Tag Archives: Thomas Watson

The Root of All Sin

 

In Matthew 22:36-40, a Pharisee (or Sadducee) asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, to which our Lord replies,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

What if this religious leader had asked the negative of this question, i.e. what is the worst sin?  Or perhaps, what is the root of all sin?

What if you were asked this question, how would you answer?  Would you say pride?  Maybe it’s a lack of faith or a failure to believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ?  Perhaps idolatry?  Or Self-centeredness?  What about homosexuality, that always generates a lot of discusssion?  Perhaps it is just the inverse of the greatest commandment, that is a lack of love for God?  Perhaps, but is this the root?

When you get down to the root – not the cause, for it’s clear that is the total depravity that we are all born with – but the root, what is it?  Is there a single spring out of which all other sins flow from this depraved heart?  Can we put our finger on the pulse of sin and get down to the very bottom of the issue and say there it is….there’s our problem?

I think so.  And I think Scripture tells us both directly and indirectly.

Directly

Perhaps the most obvious place to turn first is a passage that is often misquoted, 1 Timothy 6:10,

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Frequently,  we hear this verse quoted as, “money is the root of all evil,” but that is not what the passage says.  It is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evils, plural.  This phrase, the love of money, is translated from the Greek word, philargyria, which is only used here in the entire New Testament.  It is related to the word translated as “covetous” in Luke 16:14 and 2 Timothy 3:2.  It would not be a stretch to see then that the Scriptures have covetousness in mind with the reference to the love of money.  From this verse, we can begin to see that this particular root for all sorts of evils is a desire for more, or we might say a dissatisfaction with a current situation leading to a sinful desire for increase, here applied to the case of money.  While greed could be on the right track for identifying this root sin, it’s too simplistic of an answer and I think it lends itself to being more of a fruit sin than a root sin.

Indirectly

Next, let’s turn our attention to the original sin and see if we can compliment our understanding of what we’ve seen thus far regarding this root of sin.  In Genesis 3:5-6 we read of the following account on the occasion of the original sin

 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Simply making some observations from the passage we may note some of the sinful rationale for making the choice to disobey God’s command.  First, we observe Satan’s temptation as he plants the seeds of doubt and discontent, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Then we see the divine commentary on the desires of Eve and the failure of Adam that may be summarized as the following:

  1. Good for food
  2. Delight to the eyes
  3. Tree to be desired, to make one wise.

Some have summarized these desires as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, perhaps an application of 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world.”

If this is a fair summation, then there are a few questions we need to ask in order to arrive at a potential root for sin.  First, why were Adam and Eve not satisfied with all of the other trees and sources for food that God had provided?  Second, why was it not enough to be made in the image of God, that they would desire to “be like God” through consumption of that which God had strictly forbidden?  Third, and finally, with the desire to be made wise, what was it that they felt they lacked?  What wisdom could the tree have possible provided that they had not either been born with or had access to through communion with God?

Summarizing this entire episode of the original sin, including Satan’s temptation and the questions we’ve asked, along with our brief look at the love of money (particularly its context, included below) and we are left with a firm conclusion regarding the root of this original sin, discontentment.

The Root

Discontentment is rooted in a dissatisfaction with who God is and what He has done in Christ.  It is a refusal to accept His providential rule.  It objects to Him as Creator, rebels against Him as Judge, and rejects Him as Lord and Savior.  Ultimately, Discontentment with God is the root of idolatry.

Sexual immorality is rooted in discontentment with sexual purity.

Adultery is rooted in discontentment with marriage.

Greed, and conversely theft, is rooted in discontentment with finances or material possessions.

Even murder, as the Apostle James states in James 4:1-3, is rooted in discontentment, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Discontentment is inherent in our natures from the time of Adam’s fall down to this very day and while it is a damning sin for unbelievers, those of us who have been born again wrestle mightily (and daily) against  discontentment of the flesh.  Clearly, with Adam and Eve, contentment is not natural.  How then does one gain contentment when everything pressing against us from within and without pushes us towards discontentment?

