The First Commandment
by Thomas Watson
'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' Exod 20: 3.
Why is the commandment in the second person singular, Thou? Why does not God say, You shall have no other gods?
Because the commandment concerns every one, and God would have each one take it as spoken to him by name. Though we are forward to take privileges to ourselves, yet we are apt to shift off duties from ourselves to others; therefore the commandment is in the second person, Thou and Thou, that every one may know that it is spoken to him, as it were, by name. We come now to the commandment, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' This may well lead the van, and be set in the front of all the commandments, because it is the foundation of all true religion. The sum of this commandment is, that we should sanctify God in our hearts, and give him a precedence above all created beings. There are two branches of this commandment: 1. That we must have one God. 2. That we must have but one. Or thus, 1. That we must have God for our God. 2. That we must have no other.
I. That we must have God for our God.
It is manifest that we must have a God, and 'who is God save the Lord?' 2 Sam 22: 32. The Lord Jehovah (one God in three persons) is the true, living, eternal God; and him we must have for our God.
 To have God to be a God to us, is to acknowledge him for a God. The gods of the heathen are idols. Psa 96: 5. And 'we know that an idol is nothing' (1 Cor 8: 4); that is, it has nothing of Deity in it. If we cry, 'Help, O Idol,' an idol cannot help; the idols themselves were carried into captivity, so that an idol is nothing. Isa 46: 2. Vanity is ascribed to it, we do not therefore acknowledge it to be a god. Jer 14: 22. But we have this God to be a God to us, when, ex animo [from the heart], we acknowledge him to be God. All the people fell on their faces and said, 'The Lord he is the God! the Lord he is the God!' 1 Kings 18: 39. Yea, we acknowledge him to be the only God. 'O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubim, thou art the God, even thou alone.' 2 Kings 19: 15. Deity is a jewel that belongs only to his crown. Further, we acknowledge there is no God like him. 'And Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord; and he said, Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee.' I Kings 8: 22, 23. 'For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?' Psa 89: 6. In the Chaldee it is, 'Who among the angels?' None can do as God; he brought the world out of nothing; 'And hangeth the earth upon nothing.' Job 26: 7. It makes God to be a God to us, when we are persuaded in our hearts, and confess with our tongues, and subscribe with our hands, that he is the only true God, and that there is none comparable to him.
 To have God to be a God to us is to choose him. 'Choose you this day whom ye will serve: but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord:' that is, we will choose the Lord to be our God. Josh 24: 15. It is one thing for the judgement to approve of God, and another for the will to choose him. Religion is not a matter of chance, but choice.
Before choosing God for our God, there must be knowledge. We must know him before we can choose him. Before any one choose the person he will marry, he must have some knowledge of that person; so we must know God before we can choose him for our God. 'Know thou the God of thy father.' I Chron 28: 9. We must know God in his attributes, as glorious in holiness, rich in mercy, and faithful in promises. We must know him in his Son. As the face is represented in a glass, so in Christ, as in a transparent glass, we see God's beauty and love shine forth. This knowledge must go before choosing God. Lactantius said, all the learning of the philosophers was without a head, because it wanted the knowledge of God. This choosing is an act of mature deliberation. The Christian having viewed the superlative excellences in God, and being stricken with a holy admiration of his perfections, singles him out from all other objects to set his heart upon, and says as Jacob, 'The Lord shall be my God.' Gen 28: 21. He that chooses God, devotes himself to God. 'Thy servant who is devoted to thy fear.' Psa 119: 38. As the vessels of the sanctuary were consecrated and set apart from common to holy uses, so he who has chosen God to be his God, has dedicated himself to God, and will no more be devoted to profane uses.
