An Exhortation to Godliness

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]), 191-205 [Chap 6]

Those who are still in their natural condition, who have never yet relished any sweetness in the things of God – let me beseech them for the love of Christ to strive to get these characteristics of the godly engraved on their hearts. Though godliness is the object of the world’s scorn and hatred (as in Tertullian’s days, the name of a Christian was a crime), yet do not be ashamed to espouse godliness. Know that persecuted godliness is better than prosperous godliness? What will all the world avail a man without godliness? To be learned and ungodly is like a devil transformed into an angel of light; to be beautiful and ungodly is like a lovely picture hung in an infected room; to be honourable in the world and ungodly is like an ape in purple, or like that image which had a head of gold on feet of clay (Dan 2:32,33). It is godliness that ennobles and consecrates the heart, making God and angels fall in love with it.

Strive for the reality of godliness. Do not rest in the common workings of God’s Spirit. Do not think that it is enough to be intelligent and discursive. A man may discourse of religion to the admiration of others, yet not feel the sweetness of those things in his own soul. The lute gives a melodious sound to others, but does not at all feel the sound itself. Judas could make an elegant discourse about Christ, but did not feel virtue from him.

Do not rest in having your affections a little stirred. A hypocrite may have affections of sorrow like Ahab, or affections of desire like Balaam. These are alight and flashy and do not amount to real godliness. Oh, strive to be like the king’s daughter, "all glorious within" (Ps 45:13)!

In order that I may persuade men to become godly, I shall lay down some forcible motives and arguments, and may the Lord make them like nails fastened by his Spirit.

A. Let Men Seriously Weigh Their Misery While They Remain in a State Of Ungodliness

It may make them run out of this Sodom. The misery of ungodly men appears in nine particulars:

1. They are in a state of death: "dead in trespasses" (Eph 2:1)

Dead they must surely be who are cut off from Christ, the principle of life. For as the body without the soul is dead, so is the soul without Christ. This spiritual death is visible in the effect. It bereaves men of their senses. Sinners have no sense of God in them: "who being past feeling" (Eph 4:19). All their moral endowments are only flowers strewn on a dead corpse, and what is hell but a sepulchre to bury the dead in?

2. Their offerings are polluted

Not only the ploughing but the praying of the wicked is sin: "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Prov 15:8; 21:4). If the water is foul in the well, it cannot be clean in the bucket. If the heart is full of sin, the duties cannot be pure. What straits every ungodly person is in if he does not come to the ordinance. He despises it if he does not come; he defiles it.

3. Those who live and die ungodly have no right to the covenant of grace

"At that time ye were without Christ, strangers from the covenants of promise" (Eph 2:12). And to be without covenant is to be like anyone in the old world without an ark. The covenant is the gospel charter, which is enriched with many glorious privileges. But who may plead the benefit of this covenant? Surely only those whose hearts are inlaid with grace. Read the charter: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ... I will be your God" (Ezk 36:26,28). A person dying in his ungodliness has no more to do with the new covenant than a ploughman has to do with the privileges of a city corporation.

God’s writing always comes before His seal. "Ye are declared to be the epistle of Christ, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor 3:3). Here is a golden epistle: the writing is the work of faith; the tablet it is written on is the heart; the finger that writes it is the Spirit. Now, after the Spirit’s writing comes the Spirit’s sealing: "after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit" (Eph 1:13). That is, you were sealed with an assurance of glory. What have ungodly men – those who have no writing – to do with the seal of the covenant?

4. The ungodly are spiritual fools

"I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly, and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn" (Ps 75:4). If a parent had a child who was very beautiful but a fool, he would take little joy in him. The Scripture has dressed the sinner in a fool’s coat and let me tell you, better be a fool void of reason than a fool void of grace. This is the devil’s fool (Prov 14:9). Is not that man a fool who refuses a rich share? God offers Christ and salvation, but the sinner refuses this share: "Israel would none of me" (Ps 81:11). Is not that man a fool who prefers an annuity to an inheritance? Is not that man a fool who tends his mortal part and neglects his angelic part, as if a man should paint the wall of his house and let the timber rot? Is not that man a fool who will feed the devil with his soul – like that emperor who fed his lion with pheasant? Is not that man a fool who lays a snare for himself (Prov 1:18); who consults his own shame (Hab 2:10); who loves death (Prov 8:36)?

