A Godly Man Is Thoroughly Trained in Religion

By Thomas Watson; excerpted with minor editing from The Godly Man’s Picture,—

Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, or Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven
(BOT, 1992 [666]), 166-174 [Sect. 22 of chap 4, "Showing the Characteristics of a Godly Man"]

He obeys every command of God: "I have found David a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will" (Acts 13:22). In the Greek it is "all my wills." A godly man strives to walk according to the full breadth and latitude of God’s law. Every command has the same stamp of divine authority on it, and he who is godly will obey one command as well as another: "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments" (Ps 119:6). A godly man goes through all the body of religion as the sun through all the signs of the Zodiac. Whoever is to play a ten-stringed instrument must strike every string or he will spoil all the music. The ten commandments may be compared to a ten-stringed instrument. We must obey every commandment, strike every string, or we cannot make any sweet music in religion. True obedience is filial. It is fitting that the child should obey the parent in all just and sober commands. God’s laws are like the curtains of the tabernacle which were looped together. They are like a chain of gold where all the links are coupled. A conscientious man will not willingly break one link of this chain. If one command is violated, the whole chain is broken: "whosoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas 2:10). A voluntary breach of one of God’s laws involves a man in the guilt and exposes him to the curse of the whole law. True obedience is entire and uniform. A good heart, like the needle, points the way in which the lodestone draws.

This is one great difference between a child of God and a hypocrite. The hypocrite picks and chooses in religion. He will perform some duties which are easier and gratify his pride or interest, but other duties he takes no notice of: "Ye pay tithe of mint and anise, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith" (Mt 23:23). To sweat in some duties of religion and freeze in others is the symptom of a disordered Christian. Jehu was zealous in destroying the idolatry of Baal, but let the golden calves of Jeroboam stand (2 Kgs 10:29). This shows that men are not good in truth when they are good by halves. If your servant should do some of your work you set him, and leave the rest undone, how would you like that? The Lord says, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Gen 17:1). How are our hearts perfect with God when we prevaricate with him? Some things we will do and other things we leave undone. He is good who is good universally. "Here I am, Father; command what you will" (Plautus).

There are ten duties that God calls for which a godly man will conscientiously perform, and indeed these duties may serve as so many other characteristics and touchstones to test our godliness by:

1. A Godly Man Will Often Be Calling His Heart To Account

He takes the candle of the Word and searches his innermost being: "I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search" (Ps 77:6). A gracious soul searches whether there is any duty omitted, any sin cherished. He examines his evidences for heaven. As he will not take his gold on trust, so neither will he take his grace. He is a spiritual merchant; he casts up the estate of his soul to see what he is worth. He "sets his house in order". Frequent reckonings keep God and conscience friends. A carnal person cannot abide this heart-work; he is ignorant how the affairs go in his soul. He is like a man who is well acquainted with foreign parts but a stranger in his own country.

2. A Godly Man Is Much in Private Prayer

He keeps his hours for private devotion. Jacob, when he was left alone, wrestled with God (Gen 32:24). So when a gracious heart is alone, it wrestles in prayer and will not leave God till it has a blessing. A devout Christian exercises eyes of faith and knees of prayer.

Hypocrites who have nothing of religion besides the frontispiece love to be seen. Christ has characterized them: "they love to pray in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen" (Mt 6:5). The hypocrite is devout in the temple. There everyone will gaze at him, but he is a stranger to secret communion with God. He is a saint in the church, but an atheist in private. A good Christian holds secret communication with heaven. Private prayer keeps up the trade of godliness. When private holiness is laid aside, a stab is given to the heart of religion.

3. A Godly Man Is Diligent In His Calling

He takes care to provide for his family. The church must not exclude the shop. Mr Perkins said: "Though a man is endued with excellent gifts, hears the Word with reverence and receives the sacrament, yet if he does not practise the duties of his calling, all is sheer hypocrisy." Religion never did grant a patent for idleness; "there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all; them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread" (2 Th 3:11,12). The bread that tastes most sweet is obtained with most sweat. A godly man would rather fast than eat the bread of idleness. Vain professing Christians talk of living by faith, but do not live in a calling. They are like the lilies of the field: "they toil not, neither do they spin" (Mt 6:28). An idle person is the devil’s tennis ball, which he bandies up and down with temptation till at last the ball goes out of play.

4. A Godly Man Sets Bounds To Himself In Things Lawful

He is moderate in matters of recreation and diet. He takes only so much for the restoration of health as may the better dispose him for God’s service. Jerome lived abstemiously; his diet was a few dried figs and cold water. And Augustine in his "Confessions" says: "Lord, thou hast taught me to go to my food as to a medicine." If the bridle of reason checks the appetite, much more should the curbing-bit of grace do so. The life of a sinner is brutish; the glutton feeds "without fear" (Jude 12), and the drunkard drinks without reason. Too much oil chokes the lamp, whereas a smaller quantity makes it burn more brightly. A godly man holds the golden bridle of temperance, and will not allow his table to be a snare.

5. A Godly Man Is Careful About Moral Righteousness

He makes conscience of equity as well as piety. The Scripture has linked both together: "that we might serve him in holiness and righteousness" (Lk 1:74,75). Holiness: there is the first table; righteousness: there is the second table. Though a man may be morally righteous and not godly, yet no-one can be godly unless he is morally righteous. This moral righteousness is seen in our dealings with men. A good man observes that golden maxim, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Mt 7:12). There is a threefold injustice in business matters:

a. Using false weights: "the balances of deceit are in his hand" (Hos 12:7). Men, by making their weights lighter, make their sin heavier: "They make the ephah small" (Amos 8:5). The ephah was a measure they used in selling. They made the ephah small; they gave but scant measure. A godly man who takes the Bible in one hand dares not use false weights in the other.

b. Debasing a commodity: "they sell the refuse of the wheat" (Amos 8:6). They would pick out the best grains of the wheat and sell the worst at the same price as they did the best. "Thy wine is mixed with water" (Isa 1:22). They adulterated their wine, yet made their customers believe it came from the pure grape.

c. Taking a great deal more than the commodity is worth. "If thou sell ought unto thy neighbour. . . ye shall not oppress one another" (Lev 25:14). A godly man deals exactly but not exactingly. He will sell so as to help himself, but not to damn another. His motto is, "a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16).

