The Great Gain of
by Thomas Watson, 1681
The Godly Should SPEAK of God
Having done with the character of the godly in
general terms, I proceed next to their special characteristics: "Then those
who feared the Lord talked with each other". When the wicked said,
"It is vain to serve God", then "Then those who feared the Lord talked
often with each other". The meaning of this word, they "talked often",
is they discoursed piously together; their tongues were divinely tuned by
the Holy Spirit.
Christians, when they meet together, should be much in
"holy conference". This is not only an advice—but a charge: "You must commit
yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat
them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are
at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when
you are getting up again." (Deut. 6:6). Indeed, where there is grace
poured in—it will effuse out! Grace changes the language—and makes it
spiritual. When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, they "spoke with
other tongues" (Acts 2:4). Grace makes Christian speak with other tongues. A
godly Christian not only has the law of God in his heart (Psalm
37:31)—but in his tongue! (verse 30). The body is the temple
of God (1 Cor. 6:19). The tongue is the organ in this temple, which
sounds in holy discourse! "The tongue of the just is as choice silver"
(Prov. 10:20). He drops silver sentences, enriching others with spiritual
knowledge! "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in
him; and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for
every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be
acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matt. 12:35-37). In
the godly man's heart, there is a treasury of goodness, and this is
not like a bag of hidden money—but he brings something out of the treasury
within—to the enriching of others.
Grace is of the nature of fire, which will not be pent
up. Like new wine, grace requires a vent (Acts 4:20). There is a principle
within, which constrains to holy conference: "I am full of words, and my
spirit compels me to speak." (Job 32:18).
The first use of this doctrine is for INFORMATION.
It shows the character and temper of true saints: they "speak often
one to another"; their lips drop as a honeycomb. The country to which
a man belongs—is known by his language. He who belongs to the Jerusalem
above—speaks the language of Canaan. None of God's children are dumb;
their mouth is a "wellspring of wisdom" (Prov. 18:4).
The second use is REPROOF. Here I may draw up
a bill of indictment against five sorts of people.
1. Such as are SILENT in matters of true religion.
They would be counted godly—but he must have good eyes, who can
see it! I know not whether it is ignorance or timidity—which
sets godly discourse aside. Many are as mute in piety—as if their tongues
did cleave to the roof of their mouth! Had they any love to God, or had they
ever tasted how sweet the Lord is—their mouth would "talk of his
righteousness" (Psalm 71:24).
Friends, what should concern us but salvation?
What are the things of this world? They are neither real or
lasting (Proverbs 23:5). Do we not see men heap up riches, and suddenly
death, as God's sergeant, arrests them! What should we talk of—but the
things pertaining to the kingdom of God? Let this cause blushing
among Christians—that their meetings are so unprofitable, because they leave
God out of their discourse!
Why is there no godly conference? Have you so much
spiritual knowledge, that you need not have it increased? Have you so much
faith, that you need not have it strengthened? Silence in piety—is a loud
sin! We read of one who was possessed with a dumb devil (Mark 9:17).
How many are spiritually possessed with a dumb devil!
2. It is a rebuke to such as, when they meet together,
instead of speaking of heaven, have IDLE, FROTHY discourse! They
talk—but do not say anything spiritually profitable. Their lips do not drop
as a honeycomb. Their speaking is no more profitable, than an infant's
mutterings. "They speak vanity everyone with his neighbor" (Psalm
12:2). If Christ should ask some today, as he did the two disciples going to
Emmaus, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" (Luke 24:17);
they could not answer as those did, "The things concerning Jesus the
Nazarene!" No, perhaps they were talking about toys, or new fashions! If
idle words must be accounted for (Matt. 12:36), Lord, what an account
will some have to give!
3. It reproves the avaricious person who, instead of
speaking of heaven, talks of nothing but the WORLD. The farmer
speaks of his plough and yoke of oxen; the tradesman of his wares
and drugs; but not a word of God. "The one who is from the earth belongs to
the earth—and speaks as one from the earth." (John 3:31). Many
are like the fish in the gospel—which had money in its mouth! (Matt.
17:27). They talk only of secular things, as if they imagined to
fetch happiness out of that earth which God has cursed!
Seneca, being asked of what country he was, answered he
was "a citizen of this world". We may know many to be citizens of this
world—their speech betrays them! O souls bent towards the earth and empty of
4. It reproves those who do indeed speak often to one
another—but with EVIL speech. "The tongue also is a fire, a world
of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the
whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James
i. They speak one to another in
harsh words. Their words should be like the "waters of
Shiloh—which go softly" (Isaiah 8:6). But too often they are fierce
and biting. Water, when it is hot, soon boils over; when the heart is
heated with anger—it soon boils over in furious speech!
Many curse in their anger. The tongue is made in the
fashion of a sword—and it cuts like a sword! Angry words often
harm the one who utters them. Rehoboam with one churlish word, lost ten
tribes. A fiery spirit is unsuitable to the Master we serve—"the
Prince of Peace"; and to his message—"the gospel of peace". Such
whose tongues are set on fire, let them take heed that they do not one day
in hell, desire a drop of water to cool their tongue! (Luke 16:24).
ii. They speak one to another in a bad sense, who
COMPLAIN one to another. They do not complain of their sins—but
their vain desires. Murmuring proceeds from unbelief: "They did not
believe his word: but murmured" (Psalm 106:24-25). When men
distrust God's promises, they murmur at his providences. This
is a sin God can hardly bear! "How long shall I bear with this evil
congregation, which murmurs against me?" (Num. 14:27). Israel's speeches
were venomous, and God punished them with venomous serpents! (1 Cor: 10:10).
iii. They speak one to another in a bad sense who give
vent to FILTHY, CORRUPT language. The
heart is a cask full of wickedness, and the tongue is the tap
which lets it flow out! When the face breaks out in sores and pimples—it
shows that the blood is corrupt. When men break forth in filthy speech—it
shows the heart is corrupt. We read that the lips of the leper were
to be covered (Lev. 13:45). It would be a blessing—if we could cover the
filthy lips of our spiritual lepers!
iv. They speak one to another in a bad sense who, instead
of seasoning their words with grace, mix them with
SWEARING. Swearers rend and tear God's name, and, like mad
dogs—fly in the face of God! "Because of swearing the land mourns" (Jer.
