Jonathan Edwards has always been and will always be my favorite Puritan pastor and theologian. But Thomas Watson comes in as a close second. Though he did not pump out the material that Edwards produced, his work is always readable, inspiring, poetic, biblical and God-centered to the core. The Ten Commandments is no exception. Thomas Watson’s prose is typically Puritan in style. He masterfully mines a given passage and thoughtfully applies God’s truth to the reader.
After a lengthy introduction, the author digs deeply into the ten commandments. Each commandment is served up, much like a five course meal. Each exposition is filled with insight and pithy commentary. For instance, Watson contrasts the first and second commandments: “In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this (namely, the second commandment), worshipping the true God in a false manner.” “God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye.” Watson draws the reader toward true worship and warns of false, idolatrous worship: “Take heed of all occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil-worship.”
Clearly, Thomas Watson was a student of John Calvin and was well aware of his famous dictum: “The heart is an idol-factory.” No doubt Watson was grieved by the rampant idolatry that was being churned out of the Roman Catholic Church. But he was also grieved with his own propensity toward idolatry. So he writes with zeal. He writes with passion. And he spurs readers toward the glory of God and prompts them to worship him alone!
Watson, though writing to a 17th century audience, speaks directly to the heart of America as he unfolds the meaning behind the third commandment: “[God] is not to be spoken of but with a holy awe upon our hearts. To bring his name in at every turn, when we are not thinking of him, to say, ‘O God!’ or ‘O Christ!’ is to take God’s name in vain. How many are guilty here … It is a wonder that fire does not come out from the Lord to consume them, as it did Nadab and Abihu.”
Watson clearly articulates the utter inability for sinful men to keep the moral law. Indeed, “though man has lost his power of obeying, God has not lost his right in commanding.” Watson indirectly confronts the heretic, Pelagius who believed that all men have the ability to carry out God’s commands. His view concerning freewill is clear: “The will is not only full of weakness, but obstinacy …The will hangs forth a flag of defiance against God.”
The author is quick to point sinners to the cross of Christ: “Though a Christian cannot, in his own person, perform all God’s commandments; yet Christ, as his Surety, and in his stead, has fulfilled the law for him: and God accepts of Christ’s obedience, which is perfect, to satisfy for that obedience which is imperfect.” Here is where Watson shines brightly. He constantly emphasizes the lost condition and utter hopelessness of sinners apart from grace. And he consistently stresses the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on behalf of God’s elect.
Soli Deo Gloria!