The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
4. THE WAY OF SALVATION
What does God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and
curse due to us for our sin?
Faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent
use of all the outward means, whereby Christ communicateth to us the
benefits of redemption.
I begin with the first, faith in Jesus Christ. 'Whom God has
set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.' Rom iii
25. The great privilege in the text is, to have Christ for a
propitiation; which is not only to free us from God's wrath, but to
ingratiate us into his love and favour. The means of having Christ
to be our propitiation is, 'Faith in his blood.' There is a twofold
faith, Fides quae creditur [the faith which is believed], which is
'the doctrine of faith;' and Fides qua creditur [the faith by which
we believe], which is 'the grace of faith.' The act of justifying
faith lies in recumbency; we rest on Christ alone for salvation. As
a man that is ready to drown catches hold on the bough of a tree, so
a poor trembling sinner, seeing himself ready to perish, catches
hold by faith on Christ the tree of life, and is saved. The work of
faith is by the Holy Spirit; therefore faith is called the 'fruit of
the Spirit.' Gal v 22. Faith does not grow in nature, it is an
outlandish plant, a fruit of the Spirit. This grace of faith is
sanctissimum humani pectoris bonum [the most hallowed possession of
the human heart]; of all others, the most precious rich faith, and
most holy faith, and faith of God's elect: hence it is called
'precious faith.' 2 Pet i 1. As gold is most precious among metals,
so is faith among the graces. Faith is the queen of the graces; it
is the condition of the gospel. 'Thy faith has saved thee,' not thy
tears. Luke vii 50. Faith is the 'vital artery of the soul' that
animates it. 'The just shall live by his faith.' Hab ii 4. Though
unbelievers breathe, they want life. Faith, as Clemens Alexandrinus
calls it, is a mother grace; it excites and invigorates all the
graces; not a grace stirs till faith sets it to work. Faith sets
repentance to work; it is like fire to the still; it sets hope to
work. First we believe the promise, then we hope for it. If faith
did not feed the lamp of hope with oil, it would soon die. It sets
love to work. 'Faith which worketh by love.' Gal v 6. Who can
believe in the infinite merits of Christ, and his heart not ascend
in a fiery chariot of love? It is a catholicon, or remedy against
all troubles; a sheet anchor cast into the sea of God's mercy to
keep us from sinking in despair. Other graces have done worthily;
thou, O faith, excellest them all. In heaven love will be the chief
grace; but while we are here love must give place to faith. Love
takes possession of glory, but faith gives a title to it. Love is
the crowning grace in heaven, but faith is the conquering grace upon
earth. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our
faith.' I John v 4. Faith carries away the garland from all the
other graces. Other graces help to sanctify us, but faith only has
the honour to justify us. 'Being justified by faith.' Rom v 1.
How comes faith to be so precious?
Not that it is a more holy quality, or has more worthiness than
other graces, but respectu objecti [with respect to its object], 'as
it lays hold on Christ the blessed object,' and fetches in his
fulness. John ix 36. Faith in itself considered, is but manus
mendica, 'the beggar's hand;' but as this hand receives the rich
alms of Christ's merits, so it is precious, and challenges a
superiority over the rest of the graces.
Of all sins, beware of the rock of unbelief 'Take heed
lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief' Heb iii 12.
Men think, as long as they are not drunkards or swearers, it is no
great matter to be unbelievers. This is the gospel sin, it dyes your
other sins in grain.
(1) Unbelief is a Christ-reproaching sin. It disparages
Christ's infinite merit as if it could not save; it makes the wound
of sin to be broader than the plaister of Christ's blood. This is a
high contempt offered to Christ, and is a deeper spear than that
which the Jews thrust into his side.
(2) Unbelief is an ungrateful sin. Ingratus vitandus est ut
dirum selus, tellus ipsa foedius nihil creat [The ungrateful man is
to be avoided like a fearful crime; the world herself produces
nothing more shameful]. Ingratitude is a prodigy of wickedness; and
unbelief is being ungrateful for the richest mercy. Suppose a king,
to redeem a captive, should part with his crown of gold, and when he
had done this should say to the redeemed man, 'All I desire of thee
in lieu of my kindness, is to believe that I love thee.' If he
should say 'No, I do not believe any such thing, or that thou carest
at all for me;' I appeal to you whether this would not be odious
ingratitude? So is the case here. God has sent his Son to shed his
blood; he requires us only to believe in him, that he is able and
willing to save us. No, says unbelief, his blood was not shed for
me, I cannot persuade myself that Christ has any purpose of love to
me. Is not this horrid ingratitude? This enhances a sin, and makes
it of a crimson colour.