23:10). Some think it fine speech, to mix every sentence with an
oath; as if they would go to hell genteelly. "But", says one, "it is
my custom to swear." Is this an excuse—or an aggravation of
the sin? If a malefactor should he arraigned for robbery, and he should say
to the judge, "Spare me—for it is my custom to rob and steal", the judge
would say, "You shall all the more die!" For every oath that a man
swears, God puts a drop of wrath into his vial!
v. It reproves those who, instead of speaking in a holy
manner one to another, speak of others:
First, they speak of others in CENSURING. Some make it a
part of their religion to talk about and criticize others. They do not
imitate their graces—but speak upon their failings. God grant
that professors may wash their hands of this! Were people's hearts more
humble—their tongues would he more charitable! It is the sign of
a hypocrite—to criticize others and commend himself.
Secondly, they speak of others in SLANDERING. "You
slander your own mother's son!" (Psalm 50:20). Slandering is when we speak
to the harm of another—and speak that which is not true. Worth is
blasted by slander! Holiness itself is no shield from this sin. The
lamb's innocency will not preserve it from the wolf! Job calls
slandering "the scourge of the tongue" (Job 5:21). You may smite
a man—yet never touch him! A slanderer wounds another's
reputation, and no physician can heal these wounds! The eye and the
name—are two tender things. God takes it ill at our hands—to
calumniate others, especially to slander those who help to keep up the
credit of true religion: "Were you not afraid to speak against my servant
Moses?" (Num. 12:8). What, my servant, who has wrought so many miracles,
whom I have spoken with face to face on the mount! Were you not afraid to
speak against him!
The Greek word for slanderer signifies devil
(1 Tim. 3:11). Slander is the devil's proper sin—he is "the accuser of the
brethren" (Rev. 12:10). The devil does not commit adultery—but he bears
false witness. The slanderer may be indicted for clipping; he
clips his neighbor's credit to make it weigh lighter. Our nature is
prone to slander; but remember, it is just as much a sin in God's reckoning
to break the Ninth Commandment, as the Eighth Commandment.
The third use is EXHORTATION. Put this great
duty into practice! Imitate these holy ones in the text, who "spoke
often one to another". Jerome thinks they spoke something in defense of the
providence of God; they vindicated God in his dealings, and exhorted one
another not to be discouraged at the virulent speeches of the wicked—but
still to hold on a course of piety. Thus, Christians, when you meet, give
one another's souls a visit—impart your spiritual knowledge, impart
your experiences to each other (Psalm 66:16). Samson having found honey, did
not only eat of it himself—but carried it to his father and mother (Judges
14:9). Have you tasted the honey of the Word? Let others have a taste with
He who has been in a perfumer's shop does not only
himself partake of those sweet fragrances—but some of the perfume sticks to
his clothes, so that those who come near him partake of those perfumes. Just
so, having ourselves partaken of the sweet savor of Christ's ointments, we
should let others partake with us, and by our heavenly discourse, diffuse
the perfume of piety to them. Let your words be seasoned with salt
(Col. 4:6). Let grace be the salt which seasons your words and makes them
savory. Christians should take all occasions for godly discourse, when they
walk together, and sit at table together. This makes their eating and
drinking to be "to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). What makes it a
communion of saints--but godly conversation?
But some may say they are barren of matter—and
know not what to speak of. Have you walked so often through the field
of Scripture—yet gathered no ears of corn? Have not you matter enough in the
Word to furnish you with something to say? Let me suggest a few things to
you. When you meet, speak one to another of the promises. No honey is
so sweet—as that which drops from a promise! The promises are the support of
faith, the springs of joy, and the saints royal charter. Are you citizens of
heaven, and yet do not speak of your charter?
Speak of the preciousness of Christ. He is all
beauty and love; he has laid down his blood as the price of your redemption.
Have you a friend who has redeemed you—and yet you never speak of him?
Speak one to another of sin, what a deadly evil it
is, how it has infected your virgin-nature, and turned it into a lesser
Speak of the beauty of holiness, which is the
souls embroidery, filling it with such orient splendor, as makes God and
angels fall in love with it. The graces are the sacred characters of
the divine nature.
Speak one to another of your souls: enquire
whether they are in good health.
Speak about death and eternity: can you
belong to heaven and not speak of your country?
Thus, you see, here is matter enough, for holy
conference. Why then do you not maintain godly discourse? I believe that one
main reason for the decay of the power of godliness, is a lack of Christian
conference. People when they meet talk of vanities—but God and
heaven are left out of their discourse! That I may persuade
you in your conversations to put in a word about your souls—let me offer
these few things for your consideration.
1. Holy conversation was the practice of the saints of
old. Elijah and Elisha went on in godly discourse until the
chariot of heaven came to part them (2 Kings 2:11). David's tongue was tuned
to the language of Canaan, "My tongue shall talk of your
righteousness" (Psalm 71:24). The primitive Christians, into whatever
company they came, spoke of a glorious kingdom they expected, so that
some thought they were ambitious of worldly honor. But the kingdom they
looked for, was not of this world but a kingdom with Christ in
heaven. Jerome says that some of the Christian ladies spent much of their
time in communing together, and would not let him alone—but continually
asked him questions about their souls.
2. We are bidden to redeem the time (Eph.
5:16). The poets painted time with wings, because it flies so
fast! Time lost must be redeemed, and is there any better way to
redeem time, than to improve it in trading for heaven, and speaking of God
and our souls?
3. Jesus Christ has left us a pattern. His
words were perfumed with holiness, "All bore him witness, and wondered at
the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth!" (Luke 4:22).
