Thomas Watson, 1660
An exposition of Matthew 5:1-12
APPENDIX to the Beatitudes
"His commandments are not grievous." 1 John 5:3
You have seen that Christ calls for poverty of spirit,
pureness of heart, meekness, mercifulness, cheerfulness in suffering
persecution, etc. Now that none may hesitate or be troubled at these
commands of Christ, I thought it good (as a closure to the former discourse)
to take off the surmises and prejudices in men's spirits by this sweet,
mollifying Scripture, 'His commandments are not grievous.'
The censuring world objects against piety—that it is
difficult and irksome. 'Behold what a weariness is it!' (Malachi 1:13).
Therefore the Lord, that he may invite and encourage us to obedience, draws
religion in its fair colors and represents it to us as beautiful and
pleasant, in these words: 'His commandments are not grievous.' this may well
be called a sweetening ingredient put into religion and may serve to
take off that asperity and harshness which the carnal world would put upon
the ways of God.
For the clearing of the terms, let us consider:
1. What is meant here by 'commandments'?
By this word, commandments, I understand gospel-precepts;
faith, repentance, self-denial etc.
2. What is meant by 'not grievous'?
The Greek word signifies they are not tedious or heavy to
be borne. There is a train of thought in the words. 'His commands are not
grievous', that is, they are easy, sweet, excellent.
Hence observe that none of God's commandments are
grievous, when he calls us to be meek, merciful, pure in heart. These
commandments are not grievous. 'My burden is light' (Matthew 11:30). The
Greek word there for 'burden', signifies properly 'the ballast of a ship'
which glides through the waves as swiftly and easily as if the ship had no
weight or pressure in it. Christ's commandments are like the ballast of a
ship—useful, but not troublesome. All his precepts are sweet and easy,
therefore called 'pleasantness' (Proverbs 3:17). To illustrate and amplify
this, consider two things:
1. Why Christ lays commands upon his people.
2. That these commands are not grievous.
1. Why Christ lays commands upon his people.
There are two reasons.
 In regard of CHRIST—it is suitable to his
dignity and state. He is Lord paramount. This name is written on his thigh
and vesture, 'King of kings' (Revelation 19:16). And shall not a king
appoint laws to his subjects? It is one of the regal rights, the flowers of
the crown, to enact laws and statutes. What is a king without his laws? And
shall not Christ (by whom 'kings reign', Proverbs 8:15) put forth his royal
edicts by which the world shall be governed?
 In regard of the SAINTS—it is well for the
people of God that they have laws to bind and check the exorbitancies of
their unruly hearts. How far would the vine spread its luxuriant
branches—were it not pruned and tied? The heart would be ready to run wild
in sin—if it did not have affliction to prune it, and the laws of
Christ to bind it. The precepts of Christ are called 'a yoke' (Matthew
11:30). The yoke is useful. It keeps the oxen from straggling and running
out. So the precepts of Christ as a yoke—keep the godly from straggling into
sin. Where would we not run, into what damnable opinions and practices— did
not Christ's laws lay a check and restraint upon us! Blessed be God for
precepts! That is a blessed yoke, which yokes our corruptions. We would run
to hell were it not for this yoke! The laws of Christ are a spiritual hedge,
which keeps the people of God within the pastures of ordinances. Some that
have broken this hedge and have straggled off, are now in the devil's pound!
Thus we see what need the saints have of the royal law.
2.The second thing I am to demonstrate, is
that Christ's commands are not grievous.
I confess they are grievous to the unregenerate man. To mourn for sin, to be
pure in heart, to suffer persecution for righteousness' sake—is a hard work,
and grievous to flesh and blood. Therefore Christ's commands are compared to
bands and cords—because carnal men look upon them so. God's commands
restrain men from their excess, and bind them to their good behavior.
Therefore, they hate these bonds and instead of breaking off sin, say, 'Let
us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us!' (Psalm
2:3). A carnal man is like an untamed heifer which will not endure the
yoke—but kicks and flings, or like a 'wild bull in a net' (Isaiah 51:20).
Thus to an unsaved person, Christ's commands are grievous.
Nay, to a child of God, so far as corruption prevails
(for he is but in part regenerate), Christ's laws seem irksome. The
flesh cries out that it cannot pray or suffer. 'The law in the members'
rebels against Christ's law. Only as the spiritual part prevails, does it
make the flesh stoop to Christ's injunctions. A regenerate person, so far as
he is regenerate, does not count God's commandments grievous. They are not a
burden—but a delight.
