The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
4. THE WAY OF SALVATION
4.3 The Word
The third way to escape the wrath and curse of God, and obtain
the benefit of redemption by Christ, is the diligent use of
ordinances, in particular, 'the word, sacraments, and prayer.'
I begin with the best of these ordinances.
The 'word... which effectually worketh in you that believe.' I
Thess ii 13.
What is meant by the word's working effectually?
The word of God is said to work effectually when it has the
good effect upon us for which it was appointed by God; when it works
powerful illumination and thorough reformation. 'To open their eyes,
and turn them from the power of Satan unto God.' Acts xxvi 18. The
opening of their eyes denotes illumination; and turning them from
Satan to God denotes reformation.
How is the word to be read and heard that it may become
effectual to salvation.
This question consists of two branches.
How may the word be read effectually?
That we may so read the word that it may conduce effectually to
(1) Let us have a reverend esteem of every part of canonical
Scripture. 'More to be desired are they than gold.' Psa xix 10.
Value the book of God above all other books. It is a golden epistle,
indited by the Holy Ghost, and sent us from heaven. More
particularly to raise our esteem, the Scripture is a spiritual
glass, to dress our souls by. It shows us more than we can see by
the light of natural conscience. This may discover gross sins; but
the glass of the word shows us heart-sins, vain thoughts, unbelief,
&c. It not only shows us our spots, but washes them away. The
Scripture is a magazine out of which we may fetch spiritual
artillery to fight against Satan. When our Saviour was tempted by
the devil, he fetched armour and weapons from Scripture; 'it is
written.' Matt iv 4, 7. The holy Scripture is a panacea, or
universal medicine for the soul; it gives a recipe to cure deadness
of heart, Psa cxix 50; pride, I Pet v 5; and infidelity, John iii
36. It is a physic garden where we may gather a herb or antidote to
expel the poison of sin. The leaves of Scripture, like the leaves of
the tree of life, are for the 'healing of the nations.' Rev xxii 2.
Should not this cause a reverential esteem of the word?
(2) If we would have the written word effectual to our souls,
let us peruse it with 'intenseness of mind.' 'Search the
Scriptures.' John v 39. The Greek word, ereunate, signifies to
search as for a 'vein of silver.' The Bereans 'searched the
Scriptures daily.' Acts xvii 11. The word anakrinontes signifies to
make a curious and critical search. Apollo was mighty in the
Scriptures. Acts xviii 24. Some gallop over a chapter in haste and get
no good by it. If we would have the word effectual and saving, we
must mind and observe every passage of Scripture. That we may be
diligent in the perusal of Scripture, consider that the word written
is norma cultus [the only standard of conduct], the rule and
platform by which we are to square our lives. It contains in it all
things needful to salvation; what duties we are to do, and what sins
we are to avoid. Psa xix 7. God gave Moses a pattern how he would
have the tabernacle made; and he was to go exactly according to the
pattern. Exod xxv 9. The word is the pattern God has given us in
writing, for modelling our lives. How careful, therefore, should we
be in pursuing and looking over this pattern!
As the written word is our pattern, so it will be our judge.
'The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him at the last
day.' John xii 48. We read of the opening of the books. Rev xx 12.
One book which God will open is the book of the Scripture, and will
judge men out of it. He will say, 'Have you lived according to the
rule of this word?' The word has a double work - to teach, and to
(3) If we would have the written word effectual, we must bring
faith to the reading of it; believe it to be the word of the eternal
Jehovah. It comes with authority, and shows its commission from
heaven. 'Thus saith the Lord.' It is of divine inspiration. 2 Tim iii
16. The oracles of Scripture must be surer to us than a voice from
heaven. 2 Pet i 18, 19. Unbelief enervates the virtue of Scripture,
and renders it ineffectual. First men question the truth of the
Scripture, and then fall away from it.
(4) If we would have the written word effectual to salvation,
we must delight in it as our spiritual cordial. 'Thy words were
found, and I did eat them, and thy word was the joy and rejoicing of
my heart.' Jer xv 16. All true solid comfort is fetched out of the
word. The word, as Chrysostom says, is a spiritual garden, and the
promises are the fragrant flowers or spices in this garden. How
should we delight to walk among these beds of spices! Is it not a
comfort, in all dubious perplexed cases, to have a counsellor to
advise us? 'Thy testimonies are my counsellors.' Psa cxix 24, is it
not a comfort to find our evidences for heaven? And where should we
find them but in the word? I Thess i 4, 5. The word written is a
sovereign elixir, or comfort, in an hour of distress. 'This is my
comfort in my affliction, for thy word has quickened me.' Psa cxix
50. It can turn all our 'water into wine.' How should we take a
great complacence and delight in the word! They only who come to the
word with delight, go from it with success.
(5) If we would have the Scripture effectual and saving, we
must be sure, when we have read the word, to hide it in our hearts.