Solution

God provides for us a divine remedy through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul.  Writing in Philippians chapter 4, the Apostle tell us the secret to contentment

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

How does one become content?  We’re not born with it.  Not reborn with it.  We cannot purchase it.  It is learned.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is learned from our experiences through which God works and whittles to mold and conform us more each day to the image of His Son.  He teaches us contentment in abundance and contentment in poverty.  Contentment can only be learned by those who have been born again and even then the learning curve is steep.  It requires a submission to the providence of God in all circumstances and a trust in the faithfulness of God to His promises.

To aid in this lifelong process of learning contentment, God in His providence has gifted us with some helpful resources.  Internally of course, we have His indwelling Spirit.  Externally, second to none is God’s Word, through which we have the experiences of saints who learned contentment as well as verses exhorting us to contentment.

Additionally, there are two great books which will aid the believer in their pursuit of contentment.  The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson.

May God’s Spirit and God’s grace aid us in our pursuit of contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10

 

Sinful Indulgence

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

In Thomas Watson’s penetrating book The Godly Man’s Picture, the Puritan arrives at a section along his journey of identifying the characteristics of a godly man which he entitles, “A Godly man does not indulge himself in any sin.”

He begins this section by means of question and answer propositions beginning with, “What is it to indulge sin?”  Watson provides two answers, the first of which reads, “To give the breast to it and feed it.  As a fond parent humours his child and lets him have what he wants, so to indulge sin is to humour sin.”

His second answer gives us insight into our affections for these sins, “to indulge sin is to commit it with delight: ‘they had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ 2 Thess. 2:12”

Those sins in which we indulge may be called pet sins.  They are the sins which are dearest to us, the ones toward which we run so often and so quickly.  They are the ones which have the deepest roots that are most difficult to hew out, in fact, we may be less likely to address them at all because of their intertwining nature.  In this respect they may also be the most dangerous of sins because of the ease with which they hinder us.   These are the sins from Watson’s analogy which we coddle and nurture.

Watson identifies for his audience four sorts of sins which a godly man will not allow himself to indulge.

  1. Secret Sins
  2. Gainful Sins
  3. A Beloved Sin
  4. Those sins which the world counts lesser

As to the first, secret sins, he writes, “Some are more modest than to commit gross sin.  That would be a stain on their reputation.  But they will sit brooding upon sin in a corner.  All will not sin on a balcony but perhaps they will sin behind the curtain.”  Watson then details three reasons why, “a godly man dare not sin secretly”.  First, a godly man knows that “God sees in secret.”  Secondly, because “a godly man knows that secret sins are in some sense worse than others.  They reveal more guile and atheism.  The curtain sinner makes himself believe that God does not see.”  Third, “a godly man knows that secret sins shall not escape God’s justice.”

Next, Watson turns his focus toward the second type of sin in which a godly man will resist indulgence, gainful sins.  These he describes as “the golden bait with which Satan fishes for souls.”  He points out that it was this type of sin that Satan tempted our Lord with, though Christ was quick to see the hidden hook and resist him.

The third sin, beloved sins, are central to his entire focus of sins in which we indulge and it is the one that rightly deserves the expansive treatment that Watson devotes towards it.  He writes, “There is usually one sin that is the favourite, the sin which the heart is most fond of.”  It is this type of sin, perhaps above the others described here, that is most nurtured in the bosom of man.  Therefore it becomes all the more critical that the godly man recognize his particular affinities and kill them.  “If we would have peace in our souls, we must maintain a war against our favourite sin and never leave off till it is subdued.”