 To have God to be a God to us, is to enter into solemn covenant with him, that he shall be our God. After choice the marriage-covenant follows. As God makes a covenant with us, 'I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David' (Isa 55: 3); so we make a covenant with him, 'They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers.' 2 Chron 15: 12. 'One shall say, I am the Lord's: and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord;' like soldiers that subscribe their names in the muster roll. Isa 44: 5. This covenant, 'That God shall be our God,' we have often renewed in the Lord's Supper; which, like a seal to a bond, binds us fast to God, and so keeps us that we do not depart from him.
 To have God to be a God to us, is to give him adoration: which consists in reverencing him: 'God is to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.' Psa 89: 7. The seraphim, who stood about God's throne, covered their faces (Isa 6), and Elijah wrapped himself in a mantle when the Lord passed by, in token of reverence. This reverence shows the high esteem we have of God's sacred majesty. Adoration consists in bowing to him, or worshipping him. 'Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.' Psa 29: 2. 'They bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.' Neh 8: 6. Divine worship is the peculiar honour belonging to the Godhead; which God is jealous of, and will have no creature share in. 'My glory will I not give to another.' Isa 42: 8. Magistrates may have a civil respect or veneration, but God only should have a religious adoration.
 To have God to be a God to us, is to fear him. 'That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord thy God.' Deut 28: 58. This fearing God is (1) To have him always in our eye, 'I have set the Lord always before me.' Psa 16: 8. 'Mine eyes are ever towards the Lord.' Psa 25: 15. He who fears God imagines that whatever he is doing, God looks on, and as a judge, weighs all his actions. (2) To fear God is to have such a holy awe of God upon our hearts, that we dare not sin. 'Stand in awe and sin not.' Psa 4: 4. The wicked sin and fear not; the godly fear and sin not. 'How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?' Gen 39: 9. Bid me sin, and you bid me drink poison. It is a saying of Anselm, 'If hell were on one side, and sin on the other, I would rather leap into hell, than willingly sin against my God.' He who fears God will not sin, though it be ever so secret. 'Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God.' Lev 19: 14. Suppose you should curse a deaf man, he could not hear you; or you were to lay a block in a blind man's way, and cause him to fall, he could not see you do it; but the fear of God will make you forsake sins which can neither be heard nor seen by men. The fear of God destroys the fear of man. The three children feared God, therefore they feared not the king's wrath. Dan 3: 16. The greater noise drowns the less; the noise of thunder drowns the noise of a river; so, when the fear of God is supreme in the soul, it drowns all other carnal fear. It makes God to be God to us when we have a holy filial fear of him.
 To have God to be a God to us, is to trust in him. 'Mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord: in thee is my trust.' Psa 141: 8. 'The God of my rock, in him will I trust.' 2 Sam 22: 3. There is none in whom we can trust but God. All creatures are a refuge of lies; they are like the Egyptian reed, too weak to support us, but strong enough to wound us. 2 Kings 18: 21. Omnis motus fit super immobili [The immovable is undisturbed by any commotion]. God only is a sufficient foundation to build our trust upon. When we trust him, we make him a God to us; when we do not trust him, we make him an idol. Trusting in God is to rely on his power as a Creator, and on his love as a Father. Trusting in God is to commit our chief treasure, our soul, to him. 'Into thy hands I commit my spirit.' Psa 31: 5. As the orphan trusts his estate with his guardian, so we trust our souls with God. Then he becomes a God to us.
But how shall we know that we trust in God aright? If we trust in God aright, we shall trust him at one time as well as another. 'Trust in him at all times.' Psa 62: 8. Can we trust him in our straits? When the fig-tree does not flourish, when our earthly crutches are broken, can we lean upon God's promise? When the pipes are cut off that used to bring us comfort, can we live upon God, in whom are all our fresh springs? When we have no bread to eat but the bread of carefulness (Ezek 12: 19), when we have no water to drink but tears, as in Psa 80: 5: 'Thou givest them tears to drink in great measure;' can we then trust in God's providence to supply us? A good Christian believes, that if God feeds the ravens, he will feed his children, he lives upon God's all-sufficiency, not only for grace, but for food. He believes if God gives him heaven, he will give daily bread; he trusts his bond: 'Verily thou shalt be fed.' Psa 37: 3. Can we trust God in our fears? When adversaries grow high can we display the banner of faith? 'What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.' Psa 56: 3. Faith cures the trembling in heart; it gets above fear, as oil swims above the water. To trust in God, makes him to be a God to us.
