The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
3. THE LAW AND SIN
3.2 Degrees of Sin
Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations,
are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
'He that delivered me unto thee, has the greater sin.' John xix
11. The Stoic philosophers held that all sins were equal; but this
Scripture clearly holds forth that there is a gradual difference in
sin; some are greater than others; some are 'mighty sins,' and
crying sins.' Amos v 12; Gen xviii 21. Every sin has a voice to
speak, but some sins cry. As some diseases are worse than others,
and some poisons more venomous, so some sins are more heinous. 'Ye
have done worse than your fathers, your sins have exceeded theirs.'
Jer xvi 12; Ezek xvi 47. Some sins have a blacker aspect than
others; to clip the king's coin is treason; but to strike his person
is a higher degree of treason. A vain thought is a sin, but a
blasphemous word is a greater sin. That some sins are greater than
others appears, (1) Because there was difference in the offerings
under the law; the sin offering was greater than the trespass
offering. (2) Because some sins are not capable of pardon as others
are, therefore they must needs be more heinous, as the blasphemy
against the Holy Ghost. Matt xii 31. (3) Because some sins have a
greater degree of punishment than others. 'Ye shall receive the
greater damnation.' Matt xxiii 14. 'Shall not the Judge of all the
earth do right?' God would not punish one more than another if his
sin was not greater. It is true, 'all sins are equally heinous in
respect of the object,' or the infinite God, against whom sin is
committed, but, in another sense, all sins are not alike heinous;
some sins have more bloody circumstances in them, which are like the
dye to the wool, to give it a deeper colour.
 Such sins are more heinous as are committed without any
occasion offered; as when a man swears or is angry, and has no
provocation. The less the occasion of sin, the greater is the sin
 Such sins are more heinous that are committed
presumptuously. Under the law there was no sacrifice for
presumptuous sins. Num xv 30.
What is the sin of presumption, which heightens and aggravates
sin, and makes it more heinous?
To sin presumptuously, is to sin against convictions and
illuminations, or an enlightened conscience. 'They are of those that
rebel against the light.' Job xxiv 13. Conscience, like the cherubim,
stands with a flaming sword in its hand to deter the sinner; and yet
he will sin. Did not Pilate sin against conviction, and with a high
hand, in condemning Christ? He knew that for envy the Jews had
delivered him. Matt xxvii 18. He confessed he 'found no fault in him.'
Luke xxiii 14. His own wife sent to him saying, 'Have nothing to do
with that just man.' Matt xxvii 19. Yet for all this, he gave the
sentence of death against Christ. He sinned presumptuously, against
an enlightened conscience. To sin ignorantly does something to
extenuate and pare off the guilt. 'If I had not come and spoken unto
them, they had not had sin,' that is, their sin had been less. John
xv 22. But to sin against illuminations and convictions enhances
men's sins. These sins make deep wounds in the soul; other sins
fetch blood; they are a stab at the heart.
How many ways may a man sin against illuminations and
(1) When he lives in the total neglect of duty. He is not
ignorant that it is a duty to read the Word, yet he lets the Bible
lie by as rusty armour, seldom made us of. He is convinced that it
is a duty to pray in his family, yet he can go days and months, and
God never hears of him; he calls God Father, but never asks his
blessing. Neglect of family-prayer, as it were, uncovers the roof of
men's houses, and makes way for a curse to be rained down upon their
(2) When a man lives in the same sins he condemns in others.
'Thou that judges, does the same things.' Rom ii 1. As Augustine
says of Seneca, 'He wrote against superstition, yet he worshipped
those images which he reproved.' One man condemns another for rash
censuring, yet lives in the same sin himself; a master reproves his
apprentice for swearing, yet he himself swears. The snuffers of the
tabernacle were of pure gold: they who reprove and snuff the vices
of others, had need themselves be free from those sins. The snuffers
must be of gold.
(3) When a man sins after vows. 'Thy vows are upon me, O God.'
Psa lvi 12. A vow is a religious promise made to God, to dedicate
ourselves to him. A vow is not only a purpose, but a promise. Every
votary makes himself a debtor; he binds himself to God in a solemn
manner. Now, to sin after a vow, to vow himself to God, and give his
soul to the devil, must needs be against the highest convictions.
(4) When a man sins after counsels, admonitions, warnings, he
cannot plead ignorance. The trumpet of the gospel has been blown in
his ears, and sounded a retreat to call him off from his sins, he
has been told of his injustice, living in malice, keeping bad
company, yet he would venture upon sin. This is to sin against
conviction; it aggravates the sin, and is like a weight put into the
scale, to make his sin weigh the heavier. If a sea-mark be set up to
give warning that there are shelves and rocks in that place, yet if
the mariner will sail there, and split his ship, it is presumption;
and if he be cast away, who will pity him?