Further unpacking this particular peccadillo, Watson asks, “How shall we know the beloved sin?” before expanding on six answers which are summarized below:

  1. The sin which a man does not love to have reproved is the darling sin.
  2. The sin on which the thoughts run most is the darling sin.
  3. The sin which has the most power over us and most easily leads us captive is the one beloved by the soul.
  4. The sin which men use arguments to defend is the beloved sin.
  5. The sin which most troubles us, and flies most in the face in an hour of sickness and distress, that is the Delilah sin.
  6. The sin which a man finds most difficulty in giving up is the endeared sin.

Summarizing this section on beloved sins, Watson concludes, “The besetting sin is a God-provoking sin.  The besetting sin is of all others most dangerous.  A godly man will lay the axe of repentance to this sin and hew it down.  He sets this sin, like Uriah, in the forefront of the battle, so that it may be slain.  He will sacrifice this Isaac, he will pluck out this right eye, so that he may see better to go to heaven.”

The fourth sin, according to the Puritan, is those sins which the world counts lesser are defined as sins of omission, vain oaths, and slander.  Which brings us to how Watson concludes this section, namely with nine consequences for indulgence in sin:

  1. One sin gives Satan as much advantage against you as more sins.
  2. One sin lived in proves that the heart is not sound.
  3. One sin will make way for more.
  4. One sin is as much a breach of God’s law as more sins.
  5. One sin lived in prevents Christ from entering.
  6. One sin lived in will spoil all your good duties.
  7. One sin lived in will be a cankerworm to eat out the peace of conscience.
  8. One sin allowed will damn as well as more sins.
  9. One sin harboured in the soul will unfit us for suffering.

“If, then, you would show yourselves godly, give a certificate of divorce to every sin.  Kill the Goliath sin: ‘Let not sin reign’ (Rom. 6:12).  In the original it is ‘Let not sin king it over you’.  Grace and sin may be together, but grace and the love of sin cannot.  Therefore parley with sin no longer, but with the spear of mortification, spill the heart blood of every sin.”

Unlike other sins, those in which we so easily indulge ourselves are like the invasive species of plants, which if left unattended will not maintain the status quo, but will grow and spread quickly and without warning.  Therefore it becomes all the more critical to stay on top of our eradication of this species of sins.

Let us concur with the author of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

The Lost Art of Biblical Meditation

 

Meditation in modern society has come to mean many things to many people, most common of which is a mystical practice rooted in a belief that emptying one’s mind of all thoughts will lead you into a higher, albeit relaxed, state of being.  Typically referred to as transcendental meditation[1], this unbiblical practice has been somewhat revitalized recently through various movements, not the least of which has been a resurgence of yoga practices and similar Buddhist-like activities, as well as by means of professing Christian movements such as the emerging/emergent church[2].

In contrast to this popular, pagan form of meditation, the biblical practice of meditation remains a lacking discipline in the lives of many followers of Christ.  Likewise, instructive teaching on it from either the pulpit or the pen remains deficient.  Ignorant to its proper meaning and spiritual benefits, we’ve shuffled meditation to the side treating it as a mystical stepchild to Christianity when the very practice is and has always been rooted in a desire to commune with God, better understand His Word, and reflect deeply upon it, ultimately leading to praise of God for His majesty and glory.

A brief survey of the biblical landscape finds a robust theme of meditation, explicitly among the Psalms but also as first observed in the patriarch Jacob, then in a command given to Joshua, and among Paul’s epistles, particularly in the instructions to young Timothy.  Additionally, other words and phrases are used to express the concept such as “think on these things” and “set you mind on” among others.  Basically, when we encounter passages of Scripture that call us to contemplate the things of God, it is generally a call to meditation.

With those biblical examples before us, let us then turn our attention toward further defining this much neglected practice.  What exactly is it? How is it performed?  Why should we meditate?  Upon what should we draw our meditative attention?  When and how often?