(3) Unbelief is a leading sin. It is the breeder of sin.
Qualitas malae vitae initium summit ab infidelitate [A life of
wickedness has unbelief as its point of origin]. Unbelief is a root
sin, and the devil labours to water this root, that the branches may
be fruitful. It breeds hardness of heart; therefore they are put
together. Mark xvi 14. Christ upbraids them with their unbelief and
hardness of heart. Unbelief breeds the stone of the heart. He who
believes not in Christ, is not affected with his sufferings, he
melts not in tears of love. Unbelief freezes the heart; first it
defiles and then hardens. Unbelief breeds profaneness. An unbeliever
will stick at no sin, neither at false weights, nor false oaths. He
will swallow down treason. Judas was first an unbeliever, and then a
traitor. John vi 64. He who has no faith in his heart, will have no
fear of God before his eyes.
(4) Unbelief is a wrath procuring sin. It is inimica salutis
[an enemy of salvation]. Bernard. John iii 18. Jam condemnatus est
[he is already condemned], dying so, he is as sure to be condemned
as if he were so already. 'He that believeth not on the Son of God,
the wrath of God abideth on him.' John iii 36. He who believes not in
the blood of the Lamb, must feel the wrath of the Lamb. The Gentiles
that believe not in Christ will be damned as well as the Jews who
blaspheme him. And if unbelief be so fearful and damnable a sin,
shall we not be afraid to live in it?
Above all graces set faith to work on Christ. 'That
whosoever believeth in him should not perish.' John iii 15. 'Above
all, taking the shield of faith.' Eph vi 16. Say as queen Esther, 'I
will go in unto the king: and if I perish, I perish.' She had
nothing to encourage her; she ventured against law, yet the golden
sceptre was held forth to her. We have promises to encourage our
faith. 'Him that comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out.' John vi
37. Let us then advance faith by a holy recumbency on Christ's
merits. Christ's blood will not justify without believing; they are
both put together in the text, 'Faith in his blood.' The blood of
God, without faith in Christ, will not save. Christ's sufferings are
the plaister to heal a sin-sick soul, but this plaister must be
applied by faith. It is not money in a rich man's hand, though
offered to us, that will enrich us, unless we receive it. So
Christ's virtues or benefits will do us no good unless we receive
them by the hand of faith. Above all graces set faith on work. It is
a faith most acceptable to God upon many accounts.
(1) Because it is a God-exalting grace. It glorifies God.
Abraham 'was strong in faith, giving glory to God.' Rom iv 20. To
believe that there is more mercy in God and merit in Christ than sin
in us, and that Christ has answered all the demands of the law, and
that his blood has fully satisfied for us, is in a high degree to
honour God. Faith in the Mediator brings more glory to God than
martyrdom, or the most heroic act of obedience.
(2) Faith in Christ is acceptable to God because it is a
self-denying grace; it makes a man go out of himself, renounce all
self-righteousness, and wholly rely on Christ for justification. It
is very humble, it confesses its own indigence, and lives wholly
upon Christ. As the bee sucks sweetness from the flower, so faith
sucks all its strength and comfort from Christ.
(3) Faith is a grace acceptable to God, because by faith we
present a righteousness to him which best pleases him; we bring the
righteousness of Christ into court, which is called the
righteousness of God. 2 Cor v 21. To bring Christ's righteousness,
is to bring Benjamin with us. A believer may say, Lord, it is not
the righteousness of Adam, or of the angels, but of Christ who is
God-Man, that I bring before thee. The Lord cannot but smell a sweet
savour in Christ's righteousness.
Let us try our faith. There is something that looks
like faith, and is not. Pliny says there is a Cyprian stone which is
in colour like a diamond, but it is not of the right kind; so there
is a spurious faith in the world. Some plants have the same leaf
with others, but the herbalist can distinguish them by the root and
taste; so something may look like true faith, but it may be
distinguished several ways: -
(1) True faith is grounded upon knowledge. Knowledge carries
the torch before faith. There is a knowledge of Christ's orient
excellencies. Phil iii 8. He is made up of all love and beauty. True
faith is a judicious intelligent grace, it knows whom it believes,
and why it believes. Faith is seated as well in the understanding as
in the will. It has an eye to see Christ, as well as a wing to fly
to him. Such therefore as are veiled in ignorance, or have only an
implicit faith to believe as the church believes, have no true and
(2) Faith lives in a broken heart. 'The father cried out with
tears, Lord, I believe.' Mark ix 24. True faith is always in a heart
bruised for sin. They, therefore, whose hearts were never touched
for sin, have no faith. If a physician should tell us there was a
herb that would help us against all infections, but it always grows
in a watery place; if we should see a herb like it in colour, leaf,
smell, blossom, but growing upon a rock, we should conclude that it
was the wrong herb. So saving faith always grows in a heart humbled
for sin, in a weeping eye and a tearful conscience. If, therefore,
there be a show of faith, but it grows upon the rock of a hard
impenitent heart, it is not the true faith.