Divine commands are not grievous, if we consider them
first positively, in these eight particulars:
(1) A Christian consents to God's commands,
therefore they are not grievous. 'I consent to the law, that it
is good' (Romans 7:16). What is done with consent is easy. If the virgin
gives her consent, the match goes on cheerfully. A godly man in his
judgment approves of Christ's laws, and in his will consents to
them. Therefore they are not grievous. A wicked man is under a force; terror
of conscience forces him to duty. He is like a slave that is chained to the
galley. He must work whether he will or not. He is forced to pull the rope,
tug at the oar. But a godly man is like a free subject, who consents to his
prince's laws and obeys out of choice as seeing the equity and rationality
of them. Thus a gracious heart sees a beauty and equity in the commands of
heaven, which draws forth consent, and this consent makes them pleasant.
(2) They are Christ's commands, therefore not
grievous. 'Take my yoke' (Matthew 11:29). Gospel commands
are not the laws of a tyrant—but of a Savior. The husband's commands are not
grievous to the wife. It is her desire to obey. This is enough to animate
and excite obedience—it is Christ's who commands. As Peter said in another
sense, 'Lord if it is you, bid me come unto you upon the water' (Matthew
14:28), so says a gracious soul; 'Lord, if it is you who would have me mourn
for sin and breathe after heart purity; if it is you (dear Savior) who bids
me to do these things—I will cheerfully obey. Your commandments are not
grievous'. A soldier at the word of his general, makes a brave fight.
(3) Christians obey out of a principle of love,
and then God's commandments are not grievous. Therefore in
Scripture serving and loving of God, are put together. 'They
join themselves to the Lord, to serve him and to love the name
of the Lord' (Isaiah 56:6). Nothing is grievous to him who loves. Love
lightens a burden; it adds wings to obedience. A heart who loves God, counts
nothing tedious but its own dullness and slowness of motion. Love makes sin
heavy—and Christ's burden light.
(4) A Christian is carried on by the help of the
Spirit, and the Spirit makes every duty easy. 'The Spirit
helps our infirmities' (Romans 8:26). The Spirit works in us 'both to will
and to do' (Philippians 2:13). When God enables us to do what he commands,
then 'his commandments are not grievous'. If two carry a burden, it is easy.
The Spirit of God helps us to do duties, and to bear burdens. He draws as it
were in the yoke with us. If the teacher guides the child's hand and helps
it to frame its letter—it is not hard for the child to write. If the
loadstone draw the iron—it is not hard for the iron to move. If the Spirit
of God as a divine loadstone draws and moves the heart—it is not hard to
obey. When the bird has wings given it, it can fly. Though the soul of
itself be unable to do that which is good—yet having two wings given it—the
wing of faith and the wing of the Spirit, now it flies swiftly
in obedience! 'The Spirit lifted me up' (Ezekiel 11:1). The heart is
heavenly in prayer, when the Spirit lifts it up. The sails of a mill cannot
move by themselves—but when the wind blows then they turn round. When a gale
of the Spirit blows upon the soul, now the sails of the affections move
swiftly in duty.
(5) All Christ's commands are beneficial, not
grievous. 'And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require
of you—but to fear the Lord your God, to love him, to keep his statutes
which I command you this day—for your good' (Deuteronomy
10:12, 13). Christ's commands carry food in the mouth of them, and then
surely they are not grievous. Salvation runs along in every precept. To obey
Christ's laws is not so much our duty—as our privilege. All
Christ's commands center in blessedness. Medicine is in itself very
unpleasant—yet because it tends to health, no man refuses it. Divine
precepts are irksome to the fleshy part—yet, having such excellent
operation as to make us both holy and happy—they are not to be
accounted grievous. The apprentice is content to go through hard service,
because it makes way for his freedom. The scholar willingly wrestles with
the knotty difficulties of arts and sciences, because they serve both to
ennoble and advance him. How cheerfully does a believer obey those laws
which reveal Christ's love! That suffering is not grievous—which leads to a
crown. This made Paul say, 'I take pleasure in infirmities, in persecutions'
(2 Corinthians 12:10).
(6) It is honorable to be under Christ's commands.
Therefore they are not grievous. The precepts of Christ do not burden
us—but adorn us. It is a honor to be employed in Christ's service.