5. The ungodly are vile persons

"I will make thy grave; for thou art vile" (Nah 1:14). Sin makes men base; it blots their name; it taints their blood. "They are all together become filthy" (Ps 14:3). In the Hebrew it is "they have become stinking". If you call wicked men never so bad, you cannot call them worse than their name deserves: they are swine (Mt 7:6); vipers (Mt 3:7); devils (Jn 6:70). The wicked are dross and refuse (Ps 119:119), and heaven is too pure to have any dross mingled with it.

6. Their temporal mercies are continued in judgement

The wicked may have health and estate, yes, more than heart can wish (Ps 73:7), but "their table is a snare" (Ps 69:22). Sinners have their mercies with God’s leave but not with his love. The people of Israel would have been better without their quails than to have had such sour sauce. The ungodly are usurpers; they lack a spiritual title to what they possess. Their good things are like cloth picked up at the draper’s which is not paid for. Death will bring a sad reckoning at last.

7. Their temporal judgements are not removed in mercy

Pharaoh had ten arrows shot at him (ten plagues) and all those plagues were removed; but as his heart remained hard, those plagues were not removed in mercy. It was not a preservation, but a reservation. God reserved him as a signal monument of his justice when he was drowned in the depths of the sea. God may reprieve men’s persons when he does not remit their sins. The wicked may have sparing mercy but not saving mercy.

8. The ungodly, while they live, are exposed to the wrath of God

"He that believeth not, the wrath of God abideth on him" (Jn 3:36). Whoever lacks grace is like someone who lacks a pardon; every hour he is in fear of execution. How can a wicked man rejoice? Over his head hangs the sword of God’s justice and under him hell-fire burns.

9. The ungodly at death must undergo God’s fury and indignation

"The wicked shall be turned into hell" (Ps 9:17). I have read of a lodestone in Ethiopia which has two corners. With one it attracts iron and with the other it repels it. So God has two hands: one of mercy and one of justice. With the one, he will draw the godly to heaven; with the other, he will thrust the sinner to hell. And oh, how dreadful is that place! It is called a fiery lake (Rev 20:15): a lake to denote the many torments in hell, a fiery lake to show their fierceness. Fire is the most torturing element. Strabo in his "Geography" mentions a lake in Galilee of such a pestiferous nature that it scalds off the skin of whatever is thrown into it. But alas, that lake is cool compared with this fiery lake into which the damned are thrown. To demonstrate that this fire is terrible, there are two most pernicious qualities in it:

i. It is sulphurous; it is mixed with brimstone (Rev 21:8), which is unsavoury and suffocating.

ii. It is inextinguishable: the wicked shall be choked in the flames, though not consumed: "And the devil was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Rev 20:10). See the deplorable condition of all ungodly people! In the other world, they shall have a life that always dies and a death that always lives. May this not frighten men off their sins and make them become godly, unless they are resolved to try how hot hell-fire is?

B. What Rare Persons the Godly Are

"The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour" (Prov 12:26). Like the flower of the sun, like the wine of Lebanon, like the sparkling on Aaron’s breastplate, such is the oriental splendour of a person embellished with godliness. The excellence of the persons of the godly appears in seven particulars:

1. They are precious

Therefore they are set apart for God: "know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself" (Ps 4:3). We set apart things that are precious. The godly are set apart as God’s peculiar treasure (Ps 135:4); as his garden of delight (Song 4:12); as his royal diadem (Is 62:3). The godly are the excellent of the earth (Ps 16:3), comparable to fine gold (Lam 4:2); doubly refined (Zech 13:9); they are the glory of creation (Is 46:13). Origen compares the saints to sapphires and crystal. God calls them jewels (Mal 3:17). They are jewels:

i. For their value. Diamonds (says Pliny) were not known for a long time except among princes and were hung on their diadems. God so values his people that he will give kingdoms for their ransom (Is 43:3). He put his best Jewel in pawn for them (Jn 3:16).

ii. For their lustre. If one pearl of grace shines so brightly that it delights Christ’s heart – "Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes" (Song 4:9), that is, one of thy graces – then how illustrious are all the graces together in a constellation!

