Thomas Watson's General Rules For the Right Understanding of the Ten Commandments.
August 19, 2017
The second part of Thomas Watson's Body of Practical Divinity (1692) deals with the law of God, in which he exclaims that 'to obey God, is not so much our duty as our privilege; his commands carry meat in the mouth of them.' Indeed the moral law as summarised in the ten commandments is for the benefit and felicity of the believer and the meditation on and obedience to that law is an important and beneficial part of our reasonable religion.
Dr. Watson sets out general rules for the right understanding of the 10 Commandments, which are set out below.
Rule 1. The demands and prohibitions of the moral law reach the heart.
(a) The commands of the moral law reach the heart. The commandments require not only outward actions, but the inward affections; they require not only the outward act of obedience, but the inward affection of love.
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart.' Deut 6:5
(b) The threats and prohibitions of the moral law reach the heart. The law of God forbids not only the act of sin, but the desire and inclination; not only does it forbid adultery, but lusting (Matt 5:28): not only stealing, but coveting (Rom 7:7)
Lex humana light manum, lex divina comprimit animam: 'Man's law binds the hands only, God's law binds the heart.'
Rule 2: In the commandments there is a Synecdoche, more is intended that is spoken.
(a) Where any duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden. When we are commanded to keep the Sabbath-day holy, we are forbidden to break the Sabbath. When we are commanded to live in a calling, 'Six days shalt thou labour,' we are forbidden to live idly, and out of a calling.
(b) Where any sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded. When we are forbidden to take God's name in vain, the contrary duty, that we should reverence his name, is commanded. 'That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord Thy God.' Deut 28:58. Where we are forbidden to wrong our neighbour, there the duty, that we should do them all the good we can, by vindicating his name and supplying his wants, is included.
Rule 3. Where any sin is forbidden in the commandment, the occasion of it is also forbidden.
Where murder is forbidden, envy and rash anger are forbidden. Where adultery is forbidden, all that may lead to it is forbidden, as wanton glances of the eye, or coming into the company of harlot. 'Come not nigh the door of her house.' Prov 5:8. He who would be free from the plague, must not come near the infected house. Under the law the Nazarite was forbidden to drink wine; nor may he eat grapes of which the wine was made.
Rule 4. In relato subintelligitur correlatum. Where one relation is named in the commandment, there another relation is included.
Where the child is named, the father is included. Where the duty of children to parents is mentioned, the duty of parents to children is also included. Where the child is commanded to honour the parent, it is implied that the parent is also commanded to instruct, to love, and to provide for the child.
Rule 5. Where greater sins are forbidden, lesser sins are also forbidden.
Though no sin in its own nature is little, yet one may be comparatively less than another. Where idolatry is forbidden, superstition is forbidden, or bringing any innovation into God's worship, which he has not appointed. As the sons of Aaron were forbidden to worship an idol, so to sacrifice to God with strange fire.
'And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.'
Mixture in sacred things, it's like a dash in wine, which though it gives a colour, yet does not debase and adulterate it. It is highly provoking to God to bring any superstitious ceremony into his worship which he has not prescribed; it is to tax God's wisdom, as if he were not wise enough to appoint the manner in how he will be served.
Rule 6. The law of God is in entire. Lex eat copulative (The law is all connected.)
The first and second tables are knit together; piety to God and equity to our neighbour. These two tables which God has joined together, must not be put asunder. If he who is strict in the second table neglects the first, or he who is zealous in the first, neglects the second, his heart is not right with God. The Pharisees were the highest pretenders to keeping the first table with zeal and holiness; but Christ detects their hypocrisy: 'Ye have omitted judgement, mercy and faith.' Matt 23:23. They were bad in the second table; they omitted judgement, or being just in their dealings; mercy and relieving the poor, and faith, or faithfulness in their promises and contracts with man. God wrote both the tables, and all obedience must set a seal to both.
Rule 7. Gods law forbids not only the acting of sin in our own persons, but being assessory to, or having any hand in, the sins of others.
How and in what sense may we be said to partake of, and have a hand in the sins of others?
(a) By decreeing unrighteous decrees, and imposing on others that which is unlawful.
(b) We become accessory to the sins of others by not hindering them when it is within our power. Qui non prohibet cum potest, jubet (The failure to prevent something, when it lies within your power, amounts to ordering it). Eli, for not punishing his sons when they made the offering to the Lord to be abhorred, made himself guilty. 1 Sam 3:13-14
(c) By counselling, abetting, or provoking others to sin. Ahithophel made himself guilty of the fact by counselling Absalom to go in and defile his father's concubines. 2 Sam 16:21
(d) By consenting to another's sin. Saul did not cast one stone at Stephen, yet the Scripture says, 'Saul was consenting unto his death.' Acts 8:1. Although his hand was not in the murder, his heart was in it; although he did not act it, yet he approved it, so it became his sin.
(e) By example. Vivitur exemplis (we live by example) Setting a bad example occasions another to sin, and so a person becomes assessory. If the father swears, and the child by his example, learns to swear, the father is assessory to the child's sin; he taught him by example. As there are her hereditary diseases, so there are hereditary sins.
The Final Rule
Dr Watson finished with a further rule relating to the grace, mercy and love of God, which contains much encouragement for the believer and we shall deal with that under our next post