; and is it not fitting, that as he gives us
our allowance, we should give him our allegiance? If a general gives
his soldiers pay, he expects them to march at his command; so for us
to live in violation of the divine commands, is manifestly unjust.
(3) It is against nature. Every creature in its kind obeys
God's law.  Animate creatures obey him. God spake to the fish,
and it set Jonah ashore. Jonah ii 10.  Inanimate creatures. The
wind and the sea obey him. Mark iv 41, The very stones, if God give
them a commission, will cry out against the sins of men. 'The stone
shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall
answer it.' Hab ii 11. None disobey God but wicked men and devils;
and can we find no better companions?
(4) It is against kindness. How many mercies have we to allure
us to obey! We have miracles of mercy; the apostle therefore joins
these two together, disobedient and unthankful, which dyes sin with
a crimson colour. 2 Tim iii 2. As the sin is great, for it is a
contempt of God, a hanging out of the flag of defiance against him,
and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, so the punishment will be
great. It cuts off from mercy. God's mercy is for them that keep his
commandments, but there is no mercy for them that live in a wilful
breach of them. All God's judgements set themselves in battle array
against the disobedient temporal judgements and eternal. Lev xxvi
15, 16. Christ comes in flames of fire, to take vengeance on them
that obey not God. 2 Thess i 8. God has iron chains to hold those
who break the golden chain of his commands; chains of darkness by
which the devils are held ever. Jude 6. God has time enough, as long
as eternity, to reckon with all the wilful breakers of his
How shall we keep God's commandments?
Pray for the Spirit of God. We cannot do it in our strength.
The Spirit must work in us both to will and to do. Phil ii 13. When
the loadstone draws, the iron moves; so, when God's Spirit draws, we
run in the way of his commandments.