Christ had grace poured into his lips (Psalm 45:2.). In all companies, he
maintained godly discourse. When he sat on Jacob's well, he falls into an
heavenly discourse with the woman of Samaria about the water of life (John
4:14). And so when Levi made him a feast (Luke 5:29), Christ feasts him in
return—with heavenly discourse. And no sooner was Christ risen from the
grave but he "was speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God"
(Acts 1:3). The more spiritual we are in our speeches—the more we
resemble Christ! Should not the members he like the Head?
Christ will not be our Savior—unless we make him our pattern.
4. Godly discourse would prevent sinful
discourse. Much sin passes in ordinary talk—as gravel
and mud pass along with water. How many are guilty of
tongue-sins! Godly discourse would prevent evil—as labor prevents idleness.
If we accustomed our tongues to the heavenly dialect, the devil would not
have so much power over us.
5. We may somewhat have a knowledge of men's hearts—by
their common discourse. Words are the looking-glass of the
mind. As you may judge of a face by the mirror, whether it be fair or
foul; so by the words—we may judge of a man's heart. A lascivious tongue
shows a lustful heart; an earthly tongue shows a covetous
heart; a gracious tongue shows a gracious heart. The Ephraimites were
known by their pronunciation, saying "sibboleth" for "shibboleth" (Judg.
12:6). So by the manner of our speech—it may be known to whom we belong. The
tongue is the index of the heart! If you broach a cask, that
which is within, will come out. By that which comes out of the mouth—you may
guess what is within, in the heart! "Of the abundance of the heart—the mouth
speaks" (Luke 6:45).
6. Godly discourse is beneficial. "The tongue
of the wise brings healing." (Proverbs 12:18) A word spoken in season may
make such a powerful impression upon another's heart, which will do him good
all his life. One single coal is apt to die—but many coals put
together keep in the heat. Christians by their heavenly talk may "blow up"
one another's grace into a flame!
When the daughters of Jerusalem had conversed a while
with the spouse, and had heard her describe Christ's admirable beauty, their
affections began to be inflamed, and they would seek him with her. "Where is
your beloved gone, O fairest among women—that we may seek him with you?"
(Song of Sol. 6:1).
A Christian by divine discourse may enlighten
another when he is ignorant; warm him when he is frozen; comfort
him when he is sad; and confirm him when he is wavering. Latimer
was much strengthened by discourse with Thomas Bilney in prison, and hearing
his confession of faith. A godly life adorns true religion—a godly
tongue propagates it! When the apostle would have us edify one another,
what better way could he prescribe than this—to have such holy speeches
proceed out of our mouths as might "minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph.
7. We must be accountable to God for our speech.
Words are judged light by men—but they weigh heavy in
God's balance. By our words we shall be either saved or damned.
"For by your words you shall he justified, and by your words you shall be
condemned" (Malt. 12:37). If our words have been seasoned with grace—then
the acquitting sentence is likely to go on our side.
8. Godly discourse is a Christian's honor. The
tongue is called our glory (Psalm 30:12), because it is the instrument of
glorifying God. When our tongues are out of tune in murmuring, then they are
not our glory; but when the organs sound in holy discourse, then our tongues
are our glory.
9. Godly discourse will be a means to bring Christ into
our company. While the two disciples were conferring about the
death and sufferings of Christ, Jesus Christ himself came among them: "While
they communed together . . . Jesus himself drew near, and went with them"
(Luke 24:15). When bad discourse prevails—Satan draws near and makes one of
the company; but when godly discourse is promoted—Jesus Christ draws near.
Let all that has been said excite us to godly discourse.
Certainly, there is no better way than this to increase our stock of grace.
Others by spending grow poor; but the more we spend ourselves in holy
discourse, the richer we grow in grace; as the widow's oil, by pouring out,
increased (2 Kings 4).
Question: How may godly
conference be arrived at?
Answer 1. If you wish to discourse of true religion, get
your minds well furnished with knowledge. Hereby, you will have a
treasury to fetch from. "I am pent up and full of words" (Job 32:18).
Some are backward to speak of godly things for lack of matter. The empty
vessel cannot run. If you would have your tongues run fluently in piety,
they must be fed with a spring of knowledge. "Let the word of Christ dwell
in you richly" (Col. 3:16). In one of the miracles which Christ wrought, he
first caused the water-pots to he filled with water, and then said,
"Now draw some out" (John 2:8). So we must first have our heads filled
with knowledge, and then we shall be able to draw out to others in godly
Answer 2. If you would discourse readily in the things of
God, make piety your delight. What men delight in—they
will be speaking of. The sensualist speaks of his sports; the
worldling of his rich purchase. Delight makes the tongue as the pen
of a ready writer. The spouse, being delighted and enamored with Christ's
beauty, could not conceal herself; she makes an elegant and passionate
oration in the commendation of Christ. "My beloved is white and ruddy, the
chief among ten thousand! Yes—he is altogether lovely!" (Song of Solomon
Answer 3. Pray that God will both gift and grace you for
Christian conference. "O Lord, open my lips!" (Psalm 51:15).
Satan has locked up men's lips. Pray that God will open them. Perhaps you
pray that you may believe in Christ—but do you pray that you may commend
him, and not be ashamed to speak of him before others? "I will speak of your
testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed" (Psalm 119:46). To
end this, let me briefly insert two cautions:
Caution 1. I do not deny that it is lawful to confer of
worldly business sometimes; communication requires conference. But with this
proviso, that we should show more delight and earnestness in speaking of
spiritual things than earthly things, remembering that the soul is
far more valuable than the world.
Caution 2. When people speak of true religion, let it not
be for any sinister, unworthy end, nor for ostentation—but for
edification; and then, having your aim right, speak of the things of
God, with life and affection, that others may perceive you feel those
truths of which you speak.
A. The Godly Should Meditate on God's Name
The second special characteristic of the godly in the
text is, "they thought upon God's name." These saints, when they were
together—spoke of God; when they were alone—they thought of
God. They "thought upon his name".
Question. What is meant by God's
Answer 1. By the name of God is meant his essence;
God's name is put for God himself.
Answer 2. By the name of God is meant his glorious
attributes, which are, as it were, the several letters of his name.
