An Exhortation to Perservere in 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]), 209-215 [Chap 8]

Those who wear the mantle of godliness – and in the judgement of others are looked upon as godly – let me exhort thee to persevere: "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith" (Heb 10:23). This is a seasonable exhortation in these times when the devil’s agents are abroad, whose whole work is to unsettle people and make them fall away from that former strictness in religion which they have professed. It is much to be lamented to see Christians:

1. Wavering in religion

How many we see unresolved and unsteady, like Reuben, unstable as water (Gen 49:4). These the apostle rightly compares to "waves of the sea… and wandering stars" (Jude 13). They are not fixed in the principles of godliness. Beza writes of one Bolsechus, "his religion changed like the moon." Such were the Ebionites, who kept both the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath. Many professing Christians are like the river Euripus, ebbing and flowing in matters of religion. They are like reeds bending every way, either to the mass or to the Koran. They are like the planet Mercury, which varies and is seldom constant in its motion. When men think of heaven and the recompense of reward, then they want to be godly, but when they think of persecution, then they are like the Jews who deserted Christ and "walked no more with him" (Jn 6:66). If men’s faces altered as fast as their opinions, we should not recognize them. To be thus vacillating and wavering in religion argues lightness. Feathers are blown in every direction, and so are feathery Christians.

2. Falling from that godliness which once they seemed to have

They have turned to worldliness and wantonness. The very mantle of their profession has fallen off, and indeed, if they were not fixed stars, it is no wonder to see them as falling stars. This spiritual epilepsy, or falling sickness, was never more rife. It is a dreadful sin for men to fall from that godliness which they once seemed to have. Chrysostom says, "Apostates are worse than those who are openly wicked. They give godliness a bad name." "The apostate", says Tertullian, "seems to put God and Satan in the balance, and having weighed both their services, prefers the devil’s service and proclaims him to be the best master." In that respect the apostate is said to put Christ to open shame (Heb 6:6).

This will be bitter in the end (Heb 10:38). What a worm Spira felt in his conscience! In what horror of mind did Stephen Gardiner cry out upon his death-bed that he had denied his Master with Peter! But he had not repented with Peter!

That we may be steadfast in godliness and persevere, let us do two things:

1. Let us take heed of those things which will make us by degrees fall away from our profession

Let us:

(i) Beware of covetousness: "men shall be covetous… having a form of godliness, but denying the power" (2 Tim 3:2,5). One of Christ’s own apostles was caught with a silver bait. Covetousness will make a man betray a good cause and make shipwreck of a good conscience. I have read of some in the time of the Emperor Valens who denied the Christian faith to prevent the confiscation of their goods.

(ii) Beware of unbelief: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb 3:12). There is no evil like an evil heart; no evil heart like an unbelieving heart. Why so? It makes men depart from the blessed God. He who does not believe God’s mercy will not dread his justice. Infidelity is the nurse of apostasy, therefore unbelieving and unstable go together: "they believed not in God . . . they turned back and tempted God" (Ps 78:22, 41).

(iii) Take heed of cowardice. He who is afraid to be good must surely be evil: "The fear of man bringeth a snare" (Prov 29:25). They who fear danger more than sin will commit sin to avoid danger. Origen, out of a spirit of fear, offered incense to the idol. Aristotle says, "The reason why the chameleon turns so many colours is through excessive fear". Fear will make men change their religion as often as the chameleon does her colour. Christian, you who have made a profession of godliness so long and others have noted you for a saint in their calendar, why do you fear and begin to shrink back? The cause which you have embarked on is good; you are fighting against sin; you have a good Captain who is marching before you: Christ, "the captain of your salvation" (Heb 2:10). What is it that you fear? Is it loss of liberty? What is liberty worth when conscience is in bonds? It is better to lose your liberty and keep your peace than to lose your peace and keep your liberty. Is it loss of estate? Do you say, like Amaziah, "What shall we do fore the hundred talents?" (2 Chr 25:9)? I would answer with the prophet, "The Lord can give thee much more than this" (v 10). He has promised you "an hundredfold" in this life, and if that is nothing, he will give you life everlasting (Mt 19:29).

2. Let us use all means for perseverance

(i) Strive for a real work of grace in your soul. Grace is the best fortification: "it is a good thing that the heart be stablished with grace" (Heb 13:9).


What is this real work of grace?


It consists in two things:

a. Grace lies in a heart-humbling work. The thorn of sin pricked Paul’s conscience: "sin revived, and I died" (Rom 7:9). Though some are less humbled than others, as some bring forth children with less pangs, yet all have pangs.

b. Grace lies in a heart-changing work: "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified" (1 Cor 6:11). A man is so changed as if another soul lived in the same body. If ever you would hold out in the ways of God, get this vital principle of grace. Why do men change their religion but because their hearts were never changed? They do not fall away from grace, but for lack of grace.

