“Praise and thanksgiving is the work of heaven and he begins that work here which he will always be doing in heaven…None but the godly can praise God aright.”
A painting of Watson by Gustavus Ellinthorpe Sintzenich
The Puritan preacher/writer Thomas Watson (1620-1686) is considered one of our church’s honorary elders (in absentia), since we enjoy reading and referencing his books and sermons so much. Over the past year, we have been going through his book The Godly Man’s Picture at our monthly ladies’ breakfasts at my church, because of course the term “godly man” in the book’s title doesn’t refer just to the male species but is relevant to women as well. The book has been very profitable and has stimulated good group discussion about what it means to be a godly person. Although written some 350 years ago, the topic and illustrations are still quite valid and applicable to the Christian life today. Watson is a master illustrator, and as the title of the book states, he uses the Word of God to draw in some detail a portrait of what a godly person looks like, as well as what he or she is not like.
The process of becoming godly begins with an act of God in which He forgives sin and justifies the sinner because of the work of Christ on the individual’s behalf. Thomas Watson defines godliness this way:
“Godliness is the sacred impression and workmanship of God in a man, whereby from being carnal he is made spiritual. When godliness is wrought in a person, he does not receive a new soul, but he has ‘another spirit.’ The faculties are not new, but the qualities are; the strings are the same, but the tune is corrected.”
Among other characteristics of godliness, Pastor Watson points out that godliness in a believer is a fact; it is supernatural, something that cannot come from the natural man but must come from God alone; it is extensive, affecting every area of the person’s life; and it is permanent and will be carried into eternity. After giving some words of warning to “pretenders of godliness,” Watson then proceeds with his portrait by listing, describing and explaining “Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven,” taking about 170 pages to address 24 traits. Watson identifies from Scripture that a godly person is:
- A man of knowledge
- A man moved by faith
- A man careful about the worship of God
- A man who serves God not men
- A man who loves the Word
- A man of humility
- A man of prayer
- A zealous man
- A patient man
- A man who strives to be an instrument for making others godly
This section makes up the bulk of the text, followed by an exhortation to the reader toward godliness and some words of counsel and comfort to those who are sincere in their desire to live a godly life.
I know that sometimes we can be intimidated about reading the writers of centuries past because of archaic language, but Thomas Watson really is not difficult to read. He does make occasional references or allusions to historical or literary people whom we may not be familiar, but it’s not enough to make his works unreadable by any means. Watson has a way with words, and this book is chock full of short, pithy statements that are deep with spiritual meaning. Here are just a few tidbits to whet your appetite:
“To know arts and science is to gather straw, but to know God in Christ is to gather pearl.”
“Those who will add to one part of God’s worship will be as ready to take away from another.”
“The Lord not only fits work for us, but fits us for our work.”
“If God does not give us what we crave, he will give us what we need.”
“Those who will not be taught by the Word shall be judged by the Word.”
“Prayer is a bomb which will make heaven’s gates fly open.”
“It is better to have God approve than the world applaud.”
“Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger. It carries forth our love to God and anger against sin in the most intense manner.”
“The more outrageous the wicked are against the truth, the more courageous the godly are for it.”
“A child of God keeps two books always by him: one to write his sins in, so that he may be humble; the other to write his mercies in, so that he may be thankful.”
II Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” The Godly Man’s Picture gives much opportunity to reflect on who you are in Christ and to take a serious assessment of your own walk with God and the evidence of His sanctifying work in you.
In light of the season, I’d like to conclude with some of Thomas Watson’s observations regarding a godly person being, among other things, a thankful person. He poses the question, “How may we know whether we are rightly thankful?” to which he answers, we are rightly thankful when…
- our hearts are the chief instrument in the music of praise.
- the favours which we receive endear our love to God the more.
- in giving our praise to God, we take all worthiness from ourselves.
- we put God’s mercy to good use.
- we can have our hearts more enlarged for spiritual than for temporal mercies.
- mercy is a spur to duty.
- we motivate others to this angelic work of praise.
- we not only speak God’s praise but live his praise.
- we propagate God’s praises to posterity.
“Praise and thanksgiving is the most excellent part of God’s worship, for this shall continue in the heavenly choir when all other exercises of religion have ceased.”
A Godly Man’s Picture and other excellent works by Thomas Watson are available from Banner of Truth, including:
A Body of Divinity – a collection of sermons on the Westminster Catechism
Have you read any works by Thomas Watson that you recommend?
All Things for Good
The Doctrine of Repentance
The Lord’s Prayer
The Mischief of Sin