Book Review—The Great Gain of Godliness: A Puritan Gem!

The Great Gain of Godliness: Practical Notes on Malachi 3:16-18 by Thomas Watson. Puritan Paperbacks. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006. 166 pp. $10.00/paperback.
watson_great_gain.jpgPurchase: BOT, CBD, WTS, Amazon, Monergism

Note: This book was originally published in London as Religion Our True Interest, 1682.

no indices

ISBNs: 0851519385 / 9780851519388

LCCN: BT75.W337

DCN: 224.997.3 W337

Subject(s): Biblical Criticism-Malachi 3 / Practical Theology-Godliness

Front Cover Table of Contents Excerpt Back Cover

Thomas Watson (1620-1686) was an English, non-conformist minister. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and he served as rector of St. Stephen’s Walbrook, London, from 1646 to 1662 when he was ejected from his pulpit for religious nonconformity. After this, he took up further ministry preaching in Crosby Hall until 1672. As a preacher he was greatly admired, and he remains, as Spurgeon noted, “…one of the clearest and liveliest of Puritan authors.”

Thomas Watson has been my favorite Puritan writer ever since I purchased and began reading The Godly Man’s Picture. For those looking for a heart-searching book on the topic of godliness, I have recommended first and foremost this little book. However, “godliness” is a topic that permeates the writings of Thomas Watson, and now The Banner of Truth Trust (BOT) has reprinted another of his works, which they have appropriately re-titled, “The Great Gain of Godliness.” But lest you fear that Watson has done what many modern writers do by repackaging the same material in each new book, be assured that this work is a fresh exposition upon the subject.

C.H. Spurgeon’s library lacked this book (at least up until the time of the publication of his Commenting and Commentaries) to his regret. About this book, he wrote, “This would be a great find if we could only come at it, for Watson is one of the clearest and liveliest of Puritan authors. We fear we shall never see this commentary, for we have tried to obtain it, and tried in vain.”

What Watson has in store for you in this little book is an exposition of Malachi 3:1-18 written for both laymen and churchmen alike. In true Puritan style, Watson gives to us an extended, theological, and thoroughly experimental commentary with the dual purpose of encouraging “solid piety” and confuting “the atheists of the world, who imagine there is no gain in godliness” (p. vii). Working with this admission, the BOT editor chose the current title for this book.

Watson organizes the study of this text of Scripture under two main heads. First, he deals with “The Character of the Godly.” Second, he displays “The Good Effects of Their Piety.”

The simplicity of this organization and the addition of an outline in chapter one aid the reader tremendously. Also, it is noteworthy that the publisher has done well in breaking up the material into manageable and coherent segments. However, although it is understood that creating indices is a time-consuming task, these Puritan Paperbacks would be much improved if, at the least, a Scripture index were added.

The first major point regarding the character of the godly is essentially a biblical theology of the fear of God. Watson defines what this fear is not and then what it is. Divine fear “is the reverencing and adoring of God’s holiness, and the setting of ourselves always under his sacred inspection…. Such as approach God’s presence with light feathery hearts, and worship him in a rude, careless manner, have none of this fear” (p. 13). From this foundation, Watson delineates six uses of the proposition that Christians must be fearers of God. These uses include refutation, instruction, lamentation, reproof, exhortation, and self-examination.

Not only do the godly fear God, but they also speak of God. Chapter seven, “The Godly Should Speak of God,” is a heart-probing biblical theology of the tongue. From reproof of those who are silent and of those who speak wrongfully, Watson moves on to exhort Christians to speak of God. He writes,

He who has been in a perfumer’s shop does not only himself partake of those sweet smells, but some of the perfume sticks to his clothes, so that those who come near him partake of those perfumes: so having ourselves perceived the sweet savour of Christ’s ointments, we should let others partake with us, and by our heavenly discourse, diffuse the perfume of religion to them (p. 68).

Finally, in chapter eight, Watson finishes out Part 1 with a biblical theology of meditating on the name of God. Our thoughts are with us everywhere we go, so we must guard them and direct them in a godly way. Of the many sharp statement to be found in this section here, are a few that should ring in all of our ears for a long time:

If only men carefully considered God’s holiness and justice, would they dare sin at the rate they do? (p. 86)

The higher the lark flies, the sweeter it sings; the higher a soul ascends in the thoughts of God, the sweeter joy it has (p. 88).

The mind seasoned with good thoughts in the morning will keep the heart in a better state all the day after (p. 92).

Part 2 takes us from the character of the godly to the good effect of godliness. From the saint’s thoughts of God, the passage turns to God’s regard for the saints—“and the LORD hearkened and heard.” Watson shows from Scripture how God regards the piety of His people.

Oh, the love of God, that he should have respect to our offerings that are interlaced with sin! Our best duties are sweet wine coming out of a sour cask (p. 100).

Chapter 10, “God Records the Piety of His People,” was, for me, the highlight of this book. In similar fashion as with the aforementioned subjects, Watson draws out a thorough and pastoral theology of God’s record keeping. So what does God remember? What does He write in His book? He writes down the names, good speeches, tears, thoughts, desires, prayers, alms, and sufferings of his saints.

Oh, the heavenly indulgence and kindness of God to his people! He remembers everything but their sins. He writes down their good thoughts and speeches in a merciful book of remembrance; but their sins are as if they had never been; they are carried into the land of oblivion (p. 108).

Once again, Watson returns to the thoughts of the saints. “A Christian should keep two books always beside him,” Watson exhorts, “one to write his sins in, that he may be humble; the other to write his mercies in, that he may be thankful” (p. 108).

Without giving everything away, I will note that Watson concludes the book with four chapters that search out the ways in which God rewards His people. A final chapter on verse 18 is about the means of discerning between the righteous and the wicked.

Chapter 16 is an appended sermon on Psalm 119:65—”A Consolation in Affliction.” This is an excellent example of Puritan, experimental preaching.

Thomas Watson’s The Great Gain of Godliness is a work that speaks as effectively today as it did during the close of the 17th century. “Godliness” is to be the watchword of all saints. Unfortunately, along with “holiness” and “piety,” these are terms many want to render outdated. If there is anything our churches desperately need, it is a resolve to “keep up the vigour of our zeal in degenerate times” (p. 7). As Watson wrote at the outset of this exposition,

Let us be as lilies and roses among the briars. Sin is never the better because it is in fashion, nor will this plea hold at the last day, that we did as the most. God will say, Seeing you sinned with the multitude, you shall go to hell with the multitude. Oh, let us keep pure among the dregs; let us be like fish that retain their freshness in salt waters; and as the lamp which shone in the smoking furnace (Gen. 15:17) (p. 7).

Many of the statements I have shared above, and more, have been on my mind over the past few weeks as I have been reading this book and writing this review. Many Christians have ignored the Puritans out of ignorance and/or fear to their own loss. Some have only come in contact with those Puritans who are more difficult to read and have become discouraged about reading any more of them. I would urge you to pick up and read this book. Watson’s style is clear, crisp, and illustrious. He was not only a student of the Word but also well-versed in classical literature and history. These abilities, along with the Holy Spirit as his Helper, have made him an able minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of the doctrines of grace. I heartily recommend this book to all. You will be brought to your knees.

button.jpgJason Button received a B.A. in Bible from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and has begun work on an M.A. in Theology. He is the creator of TheoSource, a project to compile comprehensive lists of recommended books for Bible study. Currently, he is a layman serving in various roles at West Ashley Independent Baptist Church (Charleston, SC). He is married to Tiffany, and they have two children, Caris Joelle and Asa Livingstone.
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