2. The godly are honourable

"Thou hast been honourable" (Isa 43:4). The godly are "a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord" (Isa 62:3). They are "plants of renown" (Ezk 16:14). They are not only vessels of mercy but vessels of honour (2 Tim 2:21). Aristotle calls honour the chief good thing. The godly are near akin to the blessed Trinity; they have the tutelage and guardianship of angels; they have "God’s name written upon them" (Rev 3:12) and "the Holy Ghost dwelling in them" (2 Tim 1:14).

The godly are a sacred priesthood. The priesthood under the law was honourable. The king’s daughter was wife to Jehoiada the priest (2 Chr 22:11). It was a custom among the Egyptians to have their kings chosen from their priests. The saints are a divine priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:9). They are co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). They are kings (Rev 1:6). Novarinus tells of an ancient king who invited a company of poor Christians and made them a great feast. On being asked why he showed so much respect to persons of such mean birth and extraction, he told them, "These I must honour as the children of the most high God. They will be kings and princes with me in another world." The godly are in some sense higher than the angels. The angels are Christ’s friends; these are his spouse. The angels are called morning stars (Job 38:7), but the saints are clothed with the Sun of righteousness (Rev 12:1). All men, says Chrysostom, are ambitious of honour. See, then, the honour of the godly! "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her" (Prov 4:7,8). The trophies of the saints" renown will be erected in another world.

3. The godly are beloved by God

"The excellency of Jacob whom he loved" (Ps 47:4). A holy heart is the garden where God plants the flower of his love. God’s love to his people is an ancient love, it dates from eternity (Eph 1:4). He loves them with a choice, distinguishing love; they are the "dearly beloved of his soul" (Jer 12:7). The men of the world have bounty dropping from God’s fingers, but the godly have love dropping from God’s heart. He gives to one a golden cup, to the other a golden kiss. He loves the godly as he loves Christ (Jn 17:26). It is the same love in kind, though not in degree. Here the saints merely sip God’s love; in heaven they shall drink of rivers of pleasure (Ps 36:8). And this love of God is permanent. Death may take life away from them, but not God’s love: "I have loved thee with a love of perpetuity" (Jer 31:3).

4. The godly are prudent persons

They have good insight and foresight:

a. They have good insight: "he that is spiritual judgeth all things" (1 Cor 2:15). The godly have insight into persons and things. They have insight into persons because they have the anointing of God, and by a spirit of discerning they can see some differences between the precious and the vile (Jer 15:19). God’s people are not censorious, but they are judicious. They can see a wanton heart through a naked breast and a spotted face. They can see a revengeful spirit through a bitter tongue. They can guess at the tree by the fruit (Mt 12:33). They can see the plague tokens of sin appearing in the wicked, which makes them leave the tents of those sinners (Num 16:26).

The godly have insight into things mysterious. They can see much of the mystery of their own hearts. Take the greatest politician who understands the mysteries of state – he still does not understand the mystery of his own heart. You will sometimes hear him swear that his heart is good, but a child of God sees much heart corruption (1 Kgs 8:38). Though some flowers of grace grow there, he still sees how fast the weeds of sin grow and is therefore continually weeding his heart by repentance and mortification.

The godly can discern the mystery of the times: "The children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times" (1 Chr 12:32). The godly can see when an age runs to seed – when God’s name is dishonoured, his messengers despised, his gospel eclipsed. The people of God strive to keep their garments pure (Rev 16:15). Their care is that the times may not be the worse for them, nor they the worse for the times.

The godly understand the mystery of living by faith: "The just shall live by faith" (Heb 10:38). They can trust God where they cannot trace him. They can get comfort out of a promise, as Moses got water out of the rock (Ex 17:6). "Though the fig tree doth not blossom, yet I will rejoice in the Lord" (Hab 3:17,18).

b. They have good foresight. They foresee the evil of a temptation: "we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor 2:11). The wicked swallow temptations like pills, and when it is too late, feel these pills afflict their conscience. But the godly foresee a temptation and will not come near. They see a snake under the green grass; they know Satan’s kindness is craftiness. He does what Jephthah’s daughter did: he brings out the tambourine and dances before men with a temptation and then brings them very low (Judges 11:35).

