The Preciousness of the
by Thomas Watson
"For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his
own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew
Every man carries a treasure about with him—a
divine soul. And that this jewel should not be undervalued, our Savior here
sets a price upon it. He lays the soul in balance with the whole world and,
being put in the scales—the soul weighs heaviest. "What is a man profited if
he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
The world is a stately fabric, enriched with
beauty and excellency; it is like a meticulous piece of tapestry, set about
with various colors. It is a bright mirror—in which much of the wisdom and
majesty of God is resplendent; but as glorious as this world is, every man
carries a more glorious world about with him—a precious soul. It would
bankrupt the world to give half the price of a soul; it will undo the world
to buy it, and it will undo him who shall sell it. If we can save our souls,
though we lose the world, it is a gainful loss. But if we lose our souls
though we gain the world, our very gains will undo us. "For what is a man
profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what
shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
The words branch themselves into five parts:
1. A supposal of a purchase—"if a man shall gain."
The proposition is hypothetical; Christ does not say he shall gain—but puts
forth a supposition; it is not a certain purchase, it is only supposed.
2. The purchase itself—the world.
3. The extent of the purchase—the whole world, the
world with all its revenues and benefits.
4. The terms of this purchase—he shall lose his
soul. Not that his soul shall be annihilated (that would make him happy)—but
he shall lose the end of his creation. He shall miss glory—if he shall lose
The loss of the soul is amplified by two things:
First, the propriety. It is his own soul, that
which is nearest to him, that which is most himself. The soul is the most
noble part; it is the man of the man.
Second, the irrecoverableness of the loss. "What
shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" What shall he give? It is as if
Christ had said, "Alas, he has nothing to give; or if he had something to
give—yet nothing will be taken for it." The soul cannot be exchanged; there
shall be no bail taken for it. "What shall a man give in exchange for his
5. Our Savior's verdict upon this purchase—"for what is a
man profited?" It is as if Christ had said, "He will have a hard bargain of
it; he will repent of selling it at last. It is but the fool's purchase!"
DOCTRINE: The soul of man is a jewel more precious than a
world. All souls are of one price; in this sense that maxim holds
true: "all souls are alike." The soul of prince and peasant are equal; and
every soul is of more value than a world.
For the illustration of the doctrine there are two things
to be demonstrated: First, that the soul is very precious; second, that it
is more precious than a world.
1. The soul is very precious. What Job said of
wisdom, I may fitly apply to the soul: "Man does not comprehend its worth.
It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in
silver. It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, with precious onyx or
sapphires. Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had
for jewels of gold." (Job 28:13, 16-17).
The soul is the glory of the creation. The soul is a beam
of God; it is a sparkle of celestial brightness, as Demascen calls it. There
is in the soul, an idea and resemblance of God, an analogy of similitude of
God. If David so admired the rare texture and workmanship of his body (Psalm
139:14-15: "I am fearfully and wonderfully made.") If the cabinet is
so curiously wrought, what is the jewel! How richly and gloriously
the soul is embroidered! It is divinely inlaid and enameled. The body is but
the sheath. Daniel 7:15: "I was grieved in the midst of my body." In the
Chaldean version it is "in the midst of my sheath." The most beautiful body
is but like a velvet sheath; the soul is the blade of admirable metal. The
soul is a sparkling diamond set in a ring of clay. The soul is a
vessel of honor. God Himself is served in this vessel. The soul is the
bird of paradise which soars aloft; it may be compared to the wings of
the cherubim; it has a winged swiftness to fly to heaven. The soul is
capable of communion with God and angels. The soul is God's house that He
has made to dwell in (Hebrews 3:6). The understanding, will,
and affections are the three stories in this house. What a pity it
is, that this goodly building should be rented out—and the devil become a
tenant in it!
The preciousness of the soul is seen in its intrinsic
worth and in its estimative worth.