While it certainly would be possible to glean the answers to these questions by consolidating those verses and instances of meditation mentioned above, some of these questions and others are addressed and answered through the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson in an incredibly challenging work on the art of meditation, The Christian on the Mount.  In that treatise, Watson instructs us on the discipline of meditation by first defining it as a Christian duty.  All too often, duty has become a 4-letter word in modern Christian vernacular, perhaps one of the reasons for the neglect of this important practice.

Watson sees meditation as the “chewing upon the truths we have heard”[3] or read and that “meditation is like the watering of the seed, it makes the fruits of grace to flourish.”[4]  Going further in his definition we read that, “meditation is the soul’s retiring of itself, that by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be raised up to heavenly affections”[5] and should be performed by way of locking up oneself from the world, which “spoils meditation” and rightly Watson rightly concludes that the “world’s music will either play us asleep or distract us in our meditations.”[6]

Using Scripture as our map and Watson as our tour guide we find that meditation is different than simply reading or studying, “study is a work of the brain; meditation is a work of the heart.”[7]  The argument could be made that a progression among these terms exists for the benefit a true gain or fruit from time spent in the Word.  First, the practice of reading followed by study then giving one’s thoughts over to the passage via meditation before settling on a practical application, which could be a new truth gleaned or wisdom for the day.

Watson then draws our attention to 15 objects for our meditations beginning with the attributes of God and concluding with meditation upon our experiences wherein we may have observed the hand of God working which may benefit us by 1) raising us to thankfulness 2) engaging our hearts to God in obedience 3) convincing us that God is no hard master 4) making us communicative to others.[8]

Summarizing our description of meditation we may conclude that it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  It is the difference between knowing the truths of God’s Word and loving the truths of God’s Word.  It is the difference between a sick man noticing medicine on the shelf and that same man ingesting said medicine for a cure.  Like the transcendence of the sun apart from the immanency of its rays, so too is God’s Word when read or heard apart from the practice of divine meditation.  Quite simply, failure in this duty is akin to experiencing light from a fire without heat.  The path from the mind to the heart is paved with the gold of meditation.  Why then are so few Christians engaging in this practice?

To answer this question bluntly, Watson sees a connection between the failure to practice meditation and the reason why there are “so few good Christians.”[9]  Notice how relevant his nearly four hundred year old words are to today, “It [the practice of meditation] gives us a true account why there are so few good Christians in the world; namely, because there are so few meditating Christians: we have many that have Bible ears, they are swift to hear, but slow to meditate.  This duty is grown almost out of fashion, people are so much in the shop, that they are seldom on the Mount with God….so many who go under the name of professors, have banished good discourse from their tables, and meditation from their closets.”[10]

We conclude our holding of Watson’s hand with his offer of several pieces of practical advice from his own experiences in order to introduce us to the practice of meditation, including the best time of day, he prefers morning, the duration, he suggests at least 30 minutes, and the types (occasional: on any sudden occasion; deliberate: which he sees as chief, some set time each day) among additional helpful guidance through this practice.

So then is meditation necessary in the life of a believer?  Let us allow Watson the final word on the matter, “The necessity of meditation appears in this, because without it we can never be good Christians; a Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools.  1. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost; meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind, it is like the selvedge[11] which keeps the cloth from raveling.  2. Without meditation the truths which we know will never affect our hearts.”[12]

 

 

[1] From Google: “a technique for detaching oneself from anxiety and promoting harmony and self-realization by meditation, repetition of a mantra, and other yogic practices, promulgated by an international organization founded by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ( circa 1911–2008)

Sometimes referred to as contemplative monastic meditation or centering prayer.

[2] Emerging Church

[3] Thomas Watson A Christian on the Mount. Google Digitized version, p. 198.

[4] Watson, 198.

[5] Ibid, 199.

[6] Ibid, 199.

[7] Ibid, 203.

[8] Ibid, 237.

[9] Ibid, 240.

[10] Ibid, 240-241.

[11] An edge produced on woven fabric during manufacture that prevents it from unraveling – wiki

[12] Watson, 239.