The Great Gain of Godliness
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 spiritual things!
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 3:6).
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 MURMUR and 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 you!
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 hell.
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. 4:29)?
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 discourse.
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 5:10, 16).
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.