Answer 3. By the name of God is meant his worship and
ordinances, where his name is called upon. "Go to the place at Shiloh where
I once put the Tabernacle to honor my name" (Jer. 7:12). That is, where I
first set up my public worship.
Now this name of God, the saints in the text did
contemplate, they thought upon his name. Thoughts are the first-born of the
soul, the conceptions of the mind, the immediate fruit and outcome of a
rational being. "Thoughts are the representations of things in the
imagination." These devout souls in the text were chiefly busying their
thoughts about God and heaven.
It is the inseparable sign of a godly man, to employ his
chief thoughts about God: "The thoughts of the righteous are right"
(Proverbs 12:5); that is, they are set upon the right object. It is natural
to think. Thoughts fly out of the mind—as sparks fly out of a furnace. The
Hebrew word for a thought signifies the boughs of a tree,
because thoughts shoot out from our minds as branches do from a tree. It is,
I say, natural to think—but it is not natural to think of God; this is
proper to a saint. His thoughts are sublime and seraphic—they fly to heaven.
The mind is a mint-house where thoughts are minted.
David minted golden thoughts: "I am still with you" (Psalm 139:18), that is,
by divine contemplation. Thoughts are the travelers of the soul.
David's thoughts kept on heavens road: "I am continually with you" (Psalm
73:23). As the mariners needle turns to the North Pole, so a saint's
thoughts are still pointing towards God.
Question. Why is it, that the
saints thoughts mount up to God?
Answer 1. There will be this thinking on God—from those
intrinsic perfections which are in him. The loveliness of the
object, attracts the thoughts. God is the Supreme good. There is nothing
but God, which is really worth thinking upon. "You are my portion, O Lord"
(Psalm 119:S7). Will not a man's thoughts run upon his portion? A gracious
soul has found pleasure in thinking on God (Psalm 63:5-6). He has had
those transfigurations on the mount, those incomings of the Spirit,
those enterings of God's love, those foretastes of glory—so
that he cannot keep his thoughts off from God! To hinder him from thinking
on God—is to bar him of all his pleasure.
Answer 2. There will
be thinking on God—from the powerful operations of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot of ourselves think a godly thought (2 Cor. 3:5)—but the Spirit
elevates and fixes the heart on God: "The Spirit lifted me up" (Ezek. 3:14).
When you see the iron move upward—you know there has been some
magnet drawing it. Just so, when the thoughts move upwards towards God,
the Spirit has, as a divine magnet, drawn them!
First Use: REPROOF.
Out of the quiver of this text I may draw several
arrows of reproof:
1. It reproves those who do not think upon God's name.
It is the brand-mark of a reprobate: "God is not in all his thoughts" (Psalm
10:4). He endeavors to expunge and blot God out of his mind. Though he draws
his breath from God—yet he does not think of him. His thoughts all shoot
into the earth (Phil. 3:19). Had not sinners by their fall lost their
head-piece, they would reason thus with themselves: "Certainly God is best
worth thinking on. Is there any excellency in the world? Then what
excellency there is in God—who has made it! He gives the star its
beauty, the flower its fragrance, food its pleasantness! If
there is such deliciousness in the creature, what must there be in God! He
must needs be better than all. O my soul, shall I admire the drop—and
not the ocean? Shall I think of the workmanship, and not of
him who made it?"
This forgetfulness of God, is the fruit of
original sin—which has warped the soul, and taken it off from the right
2. It reproves such as indeed think of God—but who do not
have RIGHT thoughts of him. As the Lord said to Eliphaz, "You
have not spoken of me what is right" (Job 42:7); so some think of God—but
they do not think of him rightly.
1. They have low unworthy thoughts of God.
They imagine God to be like themselves (Psalm 50:21). Men think that God is
as short-sighted as they, and that he cannot see them through the thick
canopy of the clouds. (He who makes a watch knows all the wheels and pins in
it, and the spring which causes the motion.) God who is the inspector of the
heart (Acts 1:24; 15:8) sees all the intrigues and private plots in the
thoughts (Job 42:2; Amos 4:13). God knows the true motion of a
false heart! "I know, and am a witness—says the Lord"
2. Men have injurious thoughts of God.
First, they think that his ways are unjust. "Yet
you say—The way of the Lord is not just. Hear, O house of Israel—Is my way
unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?" (Ezek. 18:25). Some call God's
providence to the bar of reason, and judge his proceedings to be unjust. But
God says, "I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the
plumb line" (Isaiah 28:17). His ways are secret—but never unjust.
God is most just in his way—when we think he is out of his way.
Secondly, they think that his ways are unprofitable.
"You have said—It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping
His requirements?" (Mal. 3:14). We cannot show our earnings. These are not
right thoughts of God. Men think him to be a hard master; but God will be in
no man's debt, he gives double pay: "Neither do you kindle a fire on my
altar for nothing" (Mal. 1:10).
3. It reproves such as, instead of thinking on God, have
their minds wholly taken up with VAIN thoughts. Vain thoughts are
the froth of the brain. "How long shall your vain thoughts lodge
within you?" (Jer. 4:14). I do not deny that vain thoughts may sometimes
come into the best hearts—but they have a care to turn them out before
night, that they do not lodge there. This denominates a wicked man.
His thoughts dwell upon vanity; and well may his thoughts be said to be
vain, because they do not turn to any profit! "Vanity, and things wherein
there is no profit" (Jer. 16:19). They are vain thoughts, which are about
foolish things, and run all into straw. They are vain thoughts which do not
better the heart, nor will give one drop of comfort at death, "In that very
day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4). Vain thoughts are corrupt; they
taint the heart and leave an evil tincture behind.
4. It reproves such as have, not only vain thoughts, but
thoughts: while they view themselves in the mirror of self-love, they begin
to take up venerable thoughts of themselves, and so pride fumes up into
their head and makes them giddy! (Acts 5:36).
thoughts. They think how to gratify their lusts—they "make provision," or as
the word signifies, become "caterers" for the flesh (Romans 13:14).