The soul has an INTRINSIC worth, which appears
in its spirituality and its immortality. The soul is a
spiritual substance. It is a saying among the ancients, "Our souls are
tempered in the same mortar as the heavenly spirits." The soul is spiritual
in three ways: in its essence, its object, and its operation.
The soul is spiritual in its essence. God breathed
it in (Genesis 2:7). It is a spark lighted by the breath of God. The soul
may be compared to the spirits of the wine; the body to the
dregs. The spirits are the more pure refined part of the wine—and such is
the soul. The body is more vulgar; the soul is the more refined, sublimated
part of man. Do not mistake me when I say the soul is spiritual, and that it
is beam of God. I do not mean that it is of the same substance with Him, as
Servetus, Osiander, and others have held; for when it is said that God
breathed into man the breath of life, they erroneously thought that the
soul, being infused, conveyed into man the spirit and substance of God,
which opinion is absurd and sinful. For if the soul should be part of the
Divine essence, then it will follow that the essence of God should be
subject not only to change and passion—but, which is worse, to sin, which
would be blasphemy to assert. So when we say that the soul is spiritual—we
mean that God has invested it with many noble endowments. He has made it a
mirror of beauty, and printed upon it a surpassing excellency. The sun
shining upon crystal conveys its beauty, not its being.
The soul is spiritual in its object; it
contemplates God and heaven. God is the orb and center where the soul fixes
itself upon. The soul moves to God as to its rest. Psalm 116:7: "Return to
your rest, O my soul." He is the ark to which this dove flies; nothing but
God can fill a heaven-born soul. If the earth were turned into a globe of
gold, it could not fill the heart; it would still cry, "Give, give." The
soul being spiritual, God only can be the adequate object of it.
The soul is spiritual in its operation. Since it
is immaterial, it does not depend upon the body in its working. The senses
of seeing, hearing, and the rest of those organs of the body, cease and die
with the body because they are parts of the body and have their dependence
on it. But the soul has a nature distinct from the body; it moves and
operates of itself though the body is dead, and has no dependence upon or
co-existence with the body. Thales Milesius, an ancient philosopher, called
the soul "self-moveable." It has an intrinsic principle of life and motion,
though it is separate from the body. Thus you have seen the soul's
The preciousness of the soul also appears in its
immortality. There are some who say that the soul is mortal; indeed, it
would be well for those who do not live like men—if they might die like
beasts. But, as one well observes, it is impossible for anything of a
spiritual, uncompounded nature to be subject to death and corruption. The
souls of believers are with Christ after death (Philippians 1:23).
Oecolampadias said to his friend, who came to visit him
on his death-bed, "Good news! I shall be shortly with Christ my Lord." And
the devout soul shall be forever with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The
heathens had some glimmerings of the soul's immortality. Cicero said that
the swan was dedicated to Apollo because she sings sweetly before her death;
by which emblem they intimated the joyfulness of virtuous men before their
death, as supposing the Elysian delights which they should always enjoy
after this life. And we read that it was a custom among the Romans, when
their great men died, to cause an eagle to fly aloft in the air, signifying
hereby that the soul was immortal and did not die as the body dies.
The soul's immortality may be proved by this argument:
That which is not capable of being killed, is not capable of dying. The soul
is not capable of being killed. Our Savior Christ proved the minor
proposition, that it is not capable of being killed. Luke 12:4: "Fear not
those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do."
Therefore the soul, not being capable of being killed, is not in a
possibility of dying. The essence of the soul is spiritual: it has a
beginning—but no end. It is eternal. The soul does not wax old; it lives
forever, which can be said of any other created thing. Worldly things are as
full of mutation as motion, and, like Jonah's gourd, have a worm eating at
The soul has an ESTIMATIVE worth.
Jesus Christ has set a high value and estimate upon
the soul. He made it and He bought it; therefore He best knows the value of
it. He sold Himself to buy the soul. Zechariah 11:12: "They weighed for My
price thirty pieces of silver." Nay, He was content not only to be sold—but
to die. This enhances the price of the soul: it cost the blood of God (Acts
20:28). 1 Peter 1:19: "You were not redeemed with corruptible things, such
as silver and gold—but with the precious blood of Christ." Christ must die
that the soul may live; the Heir of heaven was pawned for the soul of man.
