Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Legalistic Tendencies of the Puritans (Part 2)

Part 2 - by Michele Rayburn
(Part 1 is here)

It seems as though Thomas Watson had an unhealthy preoccupation with sin, causing him to heap unnecessary condemnation upon himself, and leaving little or no room for himself or other Christians to experience the grace of God toward their sinful condition.

It seems as though Watson was collapsing under the weight of his own heavy yoke.

I was quite thrown by the words Watson used to describe God’s behavior toward His children. "A godly man loves the menaces of the Word. He knows there is love in every threat."..."God...mercifully threatens us, so that He may scare us from sin"..."There is mercy in every threat"...???

Was Watson’s definition of “menace”, “threat”, and “scare” different from that of today? Is it to be interpreted differently, or did he really mean what he said?

Then I thought, “Where is the Scripture to support his belief that God menaces, threatens and scares His children from their sin?” The Scripture that Watson used to support how the believer “loves the threatening part of the Word” I found to actually be supportive of how God regards His enemies in Psalm 68:21, and regarding evil in 1 Kings 3:26 and Zechariah 5:1, and not supportive Scripture regarding the believer.

So, it became increasingly unclear to me as to who Watson was talking about...the Christian or the unbeliever. It seemed he was mixing the two. How God uses the Word on the unbeliever and how He uses the Word on His children is quite different.

How God speaks to the unbeliever, or brings the unbeliever to repentance through His Word is different than how he teaches His children to grow in that grace by which they have now been saved.

Watson says, for instance, ”The Word has a double work: to teach us and to judge us. Those who will not be taught by the Word shall be judged by the Word.” Was he talking to the believer here regarding being judged, or the unbeliever? Or both? I’m guessing he meant the unbeliever because it refers to “those who will not be taught by the Word”.

Watson says, "We do not want sin covered, but cured. We can open our breast to the bullet of the Word and say, 'Lord, smite this sin.'" I am not sure what kind of remedy for his daily sin he is looking for here. The sins of the people of Israel were “covered” in the Old Testament by the blood of bulls and lambs.

Under the New Covenant, our sins were not “cured” but the Lord did “smite this sin” on the cross with His own blood. “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all...” (Romans 6:10)

As Keith Green sang, “The work is already done.” Our sins are no longer temporarily “covered”, but now we have been permanently “redeemed” by the blood of The Lamb.

There is no “cure” for sin in our daily life but in Romans 6:11-14,17-18 it says, “...reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord...do not let sin reign in your mortal body...present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead...for sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace...though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

And 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 says, “...our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

And finally, Galatians 5:16 says, “...Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

Watson says, “The Word is a spiritual mirror through which we may see our own hearts...When the Word came like a mirror, all my opinion of self-righteousness died.”

That is true, but the Scripture goes further. It says in 2 Cor. 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

When I read the Word I do not feel threatened, because I love and trust the Lord. I feel challenged to grow in His grace...but not threatened.

I do not need to be scared away from sin. I am already repulsed by it, because I have been given a new nature. I am a new creation in Christ who is alive to God and dead to sin.

- Michele


Ricardo said...

I believe that in essence you are saying the same thing Watson is saying just more soothing to the ear. What you call a challenge, Watson calls a threat from God.

Terry Rayburn said...


Huge difference between a positive internal desire to grow (which comes from a loving gracious relationship to Christ) and an external threat from God.

akaGaGa said...

You say that you are already repulsed by sin because you have a new nature.

I say that, until the Lord's work in us is completed, there are sins we continue to love more than the Lord.

Thank God for the cross.

Terry Rayburn said...


I don't believe this issue can really be understood without an understanding of the tri-part make-up of man.

Loosely speaking, this would be defined as...

Soul (mind, emotion, will), and
Spirit (our nature or essence).

When we are born again, it's not our body which is born again, of course.

Nor is it our soul which is born again (we still need our mind renewed, and our emotions and will are still subject to ups and downs).

But our spirit, our nature, is indeed born again. It's that part of us which is our very essence, our very nature, and is the subject of 2 Cor. 5:17, as follows:

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new."

So in our heart of hearts, our spirit, our very nature, there is NOT any sin that we love more than the Lord. In our new spirit we love the Lord and hate sin.

However, in our unrenewed minds we are subject to being deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil.

When that occurs, we cease walking by the Spirit and walk by the flesh. This causes it to appear as though we love sin more than the Lord, but this is not the case.

That's why Paul, in Romans 7 makes it clear that "it is no longer I who do it, but sin which is in me" (in the flesh, or members). Sin dwells IN our members, but is not us.

When we "come to our senses", and return to truth, we again walk by the Spirit.

By the way, when we walk by the Spirit (Holy Spirit, capital "S"), we also walk by our own new spirit (small "s"), because we have become one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13).

And of course, when we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

Thanks for your comment, and thank God for the cross indeed.

Bhedr said...

Well said Terry and good post Michele.


Nathan said...

Terry, I have a question for you regarding this post: what should the Christian's response be to the warnings in the New Testament (falling away, etc)? Should a New Covenant Christian really take those warnings seriously OR are they more of a "formality" of sorts? Thanks.