(5) When a man sins against express combinations and
threatening. God has thundered out threatenings against such sins.
'God shall would the hairy scalp of such an one as goes on still in
his trespasses.' Psa lxviii 21. Though God set the point of his sword
to the breast of a sinner, he will still commit sin. The pleasure of
sin delights him more than the threatenings affright him. Like the
leviathan, 'he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.' Job xli 29. Nay,
he derides God's threatenings. 'Let him make speed, and hasten his
work, that we may see it:' we have heard much what God intends to
do, and of judgement approaching, we would fain see it. Isa v 19.
For men to see the flaming sword of God's threatening brandished,
yet to strengthen themselves in sin, is in an aggravated manner to
sin against illumination and conviction.
(6) When a man sins under affliction. God not only thunders by
threatening, but lets his thunderbolt fall. He inflicts judgements
on a person so that he may read his sins in his punishment, and yet
he sins. His sin was uncleanness, by which he wasted his strength,
as well as his estate. He has had a fit of apoplexy; and yet while
feeling the smart of sin, he retains the love of sin. This is to sin
against conviction. 'In his distress did he trespass yet more; this
is that king Ahab' 2 Chron xxviii 22. It makes the sin greater to sin
against an enlightened conscience. It is full of obstinacy. Men give
no reason, make no defence for their sins, and yet are resolved to
hold fast iniquity. Voluntas est regula et mensura actionis [An
action can be measured and judged by the will involved], the more of
the will in a sin, the greater the sin. 'We will walk after our own
devices.' Jer xviii 12. Though there be death and hell at every step,
we will march on under Satan's colours. What made the sin of
apostate angels so great was that it was wilful; they had no
ignorance in their mind, no passion to stir them up; there was no
tempter to deceive them, but they sinned obstinately and from
choice. To sin against convictions and illuminations, is joined with
rejection and contempt of God. It is bad for a sinner to forget God,
but it is worse to condemn him. 'Wherefore does the wicked condemn
God?' Psa x 13. An enlightened sinner knows that by his sin he
disobliges and angers God; but he cares not whether God be pleased
or not, he will have his sin; therefore such a one is said to
reproach God. 'The soul that does ought presumptuously, the same
reproacheth the Lord.' Numb xv 30. Every sin displeases God, but
sins against an enlightened conscience reproach the Lord. To condemn
the authority of a prince, is a reproach done to him. It is
accompanied with impudence. Fear and shame are banished, the veil of
modesty is laid aside. 'The unjust knoweth no shame.' Zeph iii 5.
Judas knew Christ was the Messiah; he was convinced of it by an
oracle from heaven, and by the miracles he wrought, and yet he
impudently went on in his treason, even when Christ said, 'He that
dips his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me:' and he knew
Christ meant him. When he was going about his treason, and Christ
pronounced a woe to him, yet, for all that, he proceeded in his
treason. Luke xxii 22. Thus to sin presumptuously, against an
enlightened conscience, dyes the sin of a crimson colour, and makes
it greater than other sins.
 Such sins are more heinous than others, which are sins of
continuance. The continuing of sin is the enhancing of sin. He who
plots treason, makes himself a greater offender. Some men's heads
are the devil's minthouse, they are a mint of mischief. 'Inventors
of evil things.' Rom i 30. Some invent new oaths, others new
snares. Such were those presidents that invented a decree against
Daniel, and got the king to sign it. Dan vi 9.
 Those sins are greater which proceed from a spirit of
malignity. To malign holiness is diabolical. It is a sin to want
grace, it is worse to hate it. In nature there are antipathies, as
between the vine and laurel. Some have an antipathy against God
because of his purity. 'Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from
before us.' Isa xxx 11. Sinners, if it lay in their power, would not
only enthrone God, but annihilate him; if they could help it, God
should no longer be God. Thus sin is boiled up to a greater height.
 Those sins are of greater magnitude, which are mixed with
ingratitude. Of all things God cannot endure to have his kindness
slighted. His mercy is seen in reprieving men so long, in wooing
them by his Spirit and ministers to be reconciled, in crowning them
with so many temporal blessings: and to abuse all this love - when
God has been filling up the measure of his mercy, for men to fill up
the measure of their sins - is high ingratitude, and makes their
sins of a deeper crimson. Some are worse for mercy. 'The vulture,'
says Aelian, 'draws sickness from perfumes.' So the sinner contracts
evil from the sweet perfumes of God's mercy. The English chronicle
reports of one Parry, who being condemned to die, Queen Elizabeth
sent him her pardon; and after he was pardoned, he conspired and
plotted the queen's death. Just so some deal with God, he bestows
mercy, and they plot treason against him. 'I have nourished and
brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.' Isa i 2.