Sin begins in the thoughts. First men devise
sin—then they act it (Mic. 2:1-2). For instance, if one seeks
preferment, he thinks to himself by what ladder he may climb to
honor. He will cringe and comply, and lay aside conscience, because he
thinks that this is the way to rise. If a man would grow rich, he
sets his thoughts to work how to obtain an estate. He will pull down his
soul—to build up an estate. Would he wreak his malice on another? He
frames a plan in his thoughts to harm him. As Jezebel (that painted harlot)
when she would ruin Naboth, presently feigns a sham-plot and subtly thinks
of a way how to dispatch him: "She commanded: Call the citizens together for
fasting and prayer and give Naboth a place of honor. Find two scoundrels who
will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him
to death!" (1 Kings 21:9-10).
Oh, the mischief of thoughts! A man may deny God
in his thoughts: "The fool has said in his heart—there is no God"
(Psalm 14:1). He may commit adultery in his thoughts: "Whoever looks
on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her in his
heart" (Matt. 5:28). A man may murder another in his thoughts:
"Whoever hates his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15 ). O how much
contemplative wickedness is in the world! Tremble at sinful thoughts.
We startle at gross sin—but we are not troubled so much for sinful thoughts.
Know firstly, that sin may be committed in the thoughts, though it never
blossoms into outward act: "The thought of foolishness is sin!"
(Prov. 24:9). See this illustrated in two things:
Envy—the Jews envied Christ, for the fame of his
miracles: "Pilate knew that for envy they had delivered him" (Matt. 27:18).
Here was sin committed in the thoughts. The Jews sinned by envying
Christ, though they had never crucified him.
Discontentment--"The Lord accepted Abel and his
offering, but he did not accept Cain and his offering. This made Cain very
angry and dejected." (Gen. 4:4-5). He maligned his brother,
and his thoughts boiled up to discontentment. Here was sin committed in the
thoughts. Cain sinned in being discontented, even if he had never murdered
Know that God will punish sinful thoughts. We
say thoughts are free—and so they are in man's court; but God
will punish for thoughts! It was set upon Herod's score, that he thought to
destroy Christ under a pretense of worshiping him (Matt. 2:8).
Let us be humbled for the sins of our thoughts.
"If you have thought evil, lay your hand upon your mouth" (Proverbs
30:32); that is, humble and abase yourself before the Lord. The holiest
people alive, need to be humbled for their thoughts:
First, for the instability of their thoughts. How
do your thoughts dance up and down in prayer. It is hard to tie two godly
Secondly, for the impiety of their thoughts. In
the fairest fruit, may be a worm—and in the best heart, evil thoughts may
arise. Did men's hearts stand where their faces do, they would blush to look
one upon another! Let us be deeply humbled for our thoughts. Let us look up
to Christ, that he would stand between us and God justice, and that he would
intercede for us, that the thoughts of our hearts may be forgiven.
Second use: EXHORTATION.
Let us think on God's Name; let us lock up ourselves with
God every day; let our thoughts get wings and, with the birds of paradise,
fly up towards heaven. Christians, look upon that day to be lost, in which
you have not conversed with God in your thoughts; think of God in your
closet, in your shop; trade above the moon. "Isaac went out to meditate in
the field" (Gen. 24:63). He walked in heaven by holy utterances. Our
minds should be steeped in holy thoughts.
It is not enough to have a few transient thoughts of
God—but there must be a fixing of our minds on God, until our hearts
are warmed in love to him, and we can say, like those in Luke 24:32, "Did
not our heart burn within us!"
But what should the matter of our holy meditations be?
1. Think of God's immense being.
Adore his illustrious ATTRIBUTES, which are the
beams by which the divine nature shines forth. Think of God's omniscience.
He particularly and critically assesses all our actions, and notes them down
in his book. Think of God's holiness, which is the most sparkling
jewel of his crown (Exod. 15:11). Think of God's mercy: this makes
all his other attributes sweet. Holiness without mercy, and justice without
mercy, would be dreadful. Think of God's veracity: "Abundant in
truth" (Exod. 34:6); that is, God will be so far from coming short of his
word, that he does more than he has said. He shoots beyond the
promise, never short of it.
Think of the WORKS of God: "I will meditate also
on all your works" (Psalm 77:12). God's works are bound up in three great
volumes: Creation, Providence, Redemption. Here is sweet matter for
our thoughts to expatiate upon.
To enforce the exhortation, let me propose some
arguments and inducements to be frequent in the thoughts of God.
1. The reason why God has given us a thinking faculty, is
that we may think on his Name. When our thoughts run out in vain
things, we should think with ourselves thus: Did God give us this talent to
misemploy? Did he give us thoughts that we should think of everything but
2. It we do not accustom ourselves to godly thoughts, we
cannot be godly Christians. Thinking seriously on heavenly
things—makes them stick in our minds, causes delight in them,
and makes them nourish us. Musing on holy objects, is like
digesting food, which turns it into nourishment. Without holy thoughts,
there is no true religion. Can a man be pious and scarcely ever think of it?
3. We are deeply obliged to think on God.
For, First, God is our Maker. "It is he who has made us, and
not we ourselves" (Psalm 100:3). Our bodies are God's fine needlework (Psalm
139:15). And as God has wrought the cabinet, so he has put a jewel in it—the
precious soul. Has God made us—and shall not we think of him?
Secondly, God has sweetened our lives with various
mercies. A city in Sicily is so finely situated, that the sun was never
out of sight. Just so, God has so placed us by his providence, that the
sunshine of his mercy is never out of sight. We are miraculously attended
with his mercy! His mercy feeds us with the finest of the wheat—the bread of
life; mercy guards us with a guard of angels; it makes the rock pour forth
rivers of oil. Shall not the stream lead us to the fountain?
Shall not we think of the God of our mercies? This is high
4. To have frequent and devout thoughts of God—evidences
SINCERITY. No truer touchstone of sanctity exists, than the
spirituality of the thoughts. What a man's thoughts are—that is the man!