How cheerfully did the rowers row the barge which carried Caesar! The honor
makes the precept easy. A crown of gold is in itself heavy—but the honor of
the crown makes it light and easy to be worn. I may say of every command of
Christ, as Solomon speaks of wisdom, 'She shall give to your head an
ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to you' (Proverbs
4:9). It is honorable working at the King's court. The honor of
Christ's yoke, makes it easy and pleasant.
(7) Christ's commands are sweetened with joy—so
then they are not grievous. Cicero questions whether that can
properly be called a burden—which is carried with joy and pleasure. When the
wheels of a chariot are oiled they run swiftly. Just so, when God pours in
the oil of gladness, how fast does the soul run in the ways of his
commandments! Joy strengthens for duty. 'The joy of the Lord is your
strength' (Nehemiah 7:10); and the more strength—the less weariness. God
sometimes drops down comfort—and then a Christian can run in the
(8) Gospel commands are finite, therefore not
grievous. Christ will not always be laying his commands upon us.
Christ will shortly take off the yoke from our neck—and set a
crown upon our head! There is a time coming when we shall not only be
free from our sins—but our duties too. Prayer and fasting are
irksome to the flesh. In heaven there will be no need of prayer or
repentance. Duties shall cease there. Indeed in heaven the saints shall love
God—but love is no burden. God will shine forth in his beauty—and to
fall in love with beauty is not grievous. In heaven the saints shall praise
God—but their praising of him shall be so sweetened with delight, that it
will not be a duty any more—but part of their reward. It is
the angels' heaven to praise God. This then makes Christ's commands not
grievous—they are temporary; it is but a while and duties shall be no more.
The saints shall not so much be under commands as embraces!
Wait but a while, and you shall put off your armor—and end your weary
Thus we have seen that Christ's commands considered in
themselves, are not grievous.
Let us consider Christ's commands comparatively—and we
shall see they are not grievous. Let us make a fourfold
comparison. Compare Gospel commands:
1. With the severity of the moral law.
2. With the commands of sin.
3. With the torments of the damned.
4. With the glory of heaven.
1. Christ's commands in the gospel are not grievous, when
compared with the severity of the MORAL LAW. The moral law was
such a burden as neither we nor our fathers could bear. 'Cursed is everyone
who continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to
do them' (Galatians 3:10). Impossible it is that any Christian should come
up to the strictness of this. The golden mandates of the gospel
comparatively are easy. For:
(1) In the gospel, if there is a desire to keep
God's commandments, it is accepted. 'If there be first a willing
mind, it is accepted' (Nehemiah 1:11; 2 Corinthians 8:12). Though a man had
had ever so good an intention to have fulfilled the moral law, it would not
have been accepted. He must 'de facto' (in actual deed) have obeyed
(Galatians 3:12). But in the gospel God crowns the desire. If a
Christian says in humility, 'Lord, I desire to obey you, I would be more
holy' (Isaiah 26:8), this desire, springing from love—is accepted by
(2) In the gospel a surety is admitted in the
court. The law would not admit of a surety. It required personal
obedience. But now, God so far indulges us that, what we cannot of ourselves
do, we may do by a proxy. Christ is called 'a surety of a better testament'
(Hebrews 7:22). We cannot walk so exactly. We tread awry, and fall short in
everything—but God looks upon us in our surety, and Christ 'having fulfilled
all righteousness' (Matthew 3:15), it is as if we had fulfilled the law in
our own person.
(3) The law commanded and threatened—but gave no
strength to perform. It Egyptianized, requiring the
full tally of bricks—but gave no straw. But now, God gives power with
his commands. Gospel-precepts are sweetened with promises. God
commands, 'Make a new heart' (Ezekiel 18:31). 'Lord,' may the soul say, 'I
cannot make a new heart! I could as well make a new world!' But see Ezekiel
36:26, 'A new heart also will I give you'. God commands us to cleanse
ourselves: 'Wash, make yourself clean' (Isaiah 1:16). 'Lord, I have no power
to cleanse myself! Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?' (Job
14:4). See the precept turned into a promise: 'From all your
filthiness and from your idols—I will cleanse you' (Ezekiel 36:25). If, when
the child cannot go, the father takes it by the hand and leads it, now it is
not hard for the child to go. When we cannot go, God takes us by the hand,
'I taught Ephraim to go, taking them by their arms' (Hosea 11:3).