(ii) Be deliberate and judicious. Weigh things well in the balance: "Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost?" (Lk 14:28). Think to yourselves what it will cost you to be godly. You must expect the hatred of the world (Jn 15:19). The wicked hate the godly for their piety. It is strange that they should do so. Do we hate a flower because it is sweet? The godly are hated for the perfume of their graces. Is a virgin hated for her beauty? The wicked hate the godly for the beauty of holiness which shines in them. Secret hatred will break forth into open violence (2 Tim 3:12). Christians must count the cost before they build. Why are people so hasty in abandoning religion if not because they were so hasty in taking it up?

(iii) Get a clear, distinct knowledge of God. Know the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, the efficacy of the Holy Ghost. Those who do not know God aright will by degrees renounce their profession. The Samaritans sometimes sided with the Jews, when they were in favour. Afterwards they disclaimed all kindred with the Jews, when they were persecuted by Antiochus. And no wonder they shuffled so in their religion, if you consider what Christ said of the Samaritans, "Ye worship ye know not what" (Jn 4:22). They were enveloped by ignorance. Blind men are apt to fall, and so are they who are blinded in their minds.

(iv) Enter on it purely out of choice: "I have chosen the way of truth" (Ps 119:30). Espouse godliness for its own worth. Whoever wishes to persevere must rather choose godliness with reproach than sin with all its worldly pomp. Whoever takes up religion for fear will lay it down again for fear. Whoever embraces godliness for gain will desert it when the jewels of promotion are pulled off. Do not be godly from worldly design but from religious choice.

(v) Strive for integrity. This will be a golden pillar to support you. A tree that is hollow must of necessity be blown down. The hypocrite sets up in the trade of religion, but he will soon break: "their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast" (Ps 78:37). Judas was first a sly hypocrite and then a traitor. If a piece of copper is gilded, the gilding will wash off. Nothing will hold out but sincerity: "Let integrity preserve me" (Ps 25:21). How many storms Job was in! Not only Satan, but God himself set on him (Job 7:20), which was enough to have made him desist from being godly. Yet Job stood fast because he stood upright: "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me as long as I live" (Job 27:6). Those colours hold best which are fixed in oils. If we wish to have our profession hold its colour, it must be fixed in the oil of sincerity.

(vi) Hold up the life and fervour of duty: "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Rom 12:11). We put coals on the fire to keep it from going out. When Christians grow into a dull formality, they begin to be dispirited and by degrees abate in their godliness. No one is so fit to make an apostate as a lukewarm professing Christian.

(vii) Exercise great self-denial: "Let him deny himself" (Mt 16:24). Self-ease, whatever comes in competition with (or stands in opposition to) Christ’s glory and interest must be denied. Self is the great snare; self-love undermines the power of godliness. The young man in the Gospel might have followed Christ, but something of self hindered (Mt 19:20-22). Self-love is self-hatred. The man who cannot get beyond himself will never get to heaven.

(viii) Preserve a holy jealousy over your hearts: "Be not high-minded, but fear" (Rom 11:20). The man who has gunpowder in his house fears lest it should catch fire. Sin in the heart is like gunpowder; it may make us fear lest a spark of temptation should fall on us and blow us up. There are two things which may make us always jealous of our hearts: the deceits of our hearts and the lusts of our hearts. When Peter was afraid that he should sink and cried to Christ, "Lord, save me", then Christ took him by the hand and helped him (Mt 14:30,31); but when Peter grew confident and thought he could stand alone, then Christ allowed him to fall. Oh, let us be suspicious of ourselves and in a holy sense "clothe ourselves with trembling" (Ezek 26:16).

(ix) Strive for assurance: "give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet 1:10). The man who is sure that God is his God is like a castle built on a rock – all the powers of hell cannot shake him. How can that man be constant in religion who is at a loss about his spiritual estate, and does not know whether he has grace or not? It will be a difficult matter for a man to die for Christ, if he does not know that Christ has died for him. Assurance establishes a Christian in shaking times. He who has the Spirit of God bearing witness to his heart is the most likely to bear witness to the truth (Rom 8:16). Oh, give diligence! Be much in prayer, reading, holy conversation. These things are the oil without which the lamp of assurance will not shine.

(x) Lay hold of God’s strength. God is called the Strength of Israel (1 Sam 15:29). It is in his strength that we stand, more than our own. The child is safest in the nurse’s hands. It is not our holding God, but his holding us that preserves us. A little boat tied fast to a rock is safe, and so are we, when we are tied to the "rock of ages." W