"For as he thinks in his heart—so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). Thoughts
are freer from hypocrisy, than words. One may speak well for
applause, or to stand right in the opinion of others; but when we are alone
and think of God's Name, and admire his excellencies, this shows the heart
to be right. Thoughts are freer from hypocrisy, than a man's
external behavior. A man may be lovely in his outward behavior—yet have
a covetous, revengeful mind! The acts of sin may be concealed, when the
heart sits brooding upon sin. But to have the thoughts spiritualized and set
upon God is a truer sign of sincerity—than a life free from vice.
What do your thoughts run upon? Where do they make their
most frequent visits? Can you say, "Lord, our hearts are still mounting up
to heaven, our thoughts are lodged in paradise; though we do not see your
face—yet we think on your Name!" This is a good evidence of
sincerity. We judge men by their actions; God judges them by
5. Thinking much on God—would cure the love of the WORLD.
Great things seem little—to him who stands high. To such as stand
upon the top of the Alps, the great cities of Italy seem like little
villages. For those who are mounted high in the contemplation of Christ and
glory—how do the things of the world disappear, and even shrink into
nothing! A soul elevated by faith above the visible planets, has the
earth under his feet. A true saint intermeddles with secular affairs,
more out of necessity than choice. Paul's thoughts are
heavenly and sublime—he lived in the altitudes—and how he scorned the world!
"The world is crucified unto me!" (Gal. 6:14).
6. Thinking on God—would be expulsive of SIN.
From whence is impiety—but from thoughtlessness? If only men carefully
considered God's holiness and justice—would they dare sin at the rate they
do! That which kept Joseph in check, was the thought of a sin-revenging God.
When the delights of sin tickle us—let the thoughts of God come into men's
minds, that he is both Spectator and Judge—and that after the
golden crowns and women's hair—comes the lions teeth! (Rev. 9:8). This would
put them into a cold sweat—and be as the angel's drawn sword! (Num. 22:31).
It would scare them from sin!
7. Thinking on God, is an admirable means to increase our
LOVE to God. As it was with David's meditations, "As I was musing
the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3); so it is with our musing on the Deity. While
we are thinking on God—our hearts will kindle in love to him.
The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in
religion—is that we do not warm them with thoughts of God. Hold a magnifying
glass to the sun, and the glass burns that which is near to it. So when our
thoughts are lifted up to Christ, the Sun of righteousness, our affections
are set on fire. No sooner had the spouse been thinking upon her Savior's
beauty—but she fell into love-sickness. (Song of Sol. 5:8). O saints, do but
let your thoughts dwell upon the love of Christ, who passed by angels
and thought of you; who was wounded that, out of his wounds, the balm
of Gilead might come to heal you; who leaped into the sea of his
Father's wrath, to save you from drowning in the lake of fire! Think
of this unparalleled love, which sets the angels wondering—and see if it
will not affect your hearts and cause tears to flow forth!
8. Thinking on God, will by degrees transform us
into his image. As Jacob's flock looking on the rods which had
white streaks conceived and brought forth like them (Gen. 30:39), so by
contemplating God's holiness, we are in some measure changed into his
likeness! "Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord—we are changed
into the same image" (2 Cor. 3:18). The contemplative sight of God was
transforming; they had some print of God's holiness upon them; as Moses when
he had been on the mount with God, his face shone! (Exod. 34:35). What is
godliness, but God-likeness? And who are so like him—as those
that think on his name?
9. Thinking on God is sweet. It ushers
in a secret delight to the soul! "My meditation of him shall be sweet"
(Psalm 104:34). He whose head gets above the clouds—has his thoughts lifted
high, has God in his eye, is full of divine raptures, and cries out as Peter
in the transfiguration, "Lord, it is good for us to be here!" Holy thoughts
are the dove we send out of the ark of our souls—and they
return with an olive branch of peace. Some complain that they have no joy
in their lives. It is no wonder, when they are such strangers to
heavenly contemplation! Would you have God give you joy and comfort—and
never think of him? Indeed Israel had manna dropped into their tents, and
they never thought of it; but God will not drop down this manna of heavenly
joy on that soul which seldom or never thinks of him.
Would you have your spirits cheerful? Let your thoughts
be heavenly! The higher the lark flies—the sweeter it sings.
Just so, the higher a soul ascends in the thoughts of God—the sweeter joy it
10. Thoughts of God will turn to the best account.
Thoughts spent on the world are often in vain. Some spend
thoughts about laying up a portion for a child; and perhaps either it dies,
or lives to be a severe trial to them. Others beat their brains how to rise
in politics—when royal favor has shone upon them, all of a sudden an eclipse
comes about, the king's smile is turned into a frown, and then their
thoughts are frustrated!
How oft do men build castles in the air! But the thoughts
of God will turn to a good account, they augment sanctification, and bring
satisfaction: "You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise
you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you
through the night" (Psalm 63:5-6). The thoughts we have of God in the time
of health, will be a comfort to us in the time of sickness.
11. God thinks of us—and shall not we think of him?
"The Lord thinks upon me!" (Psalm 40:17). God thinks on us every morning;
his mercies are "new every morning" (Lam. 3:23). He gives us night-mercies,
he rocks us asleep every night: "So he gives his beloved sleep" (Psalm
127:2). And if we awaken, he gives "songs in the night" (Job 35:10). If God
is thinking of us day and night, shall not we think of his Name? How can we
forget a friend—who is ever mindful of us? "I know the thoughts that I think
toward you, with the Lord are thoughts of peace" (Jer 29:11). Though God
is out of our sight—we are not out of his thoughts!
12. God will one day reckon with us, for our thoughts.
He will say, "I gave you a mental faculty. What have you done
with it?" If God asks a covetous man, "What have your thoughts been? Which
way have your thoughts run?" He will answer, "To heap up riches!" If God
asks princes and emperors, "How have you employed your thoughts?" They will
say, "By our scepter—to beat down the power of godliness." What a dreadful
account will these people have to give at last! Not only men's actions—but
their thoughts will accuse them! "Their consciences also
bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending
them!" (Romans 2:15).