What could Christ give more than Himself? What in Himself was dearer than
His blood? O precious soul, who has the image of God to beautify you and the
blood of God to redeem you! Christ was the Priest, His divine nature
the altar, and His blood the sacrifice which He offered up as
an atonement for our souls! Now reckon what a drop of Christ's blood is
worth—and then tell me what a soul is worth!
Satan values souls; he knows their worth. The king of
Sodom said to Abraham, "Give me the people—and take the goods to yourself."
So Satan says, "Give me the people." He does riot care how rich you are; he
does not strive to take away your estates—but your souls. "Give me the
people," he says. "You take the goods." What are all his warlike stratagems,
his subtle snares—but to catch souls? Why does this lion so roar—but for his
prey? He envies the soul its happiness; he lays the whole train of
temptation, to blow up the whole royal fort of the soul. Why does he lay
such suitable baits? He allures the ambitious man with a crown, the
covetous man with a golden apple, and the lustful man with
beauty. Why does he tempt you to Delilah's lap—but to keep you from
Abraham's bosom? The devil is angling for the precious soul. To undo
souls is his pride; he glories in the damnation of souls; it is next to
victory to die revenged. If Sampson must die, it is some comfort that he
shall make more die with him. If Satan, that lion, must be kept in his
hellish den, it is all the heaven he expects to reach forth his paw and pull
others into the den with him!
2. Having shown you the soul's preciousness,
the next thing to be demonstrated, is that the soul
is more precious than a world. The world is made of a more impure
lump; the world is of a coarser make, of an earthly extract. The soul is
heaven-born, of a finer spinning, of a more noble descent. The world
is a great book or volume, wherein we read the majesty and wisdom of Him who
made it; but the soul is the image of God (Genesis 1). The soul is a
studied piece; when God made the world, it was but, "Let it be," and it was
done. But when He made the soul, all the persons in the Trinity sat together
at the council table. Genesis 1:26: "Come, let us make man in our own
likeness." The soul is a looking-glass wherein some rays of divine glory
shine; much of God is to be seen in it. Though this looking-glass is cracked
by the fall—yet it shall one day be perfect. We read of "spirits of just men
made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23). The soul, since the fall of Adam, may be
compared to the moon in its wane, very much obscured by sin. But when it is
sanctified by the Spirit and translated from hence, it shall be as the full
moon: it shall shine forth in its perfect glory.
If the soul is so precious, see then what that worship
is, which God expects and accepts, namely, that which comes from the more
noble part of the soul. Psalm 25:1, "To You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul."
David not only lifted up his voice—but his soul. Though God
will have the eye and the knee, the service of the body—yet He complains of
those who draw near with their lips, when their hearts are far
from Him (Isaiah 29:13). The soul is the jewel. David not only put his lute
and violin in tune—but his soul in tune to praise God. Psalm 103:1: "Bless
the Lord, O my soul." His affections joining together in worship,
made up the concert. The soul is both altar, fire, and incense; it is the
altar on which we offer up our prayers, the fire which kindles
our prayers, and the incense which perfumes them.
God's eye is chiefly upon the soul. Bring a hundred
dishes to the table, and He will carve none but this; this is the savory
meat He loves. He who is best—will be served with the best. When we give Him
the soul in a duty, then we give Him the flower and the
cream. By a holy chemistry we distill out the spirits. A soul inflamed
in service is the cup of spiced wine, and the juice of the pomegranate (Song
of Solomon 8:2), which the spouse gives Christ to drink. Without the worship
of the soul, all our religion is but bodily exercise (1 Timothy 4:8), which
profits nothing. Without the soul, we give God but a carcass. What are all
the papists' fastings, penance, and pilgrimages—but going to hell in more
pomp and state? What are the formalist's prayers, which even cool between
his lips—but a dead devotion? It is not sacrifice, but sacrilege;
he robs God of that which He has a right to—his soul.