'Thy word have I hid in my heart.' Psa cxix 11. The word, locked up
in the heart, is a preservative against sin. Why did David hide the
word in his heart? 'That I might not sin against thee.' As one would
carry an antidote about him when he comes near a place infected, so
David carried the word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve
him from the infection of sin. When the sap is hid in the root, it
makes the branches fruitful; when the seed is hid in the ground, the
corn springs up; so, when the word is hid in the heart, it brings
forth good fruit.
(6) If we would have the written word effectual, let us labour
not only to have the light of it in our heads, but its power in our
hearts. Let us endeavour to have it copied out, and written a second
time in our hearts. 'The law of his God is in his heart.' Psa xxxvii
31. The word says, 'Be clothed with humility.' 1 Pet v 5. Let us be
low and humble in our own eyes. The word calls for sanctity. Let us
labour to partake of the divine nature, and to have something
conceived in us which is of the Holy Ghost. 2 Pet i 4. When the
word is thus copied out into our hearts, and we are changed into its
similitude, it is made effectual to us, and becomes a savour of
(7) When we read the holy Scriptures let us look up to God for
a blessing. Let us beg the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that we
may see the 'deep things of God.' Eph i 17, I Cor ii 10. Pray God
that the same Spirit that wrote the Scripture would enable us to
understand it. Pray that God would give us the 'savour of his
knowledge,' that we may relish a sweetness in the word we read. 2
Cor ii 14. David tasted it as 'sweeter than the honeycomb.' Psa xix
10. Let us pray that God would not only give us his word as a rule
of holiness, but his grace as a principle of holiness
How may we hear the word that it may be effectual and saving to
(1) Give great attention to the word preached. Let nothing pass
without taking special notice of it. 'All the people were very
attentive to hear him.' Luke xix 48. They hung upon his lips.
'Lydia, a seller of purple, which worshipped God, heard us, whose
heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were
spoken of Paul.' Acts xvi 14. Give attention to the word, as to a
matter of life and death. For this purpose have a care to banish
vain impertinent thoughts, which will distract yell, and take you
off from the work in hand. These fowls will be coming to the
sacrifice, therefore we must drive them away. Gen xv 2. An archer
may take a right aim; but if one stand at his elbow, and jog him
when he is going to shoot, he will not hit the mark. Christians may
have good aims in hearing; but take heed of impertinent thoughts
which will jog and hinder you in God's service. Banish dullness. The
devil gives many hearers a sleepy sop, so that they cannot keep
their eyes open at a sermon. They eat so much on the Lord's-day that
they are more fit for the pillow and couch than the temple. Frequent
and customary sleeping at a sermon shows high contempt and
irreverence of the ordinance. It gives a bad example to others; it
makes your sincerity to be called in question; it is the devil's
seedtime. 'While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares.' Matt
xiii 25 O shake off drowsiness, as Paul shook off the viper! Be
serious and attentive in hearing the word. 'For it is not a vain
thing for you, it is your life.' Deut xxxii 47. When people do not
mind what God speaks to them in his word, God as little minds what
they say to him in prayer.
(2) If you would have the word preached effectual, come with a
holy appetite to the word. I Pet ii 2. The thirsting soul is the
thriving soul. In nature one may have an appetite and no digestion;
but it is not so in religion. Where there is a great appetite for
the word, there is for the most part good digestion. Come with
hungering of soul after the word, and desire it, that it may not
only please you but profit you. Look not at the garnishing of the
dish more than at the meat - at eloquence and rhetoric more than
solid matter. It argues both a wanton palate and surfeited stomach
to feed on salads and dainties rather than on wholesome food.
(3) If you would have the preaching of the word effectual, come
to it with tenderness upon your heart. 'Because thy heart was
tender.' I Chron xxii 5. If we preach to hard hearts, it is like
shooting against a brazen wall, the word does not enter. It is like
setting a gold seal upon marble, which takes no impression. O come
to the word preached with a melting frame of heart! It is the
melting wax that receives the stamp of the seal; so, when the heart
is in a melting frame, it will better receive the stamp of the
preached word. When Paul's heart was melted and broken for sin, he
cried, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' Acts ix 6. Come not
hither with hard hearts. Who can expect a crop when the seed is
grown UPON stony ground?
(4) If you would have the word effectual, receive it with
meekness. 'Receive with meekness the ingrafted word.' James i 21.
Meekness is a submissive frame of heart to the word - a willingness
to hear the counsels and reproofs of the word. Contrary to this
meekness is fierceness of spirit, whereby men are ready to rise up
in rage against the sword. Proud men, and guilty, cannot endure to
hear of their faults. Proud Herod put John in prison. Mark vi 17.