13. Our thoughts of God shall not be lost. God
accepts the thought—for the deed. David had a good thought
come into his mind to build God a house, and God took it as kindly as if he
had done it! "Forasmuch as it was in your heart to build an house for
my name, you did well in that it was in your heart" (2 Chron. 6:8). When
Christians have thoughts of promoting God's glory—that they would do such
good acts if it were in their power—the Lord looks upon it as if they had
done it. So that our thoughts of God are not lost.
Let us think of God in a right MANNER. A good
medicine may be spoiled in the making. So may a good duty be spoiled
in the doing. Thoughts may be good for the matter of them—yet
may be faulty in the manner. I shall show you, first, how thoughts of
God may fail in their manner. There is a right manner of thinking upon God.
1. How thoughts of God may fail in their manner.
First, a man may think good thoughts of God—yet
not intend his glory. Jehu had good thoughts come into his mind,
to destroy the Baal worshipers—but his intent was to advance himself unto
the throne! Bad aims spoil good actions!
Secondly, a man may have good thoughts of God—but
they are forced. When one bleeds under God's afflicting hand, he
may think of God—yet have no love to him. "When he slew them—then they
remembered that God was their rock, and the most high God their Redeemer:
nevertheless they only flattered him with their mouth" (Psalm 78:34-36).
These were good thoughts—but it was to pay God a compliment in order to get
rid of the affliction.
Thirdly, a man may have thoughts of God—out of a design
to stop the mouth of conscience. Conscience lashes the profane
sinner: "What! Are you so wicked as never to think of God, who indulges you
with so many favors!" Hereupon, he may have a few good thoughts; but they
are irksome to him—this is not from a principle of conscience—but to quiet
Fourthly, a man may think of God with horror!
He thinks of God's sovereignty, and dreads the thoughts of God. You see—one
may think of God, yet the thoughts may become sinful.
2. The right manner of thinking on God.
First, our thoughts of God must be
serious. Feathers float on the surface—but gold
sinks into the water. Feathery spirits have some floating thoughts; but
godly hearts sink deep in the thoughts of God!
Secondly, our thoughts of God must he
spiritual. Take heed of framing any
gross conceits of God in your minds, representing him by the likeness of the
creature: "You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at
Horeb out of the fire" (Deut. 4:15). Conceive of God in Christ. We
cannot see him any other way, as we cannot see the sun in the circle—but in
the beams. The Godhead dwells in Christ's human nature (Col. 2:9). Think of
God as a Spirit full of immense glory, propitious to us through a Mediator.
Thirdly, our thoughts of God must be
delightful. With what delight does a
child think of his father! A gracious soul counts them the sweetest hours,
which are spent with God.
Fourthly, our thoughts of God must be
efficacious, leaving our hearts in a better tune. The thoughts of
God's faithfulness must make us confide in him. The thoughts
of God's holiness must make us conform to him. This is the
right thinking on God—when it is influential, leaving us in a more heavenly
Third use: DIRECTION.
The text shows us how to have our thoughts
frequently fixed upon God.
1. Begin the day with holy thoughts. "When I
awake, I am still with you" (Psalm 139:18). God should have the first
buddings of our thoughts. In the law, the Lord would have the first
fruits offered him. Give God your virgin thoughts in the morning.
What the vessel is first seasoned with, it keeps the relish of, a long time
after. The mind seasoned with godly thoughts in the morning, will keep the
heart in a better state all the day long.
2. If you would think of God—take heed of hindrances.
1. Turn away your eyes from beholding vanity
(Psalm 119:37). Vain objects poison the imagination; lascivious pictures and
wanton talk leave bad impressions in the mind.
2. As far as you are able, call your thoughts off from
the world. If worldly thoughts come crowding into our mind—godly
thoughts will be lost in the crowd!
3. Gel a love for God and his ways. One cannot
but think—of that which he loves. "Does a young woman forget
her jewelry?" (Jer. 2:32). When she has not her jewel on her ear—she
will have it in her thoughts. A person deeply in love, cannot keep
his thoughts off from the object he loves. The reason we think on God no
more—is because we love him no more! Let there be but one spark of love
to God—and it will fly upward in heavenly thoughts and prayers. By nature
our hearts cannot be made to fix on God—but by love.
4. If you would think often on God, get a saving interest
in him. "This God is our God!" (Psalm 48:14). We think
most—upon that which is our own. If a man rides by beautiful houses and
gardens, he casts his eyes slightly upon them. But let him have a house of
his own—and his thoughts dwell in it. Why do men think no more of God—but
because they and God are strangers? Let a man's interest in God be
cleared—and he will not be able to keep his thoughts off from God.
Part II. THE GREAT GAIN OF GODLINESS
"Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other,
and the Lord hearkened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his
presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. "They
will be mine," says the Lord Almighty, "in the day when I make up my jewels.
I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves
him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the
wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not." Malachi 3:16-18
A. The first of the good effects of the saints piety—is
that God REGARDED it. "The Lord hearkened and heard." These
blessed ones in the text were speaking and thinking of God—and
he did not turn away his ear from them, as if he had not minded them. But he
hearkened and heard; which expression denotes both diligence and
1. It notes the diligent heed God gave to these
saints—he "hearkened". Here was attention of ear, and intentness of
mind. Hearkening is the gesture of one who intently listens to what
2. God's hearkening shows the delight he took in
the holy dialogues of these saints. He was pleased with them; they were to
him as a sweet melody.
God takes special notice of the good which he sees in his
people. The children of God may perhaps think that God does not regard them:
"I cry unto you—and you do not hear me" (Job 30:20). The church complains
that God shuts out her prayer (Lam. 3:8)—but though God is some times
silent—he is not deaf! He takes notice of all the good services
of his people: "The Lord hearkened and heard."
Why is it that God takes such notice of his people's
First, not from any merit in them—but the impulsive cause
is his free grace! The best duties of the righteous, could not
endure God's scales of justice—but God will display the trophies of his
mercy. Free grace accepts—what stern justice would condemn!
Secondly, God's taking notice of the good in his people,
is through Christ! "He has made us accepted—in the
beloved" (Eph. 1:6). Or, as Chrysostom renders it, he has made us
"favorites". Through a red glass everything appears of a red color.