 To have God to be a God to us, is to love him. In the godly fear and love kiss each other.
 To have him to be a God to us, is to obey him. Upon this I shall speak more at large in the second commandment.
Why must use cleave to the Lord as our God?
(1) Because of its equity. It is but just that we should cleave to him from whom we receive our being. Who can have a better right to us than he that gives us our breath? For 'it is he that made us, and not we ourselves.' Psa 100 3. It is unjust, yea, ungrateful, to give away our love or worship to any but God.
(2) Because of its utility. If we cleave to the Lord as our God, then he will bless us: 'God, even our own God, shall bless us.' Psa 67: 6. He will bless us in our estate. 'Blessed shall be the fruit of thy ground: blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.' Deut 28: 4, 5. We shall not only have our sacks full of corn, but money in the mouth of the sack. He will bless us with peace. 'The Lord will bless his people with peace.' Psa 29: 11. With outward peace, which is the nurse of plenty. 'He maketh peace in thy borders.' Psa 147: 14. With inward peace, a smiling conscience, which is sweeter than the dropping of honey. God will turn all evils to our good. Rom 8: 28. He will make a treacle of poison. Joseph's imprisonment was a means for his advancement. Gen 50: 20. Out of the bitterest drug he will distil his glory and our salvation. In short, he will be our guide to death, our comfort in death, and our reward after death. The utility of it, therefore, may make us cleave to the Lord as our God. 'Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.' Psa 144: 15.
(3) Because of its necessity. If God be not our God, he will curse our blessings; and God's curse blasts wherever it comes. Mal 2: 2. If God be not our God, we have none to help us in misery. Will he help his enemies? Will he assist those who disclaim him? If we do not make God to be our God, he will make himself to be our judge; and if he condemns, there is no appealing to a higher court. There is a necessity, therefore, for having God for our God, unless we intend to be eternally espoused to misery.
Use one. If we must have the Lord Jehovah for our one God, it condemns the Atheists who have no God. 'The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.' Psa 14: 1. There is no God he believes in, or worships. Such Atheists were Diagoras and Theodorus. When Seneca reproved Nero for his impieties, Nero said, 'Dost thou think I believe there is any God, when I do such things?' The duke of Silesia was so infatuated, that he affirmed, Neque inferos, neque superos esse; that there was neither God nor devil. We may see God in the works of his fingers. The creation is a great volume in which we may read a Godhead, and he must needs put out his own eyes that denies a God. Aristotle, though a heathen, not only acknowledged God, when he cried out, 'Thou Being of beings, have mercy on me,' but he thought he that did not confess a Deity was not worthy to live. They who will not believe a God, shall feel him. 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.' Heb 10: 31.
Use two. Christians are condemned who profess to own God for their God and yet do not live as if he were their God. (1) They do not believe in him as a God. When they look upon their sins, they are apt to say, Can God pardon? When they look upon their wants, they say, Can God provide, can he prepare a table in the wilderness? (2) They do not love him as a God. They do not give him the cream of their love, but are prone to love other things more than God; they say they love God, but will part with nothing for him. (3) They do not worship him as God. They do not give him that reverence, nor pray with that devotion, as if they were praying to a God. How dead are their hearts! If not dead in sin, they are dead to duty. They pray as to a god that has eyes and sees not, ears and hears not. In hearing the Word, how much distraction, and what regardless hearts have many! They are thinking of their shops and drugs. Would a king take it well at our hands, if, when speaking to us, we should be playing with a feather? When God is speaking to us in his Word, and our hearts are taken up with thoughts about the world, is not this playing with a feather? Oh, how should this humble most of us, that we do not make God to be a God to us! We do not believe in him, love him, worship him as God. Many heathens have worshipped their false gods with more seriousness and devotion than some Christians do the true God. O let us chide ourselves; did I say chide? Let us abhor ourselves for our deadness and formality in religion; how we have professed God, and yet have not worshipped him as God.