The godly foresee temporal dangers: "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself" (Prov 22:3). The people of God see when the cloud of wrath is ready to drop on a nation, and they get into their rooms (Is 26:20) – the attributes and promises of God – and into the clefts of the rocks – the bleeding wounds of Christ – and hide themselves. Well therefore may they be baptized with the name of wise virgins.

5. The godly are the bulwark of a nation

"My father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kgs 2:12). The godly are the pillars to keep a city and nation from falling; they stave off judgement from a land. It was said of old that so long as Hector lived, Troy could not be demolished. God could do nothing to Sodom till Lot had gone out of it (Gen 19:22). Golden Christians are brazen walls. The Lord would soon execute judgement in the world were it not for the sake of a few religious people. Would God (we think) preserve the world only for drunkards and swearers? He would soon sink the ship of church and state but for the fact that some of his elect are in it. Yet such is the indiscretion of men that they injure the saints and count as burdens those who are the chief blessings (Isa 19:24).

6. The godly are of a brave, heroic spirit

"My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit" (Num 14:24). An excellent spirit was found in Daniel (Dan 5:12). The godly hate that which is base and sordid. They will not enrich their purses by enslaving their consciences. They are noble and courageous in God’s cause: "the righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov 18:1). The saints live in accordance with their high birth: they yearn for God’s love; they aspire to glory; they set their feet where worldly men set their heart; they display the banner of the gospel, lifting up Christ’s name and interest in the world.

7. The godly are happy people

King Balak sent to curse the people of God, but the Lord would not allow it. "God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed" (Num 22:12). And Moses afterwards records it as a memorable thing that God turned the king’s intended curse into a blessing: "the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee" (Deut 23:5). Those who are always on the strongest side must of necessity be happy: "The Lord is on my side" (Ps 118:6). They are happy who have all conditions sanctified to them (Rom 8:28), who are crowned with peace while they live (Ps 119:165) and with glory when they die (Ps 73:24). And may this not tempt everyone to become godly? "Happy art thou, O Israel: a people saved by the Lord" (Deut 33:29).

C. To Strive for Godliness is Most Rational

1. It is the highest act of reason for a man to become another man

If, while he remains in nature’s soil, he is poisoned with sin – no more actually fit for communion with God than a toad is fit to be made an angel – then it is very consonant to reason that he should strive for a change.

2. It is rational because this change is for the better

"Now are ye light in the Lord" (Eph 5:8). Will not anyone be willing to exchange a dark prison for a king’s palace? Will he not exchange his brass for gold? You who become godly change for the better: You change your pride for humility, your uncleanness for holiness. You change a lust that will damn you for a Christ who will save you. If men were not besotted, if their fall had not knocked their brains out, they would see that it is the most rational thing in the world to become godly.

D. The Excellence of Godliness

"What is better than gold? Jasper. And what is better than jasper? Virtue."

The excellence of godliness appears in several ways:

1. Godliness is our spiritual beauty

"The beauties of holiness" (Ps 110:3). Godliness is to the soul what the light is to the world: to illustrate and adorn it. It is not greatness which sets us off in God’s eye but goodness. What is the beauty of the angels but their sanctity? Godliness is the intricate embroidery and workmanship of the Holy Ghost. A soul furnished with godliness is damasked with beauty, it is enamelled with purity. This is the clothing of wrought gold which makes the King of heaven fall in love with us. Were there no excellence in holiness, the hypocrite would never try to paint it. Godliness sheds a glory and lustre on the saints. What are the graces but the golden feathers in which Christ’s dove shines (Ps 68:13)?

2. Godliness is our defence

Grace is called "the armour of light" (Rom 13:12). It is light for beauty and armour for defence. A Christian has armour of God’s making which cannot be shot through. He has the shield of faith, the helmet of hope, the breastplate of righteousness. This is proof armour, which defends against the assaults of temptation and the terror of hell.