Just so, through Christ's blood, both our persons and duties appear ruddy
and beautiful in God's eyes!
Thirdly, God takes notice of the services of his
people—because they flow from the principle of grace. God regards
the voice of faith: "O my dove ... let me hear your voice; for sweet is your
voice" (Song of Sol. 2:14). The services of the wicked are harsh and
sour—but the godly give God the first-ripe cluster (Mic. 7:1), which
grows from the sweet and pleasant root of grace.
First use: INFORMATION.
1. If God hearkens and hears, I infer from hence—God's
OMNISCIENCE. How could he, being in heaven, hear what the saints
speak and think—were he not omniscient? Through the bright mirror of his own
essence he has a full knowlege of all things. He knows the intrigues of
nations, and the stratagems of his enemies (Exod. 14:24). Future
contingencies fall within his cognizance.
God's knowledge is foundational. He is the
original, pattern, and prototype of all knowledge. God's knowledge is
instantaneous. He knows all at once! Our knowledge is successive, we
know one thing after another, and argue from the effect to the cause; but
all things are in God's view—in one entire prospect. God's knowledge is
infallible and not subject to mistake. Such is the infinity of his
knowledge, that the apostle cries out in admiration, "O the depth of the
riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33). The world
is to God as a beehive of glass, where you see the working of the
bees and the framing of their honey-combs. All things are unveiled to the
eye of Jehovah! "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must
give account!" Hebrews 4:13
2. See God's GOODNESS, who often passes by the
failings of his people (Num. 23:21),
and takes notice of the good in them.
"Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord" (1 Pet.
3:6). The Holy Spirit passes by Sarah's unbelief and laughing at the
promise—and takes notice of her reverence to her husband; she called him
"You have heard of the patience of Job" (James
5:11). We have heard of his impatience, cursing his birthday—but the Lord
does not upbraid him with that—but observes the good that was in him: "You
have heard of the patience of Job". The painter who drew Alexander's
picture, drew him with his finger upon his scar. Just so, God puts a
finger of mercy upon the scars of his children! He sees their faith—and
turns a blind eye to their failings!
3. See God's differing dealings towards the godly and the
wicked. If the godly think on his name, he hearkens and hears;
but if the wicked meddle with religious duties, he turns away his ear. "He
did not accept Cain and his offering" (Gen. 4:5). Suppose a man had a sweet
breath—yet if he had the plague, nobody would come near him! Just so, though
a sinner may give God many a sweet, elegant expression in prayer—yet, having
the plague in his heart, God will not receive any offering from him! If God
shuts men's prayers out of heaven, it is a sad prognostic that he
will shut their persons out of heaven.
4. See the privilege of the godly—they have God's ear!
"The Lord hearkened and heard!" "His ears are open unto their
cry!" (Psalm 34:15). It would be counted a great happiness to have the
king's ear. How astonishing is it to have God's ear! Believers
have the Spirit of God breathing in them—and God cannot but hear the voice
of his own Spirit.
5. See what an encouragement is here to be conversant in
the duties of God's worship. God takes notice of the services of
his people—he hearkens to them as to sweet music. Who would not come with
their humble addresses to God—when he is so pleased with them (Prov. 15:8)
Objection 1—But I deserve nothing.
Answer—God does not bestow his favors according to our
desert—but according to his promise and grace.
Objection 2—But I have prayed a long time and have no
Answer—God may hear prayer when he does not answer. He
may lend us his ear—when he does not show us his face! The
text says, "the Lord hearkened and heard." It is not said he gave an
answer—but he "hearkened". It befits suitors to wait. Faith waits upon God,
patience waits for God. "Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand—so our
eyes are on the Lord our God until He shows us favor." (Psalm 123:2).
6. See the difference between God and men. God
takes notice of the good in his people; the wicked pass by the good in the
godly—and take notice only of their failings. If they can spy any
impropriety or blemish in them, they upbraid them with it; like those
children who reproached Elisha for his baldness—but took no notice of
the prophet's miracles (2 Kings 2:23).
7. From the words, "the Lord hearkened and heard", take
note of the folly of idolaters. They worship a God who can
neither hearken nor hear! The Cretans pictured Jupiter without
ears. Idol gods have ears—but hear not (Psalm 115:6). A lifeless god is good
enough for a lifeless worship.
Second use: EXHORTATION.
1. Let the people of God stand and wonder:
a. Stand and wonder at God's CONDESCENSION,
that he who is so high in the praises and acclamations of the angels—should
stoop so low as to listen to the lispings of his children. "The Lord
hearkened and heard!" Alas, God has no need of our services; he is
infinitely blessed in reflecting upon the splendor of his own infinite
being! We cannot add the least cubit to his essential glory: "If you are
righteous, what do you give Him, or what does He receive from your hand?"
(Job 35:7). Yet such is his sweet condescension, that he does as it were,
stoop below himself, and take notice of his peoples poor offerings.
b. Stand and wonder at God's LOVE, that he
should regard those services of his people, which are so mixed with
corruption! "Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags!" (Isaiah 64:6). The
sacrifice of thanksgiving, which was the highest sacrifice, had some leaven
mixed with it (Lev. 7:13). Our best duties have some leaven of
imperfection mixed in them; yet such is God's love, that he receives
and accepts them: "I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey"
(Song of Sol. 5:1). Honey is sweet—but the honeycomb is harsh and
bitter, and can hardly be eaten; yet such was Christ's love to his spouse,
that he ate of her honeycomb, her services mixed with imperfection, and was
pleased and delighted with them! Oh, the love of God, that he should have
respect to our offerings, which are interlaced with sin! Our best duties,
are sweet wine coming out of a sour cask.
2. If God hearkens to us when we speak—let us hearken to
him when be speaks. In the Word, God speaks to us. He is said now
to speak to us from heaven (Heb. 12:25), that is, by the Word. Does God
hearken to us, and shall not we hearken to him? Be not like the deaf adder
which stops her ear. This the Lord complains of: "God does speak—now one
way, now another—though man may not perceive it" (Job 33:14) . If God's
Word does not prevail with us—our prayers will not prevail with