The guilty Jews, being told of their crucifying Christ, stoned
Stephen. Acts vii 59. To tell men of sin, is to hold a glass to one
that is deformed, who cannot endure to see his own face. Contrary to
meekness is stubbornness of heart, whereby men are resolved to hold
fast their sins, let the word say what it will. 'We will burn
incense unto the queen of heaven.' Jer xliv 17. O take heed of this!
If you would have the word preached effectually, lay aside
fierceness and stubbornness, receive the word with meekness. By
meekness the word preached comes to be ingrafted. As a good scion
that is grafted in a bad stock changes the nature of the fruit and
makes it taste sweet, so, when the word is ingrafted into the soul,
it sanctifies it, and makes it bring forth the sweet fruit of
(5) Mingle the word preached with faith. 'The word preached did
not profit them, not being mixed with faith.' Heb iv 2. If you leave
out the chief ingredient in a medicine, it hinders the operation; do
not leave out the ingredient of faith. Believe the word, and so
believe it as to apply it. When you hear Christ preached, apply him
to yourselves. This is to put on the Lord Jesus. Rom xiii 14. When
you hear a promise spoken, apply it. This is to suck the flower of
the promise, and turn it to honey.
(6) Be not only attentive in hearing, but retentive after
hearing. 'We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which
we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip;' lest we
should let them run out as water out of a sieve. Heb ii 1. If the
ground retain not the seed sown into it, there can be no good crop.
Some have memories like leaking vessels: the sermons they hear are
presently gone, and there is no good done. If meat does not stay and
digest in the stomach, it will not nourish. Satan labours to steal
the word out of the mind. 'When they have heard, Satan comes
immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown.' Mark iv 15.
Our memories should be like the chest of the ark, where the law was
(7) Reduce your hearing to practice. Live on the sermons you
hear. 'I have done thy commandments.' Psa cxix 166. Rachel was not
content that she was beautiful, but her desire was to be fruitful.
What is a knowing head without a fruitful heart? 'Filled with the
fruits of righteousness.' Phil i 11. It is obedience that crowns
hearing. That hearing will never save the soul which does not reform
(8) Beg of God that he will accompany his word with his
presence and blessing. The Spirit must make all effectual. Ministers
may prescribe physic, but it is God's Spirit must make it work. 'He
has his pulpit in heaven that converts souls.' Augustine. 'While
Peter yet spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard.' Acts
x 44. It is said, the alchemist can draw oil out of iron. God's
Spirit can produce grace in the most obdurate heart.
(9) If you would have the word work effectually to your
salvation, make it familiar to you. Discourse of what you have heard
when you come home. 'My tongue shall speak of thy word.' Psa cxix
172. One reason why some people get no more good by what they hear,
is that they never speak to one another of what they have heard; as
if sermons were such secrets that they must not be spoken of again;
or as if it were a shame to speak of matters of salvation. 'They
that feared the Lord spake often one to another... and a book of
remembrance was written.' Mal iii 16.
Take heed, as you love your souls, that the word
become not ineffectual to you. There are some to whom the word
preached is ineffectual. (1) Such as censure the word; who, instead
of judging themselves, judge the word. (2) Such as live in
contradiction to the word. Isa xxx 9. (3) Such as are more hardened
by the word. 'They made their hearts as an adamant stone.' Zech vii
12. And when men harden their hearts wilfully, God hardens them
judicially. 'Make their ears heavy.' Isa vi 10. The word to these is
ineffectual. Would it not be sad, if a man's meat did not nourish
him; nay, if it should turn to poison? O take heed that the word
preached be not ineffectual and to no purpose!
Consider three things: -
(1) If the word preached does us no good, there is no other way
by which we can be saved. This is God's institution, and the main
engine he uses to convert souls. 'If they hear not Moses and the
prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the
dead.' Luke xvi 31. If an angel should come to you out of heaven,
and preach of the excellency of the glorified estate, and the joys
of heaven, and that in the most pathetic manner - if the word
preached does not persuade, neither would you be wrought upon by
such an oration from heaven. If a damned spirit should come from
hell, and preach to you in flames, and tell you what a place hell
is, and roar out the torments of the damned, it might make you
tremble, but it would not convert, if the preaching of the word will
not do it.
(2) To come to the word, and not be savingly wrought upon, is
that which the devil is pleased with. He cares not though you hear
frequently, if it be not effectually; he is not an enemy to hearing,
but profiting. Though the minister holds out the breasts of the
ordinances to you, he cares not as long as you do not suck the
sincere milk of the word. The devil cares not how many sermon-pills
you take, so long as they do not work upon your conscience.
(3) If the word preached be not effectual to men's conversion,
it will be effectual to their condemnation. The word will be
effectual one way or other; if it does not make your hearts better,
it will make your chains heavier. We pity those who have not the
word preached, but it will be worse with those who are not
sanctified by it. Dreadful is their case who go loaded with sermons
to hell. But I will conclude with the apostle, I am 'persuaded
better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.' Heb vi