If the soul be so precious, then of what precious account
should ordinances and ministers be? Ordinances are the golden ladder
by which the soul climbs up to heaven; they are conduits of the water of
life. Oh, how precious should these be to us! They who are against
ordinances, are against being saved.
And of how precious an account should ministers
be, whose very work is to save souls. Their feet should be considered
beautiful. Their labors should be precious. They labor with God, and they
labor for your souls; all their sweat, their tears, and their prayers are
for you. They woo for your souls, and oftentimes spend their lives in the
Their liberty should be precious. If indeed you see any
of them who are of this holy and honorable function, either idle or
ravenous; if they do not divide the Word rightly, and live uprightly—censure
them and do not spare them. God forbid I should open my mouth for such! In
the law, the lips of the leper were to be covered; that minister who is by
office an angel—but by his life a leper, ought to have his lips covered; he
deserves to be silenced.
A good preacher—but a bad liver, is like a
physician who has the plague: though the advice and prescriptions he gives
may be good—yet his plague infects the patient. So though ministers may have
good words and give good prescriptions in the pulpit—yet the plague of their
unholy lives infects their people. If you find a Hophni and Phinehas among
the sons of Levi, whose unholy life makes the offering of God to be
abhorred, you will save God a labor in ejecting them. But be sure you
distinguish between the precious and the vile; while you let out the bad
blood, have a care to preserve the heart-blood; while you purge out the ill
humors, do not destroy the spirits; while you are taking away the snuffs, do
not eclipse the lights of God's sanctuary. It is a work fit for a Julian to
suppress the orthodox ministry and open the temple of the idol. The Romans
sacked the city of Corinth, and razed it down to the ground for some
incivility offered to their ambassador. God will avenge the affronts offered
to His ministers (Psalm 105:15). Oh, take heed of this!
If souls are of such infinite value, how precious should
their liberties be, whose very design and negotiation is to save souls! (1
Timothy 4:16; Jude 23)
Exhortation. If the soul is so precious, take
heed of abusing your souls. Socrates exhorted young men that they should
look at their faces in a looking-glass, and if they saw they were fair, they
should do nothing unworthy of their beauty. Christians, God has given you
souls that sparkle with divine beauty. Oh, do nothing unworthy of these
souls; do not abuse them.
There are four sorts of people who abuse souls:
1. They abuse their souls who DEGRADE their souls. Such
people set the world above their souls. "Who pant after the dust of the
earth" (Amos 2:7). This is as if a man's house were on fire, and he should
take care to preserve the lumber—but let his child be burned in the fire.
Such people make their souls servants to their bodies.
The body is but the brutish part, the soul the angelic part. The soul is the
queen-regent, who is adorned with the jewels of knowledge and sways the
scepter of liberty. Oh, what a pity it is that this excellent soul shall be
made into a vassal and be put to grind in the mill, when the body in the
meantime sits in a chair of state! Solomon complains of an evil under the
sun in Ecclesiastes 10:7, "1 have seen servants upon horses, and princes
walking as servants upon the earth." Is it not an evil under the sun to see
the body riding in pomp and triumph, and the soul of man, that royal and
heaven-born thing, as a slave walking on foot?
2. They abuse their souls who SELL them.
The covetous person sells his soul for money. It
is said of the lawyer, "He has a tongue that will be sold for a fee." So the
covetous man has a soul that is sold for money. Achan sold his soul for a
wedge of gold. Judas sold his soul for silver, and cheap at that! For thirty
pieces of silver he sold Christ, who was more worth than heaven, and his own
soul, which was more worth than a world! How many have damned their souls
for money! (1 Timothy 6:9-10) If you mix these earthly things with your
souls and let them lie too near you, they will in time consume and undo your
The ambitious person sells his soul for honor.
