The Nature of True Godliness

By Thomas Watson; excerpted 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 [first published 1666]), 12-14

"For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him" (Ps 32:6).

It will first be enquired, ‘What is godliness?’ I answer in general, ‘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" (Num 14:24). The faculties are not new, but the qualities are; the strings are the same, but the tune is corrected. Concerning godliness, I shall lay down these seven maxims or propositions:

1. Godliness is A Real Thing

It is not a fantasy but a fact. Godliness is not the feverish conceit of a sick brain; a Christian is no enthusiast whose religion is all made up of fancy. Godliness has truth for its foundation; it is called "the way of truth" (Ps 119:30). Godliness is a ray and beam that shines from God. If God is true, then godliness is true.

2. Godliness is An Intrinsic Thing

It lies chiefly in the heart: "circumcision is that of the heart" (Rom 2:29). The dew lies on the leaf; the sap is hidden in the root. The moralist’s religion is all in the leaf; it consists only in externals, but godliness is a holy sap which is rooted in the soul: "in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom" (Ps 51:6). The Chaldean expounds it, "in the close place of the heart."

3. Godliness is A Supernatural Thing

By nature we inherit nothing but evil. "When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins did work in our members" (Rom 7:5). We sucked in sin as naturally as our mother’s milk, but godliness is the "wisdom from above" (Jas 3:17). It is breathed in from heaven. God must light up the lamp of grace in the heart. Weeds grow of themselves; flowers are planted. Godliness is a celestial plant that comes from the New Jerusalem. Therefore it is called a "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22). A man has no more power to change himself than to create himself.

4. Godliness is An Extensive Thing

It is a sacred leaven that spreads itself into the whole soul: "the very God of peace sanctify you wholly" (1 Th 5:23). There is light in the understanding, order in the affections, pliableness in the will, exemplariness in the life..…

… We do not call a black man white because he has white teeth. He who is good only in some part is not godly. Grace is called "the new man" (Col 3:10), not a new eye, or tongue, but a new man. He who is godly is good all over; though he is regenerate only in part, yet it is in every part.

5. Godliness is An Intense Thing

It does not lie in a dead formality and indifference, but is vigorous and flaming: "fervent in spirit" (Rom 12:11). We call water hot when it is so in the third or fourth degree. He whose devotion is inflamed is godly and his heart boils over in holy affections.

6. Godliness is A Glorious Thing

As the jewel to the ring, so is piety to the soul, bespangling it in God’s eyes. Reason makes us men; godliness makes us earthly angels; by it we "partake of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). Godliness is near akin to glory: "glory and virtue" (2 Pet 1:3). Godliness is glory in the seed, and glory is godliness in the flower.

7. Godliness is A Permanent Thing

Aristotle says, "Names are given from the habit." We do not call the one who blushes sanguine, but the one who is of a ruddy complexion (1 Sam 17:42). A blush of godliness is not enough to distinguish a Christian, but godliness must be the temper and complexion of the soul.

Godliness is a fixed thing. There is a great deal of difference between a stake in the hedge and a tree in the garden. A stake rots and moulders, but a tree, having life in it, abides and flourishes. When godliness has taken root in the soul, it abides to eternity: "his seed remaineth in him" (1 Jn 3:9). Godliness being engraved in the heart by the Holy Ghost, as with the point of a diamond, can never be erased. W