The Christian Soldier, or
Heaven Taken by Storm
by Thomas Watson, 1669
A practical handbook on Christian living,
showing the holy violence a Christian is
to put forth in the pursuit after glory.
"The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and
the violent take it by force." Matthew 11:12
John the Baptist, hearing in prison of the fame of
Christ, sends two of his disciples to Him with this question, Are You He who
should come, or do we look for another? verse 3. Not that John Baptist knew
not that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah, for he was confirmed in this
both by the Spirit of God and by a sign from heaven (John 1:33). But John
the Baptist hereby endeavored to correct the ignorance of his own disciples
who had a greater respect for him, than for Christ.
In the fourth verse Christ answers their question, "Go
back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the
lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are
raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Jesus Christ
demonstrates Himself to be the true Messiah by His miracles which were real
and visible proofs of His divinity. John's disciples being departed, Christ
falls into a high praise and commendation of John the Baptist, Verse 7.
"What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?" As
if Christ had said, John the Baptist was no inconstant man, fluctuating in
his mind and being shaken as a reed from one opinion to another; he was no
Reuben, unstable as water—but was fixed and resolute in piety, and a prison
could make no alteration in him.
Verse 8. "If not, what did you go out to see? A man
dressed in fine clothes?" John did not indulge his senses; he wore not
silks—but camel's hair; nor did he desire to live at court—but in a
wilderness, Matt. iii. 3,4.
Again, Christ commends John as being His forerunner who
prepared the way before him; verse 10. He was the morning star which
preceded the Sun of Righteousness. And that Christ might sufficiently honor
this holy man, He does not only parallel him with—but prefers him before,
the chief of the prophets. Verse 9. "Then what did you go out to see? A
prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you the truth:
Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the
Baptist." He was eminent both for dignity of office, and perspicuity of
doctrine; and so our text is ushered in: "From the days of John the Baptist
until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by
force." In these words there is,
1. The preface, or introduction: "from the
days of John the Baptist until now." John the Baptist was a zealous
preacher, a Boanerges, or son of Thunder; and after his preaching, people
began to be awakened out of their sins.
Hence learn, what kind of ministry is likely to do
most good, namely, that which works upon the consciences of men. John the
Baptist lifted up his voice like a trumpet, he preached the doctrine of
repentance with power, "Repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Matt.
3:2. He came hewing and cutting down men's sins, and afterwards preached
Christ to them. First, he poured in the vinegar of the law, then the
wine of the gospel. This was that preaching which made men studiously
seek after heaven. John did not so much preach to please—as to
profit; he chose rather to reveal men's sins—than to show his own
eloquence. The best mirror is not that which is most ornate—but that which
shows the truest face. That preaching is to be preferred which makes the
truest discovery of men's sins, and shows them their hearts. John the
Baptist was a burning and shining light; he did burn in his doctrine and
shine in his life; and therefore men pressed into heaven.
Peter, who was filled with a spirit of zeal, humbled his
hearers for their sins, and opened to them a fountain in Christ's blood,
they were pricked in their heart, Acts 2:37. It is the greatest mercy, to
have a soul-searching ministry. If one had a desperate wound, he would
desire to have it probed to the bottom. Who would not be content to have
their souls searched, so they may have them saved?
2. The matter in the text: "The kingdom of
heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."
What is meant by "the kingdom of heaven?" Some
interpret it as the doctrine of the gospel which reveals Christ and heaven.
But I rather, by the kingdom of heaven, understand heavenly glory.
This kingdom "suffers violence." This is a
metaphor from a town or castle which holds out in war, and is not taken—but
by storm. So the kingdom of heaven will not be taken without violence: "The
violent take it by force."
The earth is inherited by the meek Matt.
5:5. Heaven is inherited by the violent. Our life is military. Christ
is our Captain, the gospel is the banner, the graces are our spiritual
artillery, and heaven is only taken in a forcible way. These words fall into
1. The combat—suffers violence.
2. The conquest—the violent take it by force.
Doctrine: The right way to take heaven is by storm.
None get into heaven but violent ones.
This violence has a double aspect.
It concerns men as MAGISTRATES; they must be
1. In punishing the guilty. When Aaron's Urim and
Thummim will do no good, then must Moses come with his rod. The
wicked are the bad blood and cancers of the commonwealth which, by the care
of magistracy, are to be purged out. God has placed governors "for the
terror of evildoers," 1 Peter ii. 14. They must not be like the sword-fish,
which has a sword in his head but is without a heart. They must not have a
sword in their hand—but no heart to draw it out for the cutting down of
impiety. Lenience in a magistrate supports vice, and by not punishing
offenders he adopts other men's faults and makes them his own. Magistracy
without zeal is like the body without spirit. Too much leniency emboldens
sin and does but shave the head, which deserves to be cut off!