Alexander the sixth sold his soul to the devil for a popedom. What is that
honor, but a torch lighted by the breath of people, and with the least puff
of censure blown out! How many souls have been blown into hell with the wind
of popular applause!
The voluptuous person sells his soul for pleasure.
Heliogabalus drowned himself in sweet water. Just so, many drown their souls
in the sweet perfumed waters of pleasure. Plato calls pleasure "the bait
that catches souls." Pleasure is a silken halter, a flattering devil; it
kills by embracing.
3. They abuse their souls who POISON their souls. Error
is a sweet poison. Ignatius calls it the invention of the devil. A man can
as well damn his soul by error as by vice—and may as soon go
to hell for a drunken opinion as for a drunken life.
4. They abuse their souls who STARVE their souls; these
are they who say they are above ordinances. But surely we shall not be above
ordinances, until we are above sin. The apostle said that in the blessed
sacrament we are to remember the Lord's death until He comes (1 Corinthians
11:26), that is, until Christ comes to judgment. How then can any omit
sacraments without a contempt and affront offered to Christ Himself? If Paul
and the apostles, those giants in grace, needed the Lord's Supper to confirm
and nourish them, much more do we need such holy ordinances who have but an
infant faith. But Satan likes these fasting days; he would have men fast
from ordinances. If the body is kept from food, it cannot live long.
If the soul be so precious a thing, take heed that you do
not lose your souls. What a loss it is will appear in these two things:
1. It is a FOOLISH loss to lose the soul. "You
fool, this night your soul shall be required of you!" (Luke 12:20) It is a
foolish loss to lose the soul, and that in a three-fold respect:
First, because there is a possibility of saving the soul.
We have time to work in; we have light to work by; we have the Spirit
offering us help. The soul is like a ship laden with jewels; the Spirit is a
gale of wind to blow. If we would but loosen anchor from sin, we might
arrive at the port of happiness.
Second, it is a foolish loss, because we lose the soul
for things of no value. Worldly things are infinitely below the soul; they
are nonentities. Proverbs 23:5: "Cast but a glance at riches, and they are
gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an
eagle." The world is but a bewitchery; these things glisten in our eyes—but
at death we shall say that we have set our eyes on that which is not. Now to
lose the soul for such poor inconsiderate things is a foolish thing. It is
as if one should throw a diamond at a pear tree; he loses his diamond.
Third, it is a foolish loss for a man to lose his soul,
because he himself has a hand in it. Is it not folly to give oneself poison?
A sinner has his hands saturated in the blood of his own soul. "Your
destruction is of yourself!" (Hosea 13:9). "They lay wait for their own
blood" (Proverbs 1:18). The foolish sinner nourishes those lusts which kill
his soul; the tree breeds the worm, and the worm eats the tree. Would it not
be folly for a garrison to open to the enemy which besieges it? The sinner
opens to those lusts which war against his soul (1 Peter 2:11), and this is
a foolish loss.
2. It is an IRREPARABLE loss to lose the soul.
Other losses may be made up again; if a man loses his health, he may recover
it again; if he loses his estate, he may get it up again. But if he loses
his soul, this loss can never be made up again. Are there any more saviors
to die for the soul? As Naomi said to her daughters, "Are there yet any more
sons in my womb" (Ruth 1:11)? Has God any more sons? Or will He send His Son
any more into the world? No! Christ's next coming is not to save it—but to
judge it. Christian, remember you have but one soul, and if that is gone—all
is gone. "God," said Chrysostom, "has given you two eyes. If you lose one,
you have another. But you have but one soul, and if that perishes you are
quite undone." The merchant who ventures all in one ship, if that ship is
lost, he is quite bankrupt.
3. The loss of the soul is an ETERNAL loss.
Once the soul is lost, it is lost forever. The sinner and the furnace shall
never be parted (Isaiah 33:14). As the sinner's heart will never be
emptied of sin—so God's vial shall never be emptied of wrath!