Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thomas Watson Rejects Clean-Nosed Living

In his book The Saints Spiritual Delight, Thomas Watson starts out by making an important argument. He looks at Psalm 1 and notes that in the first verse we are told, in essence, blessed is the man who neither walks, nor stands, nor sits in the way of sinners. Watson points out that the easiest thing for a religious person to do is to convince oneself that living a life of "sin avoidance" is sufficient. To put it another way, Watson is cautioning against the ethic of "clean nosed living."
If you are only negatively good, God makes no reckoning of you; you are as so many ciphers in God's arithmetic, and he writes down no ciphers in the book of life. Take a piece of brass, though it be not such bad metal as lead or iron, yet not being so good as silver, there is little reckoning made of it, it will not pass for current coin ; though thou art not profane, yet not being of the right metal, wanting the stamp of holiness upon thee, thou wilt never pass current, God slights thee, thou art but a brass christian.
We are missing something, he says. Watson is careful to explain that verse two of Psalm 1 holds the true key to making sense of the Christian life. After seeing the list of "negative behaviors" or things that the Christian is not to do, in verse one, verse two brings us further into the light: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." As Watson explains, it is a life of delight in God which brings wholeness to our Christian experience.

I think of how easy it is for us - even those of us who know better - to slip into a pattern of sin avoidance and clean nosed living. As Luther once told his people, "I keep preaching the Gospel for you, because you keep on forgetting it!" We often begin to believe that such a way of living is sufficient. But if we are not driven by a delight in God and His law, then we are walking in hypocrisy and we are as unpleasing in our sacrifices as Cain, who offered his sacrifice out of duty and not out of delight.
But it is not thus with a hypocrite; he may be forced to do that which is good, but not to will that which is good ; he doth not serve God with delight.

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