3. Godliness breeds solid peace

"Great peace have they which love thy law" (Ps 119:165). Godliness composes the heart, making it quiet and calm like the upper region, where there are no winds and tempests. How can that heart be unquiet where the Prince of Peace dwells? "Christ in you" (Col 1:27). A holy heart may be compared to the doors of Solomon’s temple, which were made of olive tree, carved with open flowers (1 Kgs 6:32). The olive of peace and the open flowers of joy are in that heart. Godliness does not destroy a Christian’s mirth, but refines it. His rose is without prickles, his wine without froth. He who is a favourite of heaven must of necessity be full of joy and peace. He may truly sing a requiem to his soul and say, "Soul, take thine ease" (Lk 12:19). King Ptolemy asked someone how he might be at rest when he dreamed. He replied, "Let piety be the scope of all your actions." If anyone should ask me how he should be at rest when he is awake, I would return a similar answer: "Let his soul be inlaid with godliness."

4. Godliness is the best trade we can engage in: it brings profit

Wicked men say, "It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it?" (Mal 3:14). To be sure, there is no profit in sin: "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing (Prov 10:2). But godliness is profitable (1 Tim 4:8). It is like digging in a gold mine, where there is gain as well as toil. Godliness makes God himself our portion: "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance" (Ps 16:5). If God is our portion, all our estate lies in jewels. Where God gives himself, he gives everything else. Whoever has the manor has all the royalties belonging to it. God is a portion that can be neither spent nor lost (Ps 73:26). Thus we see that godliness is a thriving trade.

And as godliness brings profit with it, so it is profitable "for all things" (1 Tim 4:8). What else is, besides godliness? Food will not give a man wisdom; gold will not give him health; honour will not give him beauty. But godliness is useful for all things: it fences off all troubles; it supplies all wants; it makes soul and body completely happy.

5. Godliness is an enduring substance; it knows no fall of the leaf

All worldly delights have a death’s-head set on them. They are only shadows and they are fleeting. Earthly comforts are like Paul’s friends, who took him to the ship and left him there (Acts 20:38). So these will bring a man to his grave and then take their farewell. But godliness is a possession we cannot be robbed of. It runs parallel with eternity. Force cannot weaken it; age cannot wither it. It outbraves sufferings; it outlives death (Prov 10:2). Death may pluck the stalk of the body but the flower of grace is not hurt.

6. Godliness is so excellent that the worst men would like to have it when they are going hence

Though at present godliness is despised and under a cloud, yet at death all would like to be godly. A philosopher asked a young man whether he would like to be rich Croesus or virtuous Socrates. He answered that he would like to live with Croesus and die with Socrates. So men would like to live with the wicked in pleasure but die with the godly: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Num 23:10). If, then, godliness is so desirable at death, why should we not pursue it now? Godliness is as needful now and would be more feasible.

E. There Are Only A Few Godly

They are like the gleanings after vintage. Most receive the mark of the beast (Rev 13:17). The devil keeps open house for all comers, and he is never without guests. This may prevail with us to be godly. If the number of the saints is so small, how we should strive to be found among these pearls! "But a remnant shall be saved" (Rom 9:27). It is better to go to heaven with a few than to hell in the crowd.

F. Consider How Vain and Contemptible Other Things Are About Which Persons Void of Godliness Busy Themselves

Men are taken up with the things of this life, and "what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind? (Ecc 5:16). Can the wind fill? What is gold but dust (Amos 2:7), which will sooner choke than satisfy? Pull off the mask of the most beautiful thing under the sun and look what is inside. There is care and vexation. And the greatest care is still to come – and that is to give account to God. The things of the world are just like a bubble in the water or a meteor in the air.

But godliness has real worth in it. If you speak of true honour, it is to be born of God; if of true valour, it is to fight the good fight of faith; if of true delight, it is to have joy in the Holy Ghost. Oh, then, espouse godliness! Here reality is to be had. Of other things we may say, "They comfort in vain" (Zech 10:2). W