(4) In the gospel God winks at infirmities, where the
heart is right. The law called for perfect obedience. It
was death to have shot but a hairbreadth short of the mark. It would be sad
if the same rigor should continue upon us. 'Woe to the holiest man who
lives' (says Augustine) 'if God comes to weigh him in the balance of his
justice!' It is with our best duties as with gold. Put the gold in the
fire and you will see dross come out. What drossiness is in our holy things!
But in the gospel, God will pass by our failings. Thus Christ's commands in
the gospel are not grievous, compared with the severity of the moral law.
2. Christ's commands are not grievous, when compared with
the commands of SIN. Sin lays a heavy yoke upon men. Sin is
compared to heavy lead (Zechariah 5:7) to show the weightiness of it.
The commands of sin are burdensome. Let a man be under the power and rage of
any lust (whether it be covetousness or ambition), how he tires and
excruciates himself! What hazards does he run, even to the endangering of
his health and soul, that he may satisfy his lust! 'They wear themselves out
with all their sinning' (Jeremiah 9:5). And are not Christ's precepts easy
and sweet in comparison of sin's austere and inexorable commands? Therefore
Chrysostom says well that 'virtue is easier than vice'. Temperance is less
burdensome than drunkenness. Doing justice is less burdensome than crime.
There is more difficulty and perplexity in the contrivement (Micah 2:1) and
pursuit of wicked ends—than in obeying the sweet and gentle precepts of
Christ. Hence it is that a wicked man is said to 'pregnant with evil and
conceives trouble' (Psalm 7:14), to show what anxious pain and trouble he
has in bringing about his wickedness! Many have gone with more pain to
hell--than others have to heaven!
3. Christ's commands are not grievous, when compared with
the grievous TORMENTS OF THE DAMNED. The rich man cries out 'I am
tormented in this flame!' (Luke 16:24). Hell fire is so inconceivably
torturing—that the wicked do not know either how to bear or how to
avoid it. The torment of the damned may be compared to a yoke—but it
differs from other yokes. Usually the yoke is laid but upon the neck of the
beast—but the hell-yoke is laid upon every part of the sinner. His eyes
shall behold nothing but bloody tragedies. His ears shall hear the groans
and shrieks of blaspheming spirits. He shall suffer in every member of his
body and faculty of his soul, and this agony though violent, is yet
perpetual. The yoke of the damned shall never be taken off. 'The footprints
to hell show no return.' Sinners might break the golden chain of
God's commands—but they cannot break the iron chain of his
punishments! It is as impossible for them to file this chain, as to
And are not gospel-commands easy in comparison of
hell-torments? What does Christ command? He bids you repent. Is it not
better to weep for sin—than bleed for it! Christ bids you pray in your
families and closets. Is it not better praying—than roaring in hell! He bids
you sanctify the Sabbath. Is it not better to keep a holy rest to the Lord
than to be forever without rest? Hell is a restless place. There is no
intermission of torment for one moment in all eternity! I appeal to the
consciences of men. Are not Christ's commands sweet and pleasant—in
comparison of the insupportable pains of reprobates? Is not obeying
better than damning! Are not the cords of love—better than the chains
4. Gospel commands are not grievous, when compared with
the glory of HEAVEN. What an infinite disproportion is there
between our service and our reward! What are all the saints' labors
and travails in religion—compared with the eternal crown of glory? The
weight of glory makes duty light.
Behold here an encouraging argument to true religion. How
may this make us in love with the ways of God! 'His commandments are not
grievous'. Believers are not now under the thundering curses of the law—no,
nor under the ceremonies of it, which were both numerous and burdensome. The
ways of God are reasonable, his statutes pleasant! He bids us mourn—that we
may be comforted. He bids us be poor in spirit—that he may settle a kingdom
upon us. God is no hard Master. 'His commandments are not grievous.' O
Christian, serve God out of choice (Psalm 119:3). Think of the joy,
the honor, and the reward of godliness. Never more grudge God
your service. Whatever he prescribes—let your hearts cheerfully subscribe.
It reproves those who refuse to obey these sweet and
gentle commands of Christ. 'Israel would not submit to me' (Psalm 81:11).
The generality of men choose rather to put their neck in the devil's yoke
than to submit to the sweet and easy yoke of Christ. What should be the
reason that, when God's 'commandments are not grievous', his ways
pleasantness, his service perfect freedom—yet men should not bow to Christ's
scepter, nor stoop to his laws?