The hypocrite separates these two which God has joined together – righteousness and holiness. He pretends to be pure but is not just. It brings religion into contempt when men hang out Christ’s colours, yet will use fraudulent circumvention and, under a mask of piety, neglect morality. A godly man makes conscience of the second table as well as the first.

6. A Godly Man Will Forgive Those Who Have Wronged Him, But Revenge Is Sweet To Nature

A gracious spirit passes by affronts, forgets injuries and counts it a greater victory to conquer an enemy by patience than by power. It is truly heroic "to overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21). Though I would not trust an enemy, yet I would endeavour to love him. I would exclude him from my creed, but not from my prayer (Mt 5:44).


But does every godly man succeed in forgiving, yea, loving his enemies?


He does so in a gospel sense. That is:

a. In so far as there is assent. He subscribes to it in his judgement as a thing which ought to be done: "with my mind I serve the law of God" (Rom 7:25).

b. In so far as there is grief. A godly man mourns that he can love his enemies no more: "O wretched man that I am!" (Rom 7:24). Oh, this base cankered heart of mine, that has received so much mercy and can show so little! I have had talents forgiven me, yet I can hardly forgive pence.

c. In so far as there is prayer. A godly man prays that God will give him a heart to love his enemies. "Lord, pluck this root of bitterness out of me, perfume my soul with love, make me a dove without gall."

d. In so far as there is effort. A godly man resolves and strives in the strength of Christ against all rancour and virulence of spirit. This is in a gospel sense to love our enemies. A wicked man cannot do this; his malice boils up to revenge.

7. A Godly Man Lays To Heart The Miseries Of The Church

"We wept, when we remembered Zion" (Ps 137:1). I have read of certain trees whose leaves, if cut or touched, the other leaves begin to contract and shrink, and for a time hang down their heads. Such a spiritual sympathy exists among Christians. When other parts of God’s church suffer, they feel themselves, as it were, touched in their own persons. Ambrose reports that when Theodosius was terminally ill, he was more troubled about the church of God than about his own sickness. When Aeneas would have saved Anchises’ life, he says, "Far be it from me that I should desire to live when Troy is buried in its ruins." In music there are two unisons; if you strike one, you perceive that the other is stirring, as if it were affected. Then the Lord strikes others, a godly heart is deeply affected: "my bowels shall sound like an harp" (Isa 16:11). Though things go well with a child of God in his own private life and he lives in a house of cedar, he still grieves to see things go badly with the public. Queen Esther enjoyed the king’s favour and all the delights of the court, yet when a warrant portending bloodshed was signed for the death of the Jews, she mourns and fasts, and ventures her own life to save theirs.

8. A Godly Man Is Content With His Present Condition

If provisions get low, his heart is tempered to his condition. "Many", says Cato, "blame me because I am in need, and I blame them because they cannot be in need." A godly man puts a candid interpretation upon providence. When God brews him a bitter cup, he says, "This is my diet drink: it is to purge me and do my soul good." Therefore he is most content (Phil 4:11).

9. A Godly Man Is Fruitful In Good Works (Titus 2:7)

The Hebrew word for godly (chasid) signifies ‘merciful’, implying that to be godly and charitable are of equal force, one and the same. A good man feeds the hungry, clothes the naked: "He is ever merciful" (Ps 37:26). The more devout sort of the Jews to this day distribute the tenth part of their estate to the poor and they have a proverb among them, "Give the tenth, and you will grow rich". The hypocrite is all for faith, nothing for works, like the laurel that makes a flourish but bears no fruit.

10. A Godly Man Will Suffer Persecution

He will be married to Christ, though he settles no other estate on him than the cross. He suffers out of choice and with a spirit of gallantry (Heb 11:35). Argerius wrote a letter to his friend, headed: "From the pleasant gardens of the Leonine prison." The blessed martyrs who put on the whole armour of God blunted the edge of persecution by their courage. The juniper tree makes the coolest shadow and the hottest coal. So persecution makes the coal of love hotter and the shadow of death cooler.

Thus a godly man goes round the whole circle of religious duties and obeys God in whatever he commands.


But it is impossible for anyone to walk according to the full breadth of God’s law, and to follow God fully!


There is a twofold obeying of God’s law. The first is perfect, when all is done that the law requires. This we cannot arrive at in this life. Secondly, there is an incomplete obedience which is accepted in Christ. This consists in four things:

a. An approving of all God’s commands: "the commandment is holy and just and good . . . I consent unto the law that it is good" (Rom 7:12, 16). There is both assent and consent.

b. A sweet delight in God’s commands: "I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved" (Ps 119:47).

c. A cordial desire to walk in all God’s commands: "O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes" (Ps 119:5).

d. A real endeavour to tread in every path of the command: "I turned my feet unto thy testimonies" (Ps 119:59). This, God esteems perfect obedience and is pleased to take it in good part. Zacharias had his failings; he hesitated through unbelief, for which he was struck dumb. Yet it is said that he "walked in all the commands of the Lord blameless" (Lk 1:6), because he cordially endeavoured to obey God in all things. Evangelical obedience is true in its essence, though not perfect in its degree, and where it comes short, Christ puts his mercies into the scales, and then there is full weight. W