II. That we must have no other god.
'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
What is meant by the words, Before me?
It means before my face; in conspectu meo, in my sight. 'Cursed be the man that maketh any graven image, and putteth it in a secret place.' Deut 27: 15. Some would not bow to the idol in the sight of others, but they would secretly bow to it; but though this was out of man's sight, it was not out of God's sight. 'Cursed, therefore,' says God, 'be he that puts the image in a secret place.' 'Thou shalt have no other gods.' 1. There is really no other god. 2. We must have no other.
 There is really no other god. The Valentinians held there were two gods; the Polytheists, that there were many; the Persian worshipped the sun; the Egyptians, the ox and elephant; the Grecians, Jupiter; but there is no other than the true God. 'Know, therefore, this day, and consider it in thy heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.' Deut 4: 39. For,
(1) There is but one First Cause, that has its being of itself, and on which all other beings depend. As in the heavens the Primum Mobile moves all the other orbs, so God is the Great Mover, he gives life and motion to everything that exists.
(2) There is but one Omnipotent Power. If there be two omnipotent, we must always suppose a contest between the two: that which one would do, the other, being equal, would oppose; and so all things would be brought into confusion. If a ship should have two pilots of equal power, one would be ever crossing the other; when one would sail the other would cast anchor; there would be confusion, and the ship would perish. The order and harmony in the world, the constant and uniform government of all things, is a clear argument that there is but one Omnipotent, one God that rules all. 'I am the first, and I am the last, and beside me there is no God.' Isa 44: 6.
 We must have no other god. 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' This commandment forbids:
(1) Serving a false god, and not the true God. 'Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth.' Jer 2: 27. (2) Joining a false god with a true. 'They feared the Lord, and served their own gods.' 2 Kings 17: 33. These are forbidden in the commandment; we must adhere to the true God, and no other. 'God is a jealous God,' and he will endure no rival. A wife cannot lawfully have two husbands at once; nor may we have two gods. Thou shalt worship no other god, for the Lord is a jealous God.' Exod. 34: 14. 'Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god.' Psa 16: 4. The Lord interprets it a 'forsaking of him' to espouse any other god. 'They forsook the Lord, and followed other gods.' Judges 2: 12. God would not have his people so much as make mention of idol gods. 'Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.' Exod 23: 13. 'God looks upon it as breaking the marriage-covenant, to go after other gods. Therefore, when Israel committed idolatry with the golden calf, God disclaimed his interest in them. 'Thy people have corrupted themselves.' Exod 32: 7. Before, God called Israel his people; but when they went after other gods, 'Now,' saith the Lord to Moses, 'they are no more my people but thy people.' 'Plead with your mother, plead; for she is not my wife.' Hos 2: 2. She does not keep faith with me, she has stained herself with idols, therefore I will divorce her, 'she is not my wife.' To go after other gods, is what God cannot bear; it makes the fury rise up in his face. 'If thy brother, or thy son, or the wife of thy bosom or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, thou shalt not consent unto him, neither shall thine eye pity him; but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.' Deut 13: 6, 8, 9.
What is it to have other gods besides the true God?
I fear upon search, we have more idolaters among us than we are aware of.