(3) True faith is at first nothing but an embryo, it is minute
and small; it is full of doubts, temptations, fears; it begins in
weakness. It is like the smoking flax. Matt xii 20. It smokes with
desires, but does not flame with comfort; it is at first so small,
that it is scarce discernible. They who, at the first dash, have a
strong persuasion that Christ is theirs, who leap out of sin into
assurance, have a false and spurious faith, The faith which comes to
its full stature on its birth-day is a monster. The seed that sprung
up suddenly withered. Matt xiii 5, 6.
(4) Faith is a refining grace, it consecrates and purifies.
Moral virtue may wash the outside, but faith washes the inside.
'Purifying their hearts by faith.' Acts xv 9. Faith makes the heart
a temple with this inscription, 'Holiness to the Lord.' They whose
hearts have legions of lust in them, were never acquainted with the
true faith. For one to say he has faith, and yet live in sin, is, as
if one should say he was in health when his vitals are perished.
Faith is a virgin grace, it is joined with sanctity. 'Holding the
mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.' I Tim iii 9. The jewel of
faith is always put in the cabinet of a pure conscience. The woman
that touched Christ by faith, fetched a healing and cleansing virtue
(5) True faith is obediential. 'The obedience of faith.' Rom
xvi 26. Faith melts our will into the will of God. If God commands
duty, though cross to flesh and blood, faith obeys. 'By faith
Abraham obeyed.' Heb xi 8. It not only believes the promise, but
obeys the command. It is not having a speculative knowledge that
will evidence you to be believers. The devil has knowledge; but that
which makes him a devil is that he has no obedience.
(6) True faith is increasing. 'From faith to faith,' i.e. from
one degree of faith to another. Rom i 17. Faith does not lie in the
heart, as a stone in the earth, but as seed that grows. Joseph of
Arimathaea was a disciple of Christ, but was afraid to confess him;
afterwards he went boldly to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus.
John xix 38. A Christian's increase in faith is known two ways: -
By steadfastness. He is a pillar in the temple of God, 'Rooted
and built up in him; and established in the faith.' Col ii 7.
Unbelievers are sceptics in religion; they are unsettled; they
question every truth; but when faith is on the increasing hand, it
does stabilire animum [strengthen the spirit], it corroborates a
Christian. He is able to prove his principles; he holds no more than
he will die for; as that martyr woman said, 'I cannot dispute for
Christ, but I can burn for him.' An increasing faith is not like a
ship in the midst of the sea, that fluctuates, and is tossed upon
the waves; but like a ship at anchor, which is firm and steadfast.
A Christian's increase in faith is known by his strength. He
can do that now which he could not do before. When one is man-grown,
he can do that which he was not able to do when he was a child; he
can carry a heavier burden: so a growing Christian can bear crosses
with more patience.
But I fear I have no faith, it is so weak!
If you have faith, though but in its infancy, be not
discouraged. For, (1) A little faith is faith, as a spark of fire is
fire. (2) A weak faith may lay hold on a strong Christ; as a weak
hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one. She, in
the gospel, who but touched Christ, fetched virtue from him. (3) The
promises are not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise does
not say, he who has a giant faith, who can believe God's love
through a frown, who can rejoice in affliction, who can work
wonders, remove mountains, stop the mouth of lions, shall be saved,
but whosoever believes, be his faith never so small. A reed is but
weak, especially when it is bruised; yet a promise is made to it. 'A
bruised reed shall he not break.' Matt xii 20. (4) A weak faith may
be fruitful. Weakest things multiply most. The vine is a weak plant,
but it is fruitful. The thief on the cross, who was newly converted,
was but weak in grace; but how many precious clusters grew upon that
tender plant! He chided his fellow-thief. 'Dost thou not fear God?'
Luke xxiii 40. He judged himself, 'We indeed suffer justly.' He
believed in Christ, when he said, 'Lord.' He made a heavenly prayer,
'Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.' Weak Christians may
have strong affections. How strong is the first love, which is after
the first planting of faith! (5) The weakest believer is a member of
Christ as well as the strongest; and the weakest member of the body
mystic shall not perish. Christ will cut off rotten members, but not
weak members. Therefore, Christian, be not discouraged. God, who
would have us receive them that are weak in faith, will not himself
refuse them. Rom xiv 1.