2. In defending the innocent. The magistrate is the
asylum or altar of refuge for the oppressed to fly to. Charles, Duke of
Calabri, was so in love with doing justice that he caused a bell to be hung
at his palace gate, and whoever would ring it, was sure presently to be
admitted into the duke's presence, or have some officers sent out to hear
his cause. Aristides was famous for his justice, of whom the historian says
that he would never favor any man's cause because he was his friend, nor do
injustice to any because he was his enemy. The magistrate's justice, is the
oppressed man's shield.
This violence concerns men as CHRISTIANS. Though
heaven is given us freely—yet we must contend for it, Eccles. ix. 10. "What
your hand finds to do, do it with your might." Our work is great, our
time short, our Master urgent. We have need therefore to summon
together all the powers of our souls and strive as in a matter of life and
death, that we may arrive at the kingdom above. We must not only put forth
diligence—but violence. For the illustrating and clearing of
this proposition, I will show.
1. What violence is not meant here: The
violence in the text excludes,
1. An ignorant violence; to be violent for
that which we do not understand, Acts xvii. 23. "As I passed by and beheld
your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription—to the unknown
God." These Athenians were violent in their devotions—but it might be
said to them, as Christ said to the woman of Samaria, John iv. 22. "You
worship what you do not know." Thus the Catholics are violent in their
religion. Witness their penance, fasting, lacerating themselves until the
blood comes—but it is a zeal without knowledge; their mettle is better than
their eye-sight. When Aaron was to burn incense upon the alter, he was first
to light the lamps, Exod. xxv. 7. When zeal like incense burns, first the
lamp of knowledge must be lighted.
2. It excludes a bloody violence, which is
First, when one goes to lay violent hands upon himself.
The body is an earthly prison, where God has put the soul; we must not break
prison—but stay until God lets us out by death. The sentinel is not to stir
without permission from his captain; nor must we dare to stir hence without
God's permission. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor.
Vi.19.; When we offer violence to them, we destroy God's temple: The lamp of
life must burn so long as any natural moisture is left, like oil, to feed
Secondly, When one takes away the life of another.
There's too much of this violence nowadays. No sin has a louder voice than
blood, Gen iv. 10. The voice of your brother's blood cries unto Me from the
ground. If there is a curse for him who smites his neighbor secretly,
Deut. xxvii. 24, then he is doubly cursed who kills him. If a man had
slain another unawares, he might take sanctuary and fly to the altar; but if
he had done it willingly, the holiness of the place was not to protect him,
Exod. xxi. 14, "But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately,
take him away from my altar and put him to death." Joab, being a man of
blood, King Solomon sought to slay him even though he caught hold on the
horns of the altar, 1 Kings viii. 29. In Bohemia, formerly, a murderer was
to be beheaded and put in the same coffin with him whom he had killed. Thus
we see what violence the text excludes.
2. What violence IS meant here—it is a HOLY violence.
This is twofold.
1. We must be violent for the TRUTH. Here Pilate's
question will be cited, "What is truth?" Truth is either the blessed Word of
God which is called the Word of truth; or those doctrines which are deduced
from the Word, and agree with it as the dial with the sun or the transcript
with the original; as the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the
creation, the doctrine of free grace, justification by the blood of Christ,
regeneration, resurrection of the dead, and the life of glory. These truths
we must be violent for, which is either by being advocates for them, or
Truth is the most glorious thing; the least filing
of this gold is precious—just so, with truth. What shall we be violent for,
if not for truth? Truth is ancient; its grey hairs may make it
venerable; it comes from him who is the ancient of days. Truth is
unerring, it is the Star which leads to Christ. Truth is pure,
Psalm 119. 140. It is compared to silver refined seven times, Psalm xii. 6.
There is not the least spot on truth's face; it breathes nothing but
sanctity. Truth is triumphant; it is like a great conqueror; when all
his enemies lie dead, it keeps the field and sets up its trophies of
victory. Truth may be opposed but never quite deposed. In the time of
Diocletian things seemed desperate and truth ran low. Soon after was the
golden time of Constantine, and then truth did again lift up its head. When
the water in the Thames is lowest, a high tide is ready to come in. God is
on truth's side and so long as there is no fear it will prevail: The heavens
being on fire shall be dissolved, 2 Peter iii. 12—but not that truth which
came from Heaven, 1 Peter. i. 25.
