Commenting on Malachi 3:16-17, particularly the clause, “Then they that feared the LORD spake often to on another”, Thomas Watson wrote:
The profaneness of the times should not slacked but heighten our zeal. The looser others are, the stricter we should be….The more outrageous others are in sin, the more courageous we shoud be for truth. (The Great Gain of Godliness)
But why should we be so? Watson gives two reasons:
1. Because of the divine injunction….AS God’s Word is our rule, so his will is our warrant.
To be holiest in evil times is an indication of the truth of grace.
Watson then gives two applications to this proposition.
Use 1. See hence how unworthy they are of the name of Christians, who use sinful compliance, and cut the garment of their religion according to the mode and fashion of the times. They do not consult what is best—but what is safest. Complying spirits can truckle to the desires of others; they can bow either to the East or to the West; they prefer a whole skin before a pure conscience. They can, with the planet Mercury, vary their motion; they can, as the mariner, shift their sail with every wind and, as the mongrel Israelites, speak the language of both Canaan and Ashdod. These are like the Samaritans of whom Josephus says, when the Jews flourished they pretended to he akin to them—but when the Jews were persecuted, they disclaimed kindred with them. The old serpent has taught men crooked windings, and to be for that religion which does not have truth on its side—but worldly power.
Use 2. Let us keep up the vigor of our zeal, in degenerate times. We should by a holy contrariness—burn hotter in a frozen age. We live in the dregs of time; sin is grown common and impudent. It is excellent to walk contrary to the world, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world!” (Romans 12:2). Let us be as lilies and roses among the briars. Sin is never the better, because it is in fashion! Nor will this plea hold at the last day—that we did as the most did. God will say, Seeing you sinned with the multitude—you shall go to hell with the multitude! Oh, let us keep pure among the dregs; let us be like fish that retain their freshness in salt waters; and as that lamp which shone in the smoking furnace (Gen. 15:17).
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress gives us a wonderful example of Watson’s “complying spirits”. After Christian leaves from Vanity Fair in the company of Hopeful, they come upon one Mr. By-ends. When Mr. By-ends refuses to be consistent in his religious profession, he leaves off from Christian and Hopeful and falls in Mr. Money-Love, Mr. Hold-The-World and Mr. Save All. Their conversation, in part, runs as follows:
By-ends. Why, they, after their head-strong manner, conclude that it is duty to rush on their journey all weathers, and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap, and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and state. They are for holding their notions, though all other men be against them; but I am for religion, in what and so far as the times and my safety will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his silver slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.
Hold-the-world. Ay, and hold you there still, good Mr. By-ends! for, for my part, I can count him but a fool that, having the liberty to keep what he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as serpents; it’s best to make hay while the sun shines; you see how the bee lieth still all winter, and bestirs her only when she can have profit with pleasure. God sends sometimes rain, and sometimes sunshine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part, I like that religion best that will stand with the security of God’s good blessings unto us; for who can imagine, that is ruled by his reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life, but that he would have us keep them for his sake? Abraham and Solomon grew rich in religion; and Job says, that a good man “shall lay up gold as dust.” But he must not be such as the men before us, if they be as you have described them.
The comparison of the two texts helps us to see what the doctrine is (a necessary consistency is required for true faith), and yet how the doctrine is explained away by others.
Watson then asks, how can we keep up our profession when it runs contrary to our world. The fifth answer of Watson runs as follows:
Answer 5. If we would keep up the sprightly vigor of grace in evil times, let us harden our hearts against the taunts and reproaches of the wicked. David was the song of the drunkards (Psalm 69:12). A Christian is never the worse for reproach. The stars are not the less glorious, though they have ugly names given them, the Bear, the Dragon, etc. Reproaches are but splinters of the cross. How will he endure the stake—who cannot bear a scoff? Reproaches for Christ, are ensigns of honor, and badges of adoption (1 Peter 4:14). Let Christians bind these reproaches, as a crown about their head. Better have men reproach you for being godly—than have God damn you for being wicked! Be not laughed out of your religion. If a lame man laughs at you for walking upright—will you therefore limp?
Bunyan demonstrates this ridicule:
Money-love. I see the bottom of your question: and with these gentlemen’s good leave, I will endeavour to shape you an answer. And first, to speak to your question, as it concerneth a minister himself: Suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles. For my part, I see no reason why a man may not do this (provided he has a call,) ay, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why?
- His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted,) since ‘tis set before him by Providence; so then he may get it if he can, making no question for conscience sake.
- Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, &c. and so makes him a better man; yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.
- Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by deserting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argueth,
(1.) That. he is of a self-denying temper;
(2.) Of a sweet and winning deportment; and (3.) So more fit for the ministerial function.
- I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he is improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hand to do good.
And now to the second part of the question, which concerns the tradesman you mentioned: Suppose such an one to have but a poor employ in the world, but, by becoming religious, he may mend his market, perhaps get a rich wife, or more and far better customers to his shop; for my part, I see no reason but this may be lawfully done. For why?
- To become religious is a virtue, by what means soever a man becomes so.
- Nor is it unlawful to get a rich wife, or more custom to my shop.
- Besides, the man that gets these by becoming religious, gets that which is come of them that are good, by becoming good himself; so, then, here is a good wife, and good customers, and good gain, and all these by becoming religious, which is good.
Therefore, to become religious to get all these, is a good and profitable design.
This answer, thus made by Mr. Money-love to Mr. By-ends’ question, was highly applauded by them all; wherefore they concluded, upon the whole, that it was most wholesome and advantageous; and because, as they thought, no man was able to contradict it, and because Christian and Hopeful were yet within call, they jointly agreed to assault them with the question as soon as they overtook them; and the rather, because they had opposed Mr. By-ends before. So they called after them, and they stopped, and stood still till they came up to them; but they concluded, as they went, that not Mr. By-ends, but old Mr. Hold-the-world, should propound the question to them; because, as they supposed, their answer to him would be without the remainder of that heat that was kindled betwixt Mr. By-ends and them, at their parting a little before.
And so they come upon Christian and Hopeful and lay on their ridicule.
Then said Christian, Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions; for if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves (as it is, (John 6.), how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse, to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils and witches, that are of this opinion.
- Heathens; for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them but by being circumcised, they said to their companions, “If every male of us be circumcised as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs; be ours?” Their daughters and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story, Gen. 34:20-24.
- The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion: Long prayers were their pretence, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment. (Luk. 20:47.)
- Judas, the devil, was also of this religion: he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was put therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.
- Simon, the wizard, was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith; and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according. (Act. 8:19-22.)
- Neither will it out of my mind but that that man that takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is both heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.
Then they stood staring one upon another, but had not wherewith to answer Christian. Hopeful also approved of the soundness of Christian’s answer; so there was a great silence among them. Mr. By-ends and his company also staggered and kept behind, that Christian and Hopeful might outgo them. Then said Christian to his fellow, If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do with the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?
Now one may contend that Christian (and thus Bunyan) were being unChristian by being “unloving”. To this Watson answers:
Answer 1. Let us beware of having our hearts too much linked to the world. The world damps zeal—as earth chokes the fire. We are bid to love our enemies; but the world is such an enemy as we must not love, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” (1 John 2:15). The world bewitches with her blandishments, and kills with her silver darts! He who is a Demas—will be a Judas! A lover of the world will, for a piece of money, betray a holy cause, and make shipwreck of a good conscience.
Watson’s answer is twice interesting when compared with Bunyan, because in the next scene, Mr. By-ends and his crew are led aside by Demas and die in a silver mine.