Wednesdays with Watson is a weekly reading taken from my favorite Puritan writer, Thomas Watson. This week’s selection is taken from The Godly Man’s Picture, chapter 8: “Prescribing Some Helps to Godliness.”
Question: But what shall we do that we may be godly?
Answer: I shall briefly lay down some rules or helps to godliness:
- Be diligent in the use of all means that may promote godliness: ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate’ (Luke 13:24). What is purpose without pursuit? When you have made your estimate of godliness, pursue those means which are most expedient for obtaining it.
- Take heed of the world. It is hard for a clod of dust to become a star. ‘Love not the world’ (1 John 2:15). Many would like to be godly, but the honours and profits of the world divert them. Where the world fills both head and heart, there is no room for Christ. He whose mind is rooted in the earth is likely enough to deride godliness. When our Saviour was preaching against sin, ‘the Pharisees, who were covetous, derided him’ (Luke 16:14). The world eats the heart out of godliness, as the ivy eats the heart out of the oak. The world kills with her silver darts.
- Accustom yourselves to holy thoughts. Serious meditation represents everything in its native colour. It shows an evil in sin and a lustre in grace. By holy thoughts, the head grows clearer and the heart better: ‘I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies’ (Psa. 119:59). If men would step aside a little out of the noise and hurry of business, and spend only half-an-hour every day thinking about their souls and eternity, it would produce a wonderful alteration in them and tend very much to a real and blessed conversion.
- Watch your hearts. This was Christ’s watchword to his disciples: ‘Watch, therefore’ (Matt. 24:42). The heart will precipitate us to sin before we are aware. A subtle heart needs a watchful eye. Watch your thoughts, your affections. The heart has a thousand doors to run out from. Oh, keep close watch on your souls! Stand continually on your watch-towers (Hab. 2:1). When you have prayed against sin, watch against temptation. Most wickedness in the world is committed for want of watchfulness. Watchfulness maintains godliness. It is the edging which keeps religion from fraying.
- Make spending your time a matter of conscience: ‘redeeming the time’ (Eph. 5:16). Many people fool away their time, some in idle visits, others in recreations and pleasures which secretly bewitch the heart and take it away from better things. What are our golden hours for but to attend to our souls? Time misspent is not time lived but time lost. Time is a precious commodity. A piece of wax in itself is not worth much, but when it is affixed to the label of a will and conveys an estate, it is of great value. Thus, time simply in itself is not so considerable, but as salvation is to be worked out in it, and a conveyance of heaven depends on using it well, it is of infinite concern.
- Think of your short stay in the world: ‘our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding’ (1 Chron. 29:15). There is only a span between the cradle and the grave. Solomon says there is a time to be born and a time to die (Eccles. 3:2), but mentions no time of living, as if that were so short it was not worth naming. And time, when it has once gone, cannot be recalled. The Scripture compares time to a flying eagle (Job 9:26). Yet time differs from the eagle in this: the eagle flies forward and then back again, but time has wings only to fly forward — it never returns. ‘Time flies irrevocably.’
The serious thoughts of our short stay here would be a great means of promoting godliness. What if death should come before we are ready? What if our life should breathe out before God’s Spirit has breathed in? Whoever considers how flitting and winged his life is, will hasten his repentance. When God is about to do a short work, he will not do a long work.
- Make this maxim your own, that godliness is the purpose of your creation. God never sent men into the world only to eat and drink and put on fine clothes, but that they might ‘serve him in holiness and righteousness’ (Luke 1:74, 75). God made the world only as a dressing room to dress our souls in. He sent us here on the grand errand of godliness. Should nothing but the body (the brutish part) be looked after, this would be basely to degenerate, yes, to invert and frustrate the very purpose of our being.
- Be often among the godly. They are the salt of the earth, and will help to season you. Their counsel may direct, their prayers may enliven you. Such holy sparks may be thrown into your breasts as may kindle devotion in you. It is good to be among the saints to learn the trade of godliness: ‘He that walketh with wise men shall be wise’ (Prov. 13:20).