Truth has noble effects. Truth is the seed of the new
birth. God does not regenerate us by miracles or revelations—but by the Word
of truth, James i. 18. As truth is the breeder of grace, so it is the
feeder of it, 1 Tim. iv. 6. Truth sanctifies: John xvii. 17.
Sanctify them through Your truth. Truth is the seal that leaves the print of
its own holiness upon us; it is both a looking-glass to show us our
blemishes, and a laver to wash them away. Truth makes us free, John
xviii. 32. it bears off the fetters of sin and puts us into a state of
Sonship, Romans viii.11, and Kingship, Rev. i. 6. Truth is comforting;
this wine cheers. When David's harp could yield him no comfort, truth did,
Psalm 119. 50. "This is my comfort in my affliction, for your Word has
quickened me." Truth is an antidote against error. Error is the adultery
of the mind; it stains the soul, as treason stains blood. Error damns as
well as does vice. A man may as well die by poison—as by pistol; and what
can stave off error but truth? The reason so many have been tricked into
error is because they either did not know, or did not love, the truth. I can
never say enough in the honor of truth. Truth is the ground of our faith; it
gives us an exact model of piety; it shows us what we are to believe. Take
away truth and our faith is fancy. Truth is the best flower in the church's
crown; we have not a richer jewel to trust God with than our souls; nor He a
richer jewel to trust us with than His truths. Truth is an ensign of honor;
it distinguishes us from the false church, as chastity distinguishes a
virtuous woman from an harlot. In short, truth is the bulwark a nation: 2
Chron. xi. 17. it is said, the Levites (who were the ensign bearers of
truth) strengthened the kingdom. Truth may be compared to the capitol of
Rome, which was a place of the greatest strength; or the Tower of David, on
which "there hang a thousand shields," Cant. iv. 4. Our forts and navies do
not so much strengthen us as truth. Truth is the best militia of a kingdom;
if once we part with truth and espouse popery, the lock of hair is cut,
where our strength lies. What then should we be violent for, if not for
truth? We are bid to contend as in an agony "for the faith which was once
delivered unto the saints," Jude verse 3. If truth once be gone, we may
write this epitaph on England's tomb-stone, "Your glory is departed!"
2. This holy violence is also when we are violent for our
own SALVATION, 2 Peter 1. 10. "Give diligence to make your calling
and election sure." The Greek word signifies anxious carefulness, or a
serious bearing of one's thoughts about the business of eternity, such a
care as sets head and heart at work. In this channel of piety all a
Christian's zeal should run.
3. The third thing is, what is implied in this holy
violence? It implies three things:
1. Resolution of will.
2. Vigor of affection.
3. Strength of endeavor.
1. Resolution of the WILL. Psalm 119. 6. "I have
sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep your righteous judgments."
Whatever is in the way to heaven, (though there be a lion in the way) I will
encounter it like a resolute commander who charges through the whole body of
the army. The Christian is resolved, come what will—that he will have
heaven. Where there is this resolution, danger must be despised,
difficulties trampled upon, terrors contemned. This is the first
thing in holy violence: resolution of will. "I will have heaven whatever it
costs me!" and this resolution must be in the strength of Christ.
Where there is but half a resolution—a will to be saved
and a will to follow sin—it is impossible to be violent for Heaven. If a
traveler be unresolved, sometimes he will ride this way, sometimes that; he
is violent for neither.
2. Vigor of the AFFECTIONS. The will proceeds upon
reason; the judgment being informed of the excellency of a state of
glory; and the will being resolved upon a voyage to that holy land;
now the affections follow and they are on fire in passionate longings
after heaven. The affections are violent things, Psalm xlii. 2. "My soul
thirsts for God, for the living God." The Rabbis note here, that David says
not, "My soul hungers," but "thirsts," because naturally we are more
impatient with thirst than hunger. See in what a rapid, violent motion
David's affections were carried after God. Affections are like the wings of
the bird which make the soul swift in its flight after glory; where the
affections are stirred up, there is offering violence to heaven.
3. This violence implies strength of ENDEAVOR, when
we strive for salvation as though a matter of life and death. It is easy to
talk of Heaven—but not to get to Heaven! We must put forth all
our strength, and call in the help of heaven to this work.
4. The fourth thing is, how many WAYS a Christian must
offer violence: namely, four ways;
He must offer violence,
1. To Himself
2. To the World
3. To Satan
4. To Heaven