(1) To trust in any thing more than God, is to make it a god. If we trust in our riches, we make riches our god. We may take comfort, but not put confidence in them. It is a foolish thing to trust in them. They are deceitful riches, and it is foolish to trust to that which will deceive us. Matt 13: 22. They have no solid consistency, they are like landscapes or golden dreams, which leave the soul empty when it awakes or comes to itself. They are not what they promise; they promise to satisfy our desires, and they increase them; they promise to stay with us, and they take wings. They are hurtful. 'Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.' Eccl 5: 13. It is foolish to trust to that which will hurt one. Who would take hold of the edge of a razor to help him? They are often fuel for pride and lust. Ezek 28: 5. Jer 5: 7. It is folly to trust in our riches; but how many do, and make money their god! 'The rich man's wealth is his strong city.' Prov 10: 15. He makes the wedge of gold his hope. Job 31: 24. God made man of the dust of the earth, and man makes a god of the dust of the earth. Money is his creator, redeemer, comforter: his creator, for if he has money, he thinks he is made; his redeemer, for if he be in danger, he trusts to his money to redeem him; his comforter, for if he be sad, money is the golden harp to drive away the evil spirit. Thus by trusting to money, we make it a god.
If we trust in the arm of flesh, we make it a god. 'Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.' Jer 17: 5. The Syrians trusted in their army, which was so numerous that it filled the country; but this arm of flesh withered. 1 Kings 20: 27, 29. What we make our trust, God makes our shame. The sheep run to the hedges for shelter, and they lose their wool; so we have run to second causes to help us, and have lost much of our golden fleece; they have not only been reeds to fail us, but thorns to prick us. We have broken our parliament-crutches, by leaning too hard upon them.
If we trust in our wisdom, we make it a god. 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.' Jer 9: 23. Glorying is the height of confidence. Many a man makes an idol of his wit and parts; he deifies himself, but how often does God take the wise in their own craftiness! Job 5: 13. Ahithophel had a great wit, his counsel was as the oracle of God; but his wit brought him to the halter. 2 Sam 17: 23.
If we trust in our civility, we make it a god. Many trust to this, that none can charge them with gross sin. Civility is but nature refined and cultivated; a man may be washed, and not changed; his life may be civil, and yet there may be some reigning sin in his heart. The Pharisee could say, 'I am no adulterer' (Luke 18: 11); but he could not say, 'I am not proud.' To trust to civility, is to trust to a spider's web.
If we trust to our duties to save us, we make them a god. 'Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;' they are fly-blown with sin. Isa 64: 6. Put gold in the fire, and much dross comes out: so our most golden duties are mixed with infirmity. We are apt either to neglect duty, or idolise it. Use duty, but do not trust to it; for then you make it a god. Trust not to your praying and hearing; they are means of salvation, but they are not saviours. If you make duties bladders to trust to, you may sink with them to hell.
If we trust in our grace, we make a god of it. Grace is but a creature; if we trust to it we make it an idol. Grace is imperfect, and we must not trust to that which is imperfect to save us. 'I have walked in my integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord.' Psa 26: 1: David walked in his integrity; but did not trust in his integrity. 'I have trusted in the Lord.' If we trust in our graces, we make a Christ of them. They are good graces, but bad Christs.
(2) To love any thing more than God, is to make it a god. If we love our estate more than God, we make it a god. The young man in the gospel loved his gold better than his Saviour; the world lay nearer his heart than Christ. Matt 19: 22. Fulgens hoc aurum praestringit oculos [This gold with its glitter blinds the eyes]. Varius. The covetous man is called an idolater. Eph 5: 5. Why so? Because he loves his estate more than God, and so makes it his god. Though he does not bow down to an idol, if he worships the graven image in his coins, he is an idolater. That which has most of the heart, we make a god of.
If we love our pleasure more than God, we make a god of it. 'Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.' 2 Tim 3: 4. Many let loose the reins, and give themselves up to all manner of sensual delights; they idolise pleasure. 'They take the timbrel, and the harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in mirth.' Job 21: 12, 13, (mg). I have read of a place in Africa, where the people spend all their time in dancing and making merry; and have not we many who make a god of pleasure, who spend their time in going to plays and visiting ball-rooms, as if God had made them like the leviathan, to play in the water? Psa 104: 26. In the country of Sardinia there is a herb like balm, that if any one eats too much of it, he will die laughing: such a herb is pleasure, if any one feeds immoderately on it, he will go laughing to hell. Let such as make a god of pleasure read but these two Scriptures. 'The heart of fools is in the house of mirth.' Eccl 7: 4. 'How much she has lived deliciously, so much torment give her.' Rev 18: 7. Sugar laid in a damp place turns to water; so all the sugared joys and pleasures of sinners will turn to the water of tears at last.