Surely the cause is that inbred hatred which is
naturally in men's hearts against Christ. Sinners are called 'God-haters'
(Romans 1:30). Sin begets not only a dislike of the ways of God—but
hatred to God! And from disaffection, flows disloyalty. 'His citizens
hated him and sent a message after him, saying—We will not have this man to
reign over us!' (Luke 19:14)
Besides this inbred hatred against Christ, the devil
labors to blow the coals and increase this odium and antipathy. He raises an
evil report upon religion as those spies did on Canaan. 'They brought up an
evil report of the land' (Numbers 13:32). Satan is implacably malicious, and
as he sometimes accuses us to God—so he accuses God to us, and says, 'He is
a hard Master and his commandments are grievous.' It is the devil's design
to do as the sons of Eli, 'who made the offering of God to be abhorred' (1
Samuel 2:17). If there is any hatred and prejudice in the heart against true
religion, 'an enemy has done this!' (Matthew 13:28, 38).
The devil raises in the hearts of men a twofold
prejudice against Christ and his ways:
(1) The small number of those who embrace religion.
The way of Christ is but a pathway (Psalm 119:35), whereas the
way of pleasure and vanity is the roadway. Many ignorantly conclude
that must be the best way—which most people travel on.
I answer: There are but few that are saved, and will not
you be saved because so few are saved? A man does not argue thus in other
things: 'there are but few rich, therefore I will not labor to be rich.'
Nay, therefore, he the rather strives to be rich. Why should not we argue
thus wisely about our souls? There are but few that go to heaven, therefore
we will labor the more to be of the number of that few.
What a weak argument is this: there are but few who
embrace true religion, therefore you will not! Those things which are more
excellent are more rare. There are but few diamonds. There are
but few kings. The fewness of those who embrace true religion, argues the
way of religion to be excellent. We are warned not to sail with the
multitude (Exodus 23:2). Most fish go to the Devil's net! 'Enter
through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that
leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and
narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.' (Matthew
(2) The ways of religion are rendered deformed and
unlovely by the scandals of professors.
I answer: I acknowledge the luster of religion has been
much eclipsed and sullied by the scandals of men. This is an age of
scandals. Many have made the pretense of religion, to be a key to
open the door to all ungodliness. Never was God's name more taken in vain.
This is that our Savior has foretold. 'It must needs be that offences come'
(Matthew 18:7). But to take off this prejudice, consider: scandals are not
from true religion—but for lack of true religion. True religion is not the
worse, though some abuse it. To dislike piety because some of the professors
of it are scandalous, is as if one should say, 'Because the servant is
dishonest, therefore he will not have a good opinion of his master.' Is
Christ the less glorious because some who wear his livery are scandalous? Is
true religion the worse—because some of her followers are bad? Is wine the
worse—because some are drunkards? Shall a woman dislike chastity because
some of her neighbors are unchaste? Let us argue soberly. 'Judge righteous
judgment' (John 7:24).
God sometimes permits scandals to fall out in the
church out of a design:
(1) As a just judgment upon hypocrites. These
squint-eyed devotionists who serve God for their own ends, the Lord in
justice allows them to fall into horrid debauched practices, that he may lay
open their baseness to the world, and that all may see they were but pretend
Christians, but painted devils! Judas was first a sly hypocrite, afterwards
a visible traitor!
(2) Scandals are for hardening of the profane.
Some desperate sinners who would not be won by piety—they
shall be wounded by it. God lets scandals occur, to be a break neck
to men and to engulf them more in sin. Jesus Christ ('God blessed forever')
is to some a 'rock of offence' (Romans 9:33). His blood, which is to some
balm, is to others poison. If the beauty of piety does not allure—the
scandals of some of its followers shall spur men to hell.
(3) Scandals in the church are for the caution of the
godly. The Lord would have his people walk tremblingly. 'Be not
high-minded—but fear' (Romans 11:20). When cedars fall, let the
'bruised reed' tremble. The scandals of professors are not to discourage
us—but to warn us. Let us tread more warily. The scandals of others are
sea-marks for the saints to avoid.
Let all this serve to take off these prejudices from true
religion. Though Satan may endeavor by false disguises to render the gospel
odious—yet there is a beauty and a glory in it. God's 'commandments are not
Let me persuade all men cordially to embrace the ways of
God. 'His commandments are not grievous'. God never burdens us—but that he
may unburden us of our sins. His commands are our privileges.
There is joy in the way of duty (Psalm 19:11)—and heaven at the end!