The Athenians, in lieu of the good service Themistocles had done
them, banished him their city. The snake, in the fable, being
frozen, stung him that gave it warmth. Certainly sins against mercy
are more heinous.
 Those sins are more heinous than others which are committed
with delectation. A child of God may sin through a surprisal, or
against his will. 'The evil which I would not, that I do.' Rom vii
19. He is like one that is carried down the stream involuntarily.
But to sin with delight heightens and greatens the sin. It is a sign
the heart is in the sin. 'They set their heart on their iniquity,'
as a man follows his gain with delight. Hos iv 8. 'Without are dogs,
and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.' Rev xxii 15. To tell a lie is
a sin; but to love to tell a lie is a greater sin.
 Those sins are more heinous than others which are committed
under a pretence of religion. To cheat and defraud is a sin, but to
do it with a Bible in one's hand, is a double sin. To be unchaste is
a sin; but to put on a mask of religion to play the whore makes the
sin greater. 'I have peace offerings with me; this day have I paid
my vows; come let us take our fill of love.' Prov vii 14, 15. She
speaks as if she had been at church, and had been saying her
prayers: who would ever have suspected her of dishonesty? But,
behold her hypocrisy; she makes her devotion a preface to adultery.
'Which devour widows' houses, and for a show make long prayers.'
Luke xx 47. The sin was not in making long prayers; for Christ was a
whole night in prayer; but to make long prayers that they might do
unrighteous actions, made their sin more horrid.
 Sins of apostasy are more heinous than others. Demas
forsook the truth and afterwards became a priest in an idol temple,
says Dorotheus. 2 Tim iv 10. To fall is a sin; but to fall away is a
greater sin. Apostates cast a disgrace upon religion. 'The
apostate,' says Tertullian, 'seems to put God and Satan in the
balance; and having weighed both their services, prefers the
devil's, and proclaims him to be the best master.' In which respect
the apostate is said to put Christ to 'open shame.' Heb vi 6. This
dyes a sin in grain, and makes it greater. It is a sin not to
profess Christ, but it is a greater to deny him. Not to wear
Christ's colours is a sin, but to run from his colours is a greater
sin. A pagan sins less than a baptised renegade.
 To persecute religion makes sin greater. Acts vii 52. To
have no religion is a sin, but to endeavour to destroy religion is a
greater. Antiochus Epiphanes took more tedious journeys and ran more
hazards, to vex and oppose the Jews, than all his predecessors had
done to obtain victories. Herod 'added this above all, that he shut
up John in prison.' Luke iii 20. He sinned before by incest; but by
imprisoning the prophet he added to his sin and made it greater.
Persecution fills up the measure of sin. 'Fill ye up the measure of
your fathers.' Matt xxiii 32. If you pour a porringer of water into a
cistern it adds something to it, but if you pour in a bucketful or
two it fills up the measure of the cistern; so persecution fills up
the measure of sin, and makes it greater.
 To sin maliciously makes sin greater. Aquinas, and other
of the schoolmen, place the sin against the Holy Ghost in malice.
The sinner does all he can to vex God, and despite the Spirit of
grace. Heb x 29. Thus Julia threw up his dagger in the air, as if
he would have been revenged upon God. This swells sin to its full
size, it cannot be greater. When a man is once come to this,
blasphemously to despite the Spirit, there is but one step lower he
can fall, and that is to hell.
 It aggravates sin, and makes it greater, when a man not
only sins himself, but endeavours to make others sin. (1) Such as
teach errors to the people, who decry Christ's deity, or deny his
virtue, making him only a political head, not a head of influence:
who preach against the morality of the Sabbath, or the immortality
of the soul; these men's sins are greater than others. If the
breakers of God's law sin, what do they that teach men to break
them? Matt v 19. (2) Such as destroy others by their bad example.
The swearing father teaches his son to swear, and damns him by his
example. Such men's sins are greater than others, and they shall
have a hotter place in hell.
You see all sins are not equal; some are more grievous
than others, and bring greater wrath; therefore especially take heed
of these sins. 'Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.' Psa
xix 13. The least sin is bad enough; you need not aggravate your
sins, and make them more heinous. He that has a little wound will
not make it deeper. Oh, beware of those circumstances which increase
your sin and make it more heinous! The higher a man is in sinning,
the lower he shall lie in torment.