If we love our belly more than God, we make a god of it. 'Whose god is their belly.' Phil 3: 19. Clemens Alexandrinus writes of a fish that had its heart in its belly; an emblem of epicures, whose heart is in their belly; they seek sacrificare lari, their belly is their god, and to this god they pour drink offerings. The Lord allows what is fitting for the recruiting of nature. 'I will send grass, that thou mayest eat and be full.' Deut 11: 15. But to mind nothing but the indulging of the appetite, is idolatry. 'Whose god is their belly.' What pity is it, that the soul, that princely part, which sways the sceptre of reason and is akin to angels, should be enslaved to the brutish part!
If we love a child more than God, we make a god of it. How many are guilty in this kind? They think of their children, and delight more in them than in God; they grieve more for the loss of their first-born, than for the loss of their first love. This is to make an idol of a child, and to set it in God's room. Thus God is often provoked to take away our children. If we love the jewel more than him that gave it, God will take away the jewel, that our love may return to him again.
Use one. It reproves such as have other gods, and so renounce the true God.
(1) Such as set up idols. 'According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.' Jer 2: 28. 'Their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field.' Hos 12: 11.
(2) Such as seek to familiar spirits. This is a sin condemned by the law of God. 'There shall not be found among you a consulted with familiar spirits.' Deut 18: 11. Ordinarily, if people have lost any of their goods, they send to wizards and soothsayers, to know how they may come by them again. What is this but to make a god of the devil, by consulting with him, and putting their trust in him? What! because you have lost your goods will you lose your souls too? 2 Kings 1: 6. Is it not because you think there is not a God in heaven, that you ask counsel of the devil? If any be guilty, be humbled.
Use two. It sounds a retreat in our ears. Let it call us off from idolising any creature, and lead us to renounce other gods, and cleave to the true God and his service. If we go away from God, we know not where to mend ourselves.
(1) It is honourable to serve the true God. Servire Deo est regnare [To serve God is to reign]. It is more honour to serve God, than to have kings serve us.
(2) Serving the true God is delightful. 'I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.' Isa 56: 7. God often displays the banner of his love in an ordinance, and pours the oil of gladness into the heart. All God's ways are pleasantness, his paths are strewed with roses. Prov 3: 17.
(3) Serving the true God is beneficial. Men have great gain here, the hidden manna, inward peace, and a great reward to come. They that serve God shall have a kingdom when they die, and shall wear a crown made of the flowers of paradise. Luke 12: 32; 1 Pet 5: 4. To serve the true God is our true interest. God has twisted his glory and our salvation together. He bids us believe; and why? That we may be saved. Therefore, renouncing all others, let us cleave to the true God.
(4) You have covenanted to serve the true JEHOVAH, renouncing all others. When one has entered into covenant with his master, and the indentures are drawn and sealed, he cannot go back, but must serve out his time. We have covenanted in baptism, to take the Lord for our God, renouncing all others; and renewed this covenant in the Lord's Supper, and shall we not keep our solemn vow and covenant? We cannot go away from God without the highest perjury. 'If any man draw back [as a soldier that steals away from his colours] my soul shall have no pleasure in him.' Heb 10: 38. 'I will pour vials of wrath on him, and make mine arrows drunk with blood.'
(5) None ever had cause to repent of cleaving to God and his service. Some have repented that they had made a god of the world. Cardinal Wolsey said, 'Oh, if I had served my God as I have served my king, he would never have left me thus!' None ever complained of serving God: it was their comfort and their crown on their death-bed.
Chapter VI (The Second Commandment)