The Godly Man's Picture by Thomas Watson

2: Expounding the Nature of Godliness


It will first be enquired, 'What is godliness?' I answer in general, 'Godliness is the sacred impression and workmanship of God in a man, whereby from being carnal he is made spiritual.' When godliness is wrought in a person, he does not receive a new soul, but he has 'another spirit' Numb. 14:24). The faculties are not new, but the qualities are; the strings are the same, but the tune is corrected. Concerning godliness, I shall lay down these seven maxims or propositions:

I. Godliness is a real thing

It is not a fantasy but a fact. Godliness is not the feverish conceit of a sick brain; a Christian is no enthusiast whose religion is all made up of fancy. Godliness has truth for its foundation; it is called 'the way of truth (Psa. 119:30). Godliness is a ray and beam that shines from God. If God is true, then godliness is true.

2. Godliness is an intrinsic thing

It lies chiefly in the heart: 'circumcision is that of the heart (Rom. 2:29). The dew lies on the leaf, the sap is the root. The moralist's religion is all in the leaf; it consists only in externals, but godliness is a holy sap which is rooted in the soul: 'in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom' (Psa. 51:6). The Chaldean expounds it, 'in the close place of the heart'.

3. Godliness is a supernatural thing

By nature we inherit nothing but evil. 'When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins did work in our members' (Rom. 7:5). We sucked in sin as naturally as our mother's milk, but godliness is the 'wisdom from above' (Jas. 3:17). It is breathed in from heaven. God must light up the lamp of grace in the heart. Weeds grow of themselves; flowers are planted. Godliness is a celestial plant that comes from the New Jerusalem. Therefore it is called a 'fruit of the Spirit' (Gal. 5:22). A man has no more power to change himself than to create himself

4. Godliness is an extensive thing

It is a sacred leaven that spreads itself into the whole soul: 'the very God of peace sanctify you wholly' (I Thess. 5:23). There is light in the understanding, order in the affections, pliableness in the will, exemplariness in the life. We do not call a black man white because he has white teeth. He who is good only in some part is not godly. Grace is called 'the new man' (Col. 3:10), not a new eye, or tongue, but a new man. He who is godly is good all over; though he is regenerate only in part, yet it is in every part.

5. Godliness is an intense thing

It does not lie in a dead formality and indifference, but is vigorous and flaming: 'fervent in spirit' (Rom. 12:11). We call water hot when it is so in the third or fourth degree. He whose devotion is inflamed is godly and his heart boils over in holy affections.

6. Godliness is a glorious thing

As the jewel to the ring, so is piety to the soul, bespangling it in God's eyes. Reason makes us men; godliness makes us earthly angels; by it we 'partake of the divine nature' (2 Pet. 1:4). Godliness is near akin to glory; 'glory and virtue' (2 Pet. 1:3). Godliness is glory in the seed, and glory is godliness in the flower.

7. Godliness is a permanent thing

Aristotle says, 'Names are given from the habit'. We do not call the one who blushes sanguine, but the one who is of a ruddy complexion (I Sam. 17:42). A blush of godliness is not enough to distinguish a Christian, but godliness must be the temper and complexion of the soul. Godliness is a fixed thing. There is a great deal of difference between a stake in the hedge and a tree in the garden. A stake rots and moulders, but a tree, having life in it, abides and flourishes. When godliness has taken root in the soul, it abides to eternity: 'his seed remaineth in him' (I John 3:9). Godliness being engraved in the heart by the Holy Ghost, as with the point of a diamond, can never be erased.


'What is better than gold? Jasper. And what is better than jasper? Virtue.'

The excellence of godliness appears in several ways:

I. Godliness is our spiritual beauty

'The beauties of holiness' (Psa. 110:3).Godliness is to the soul what the light is to the world: to illustrate and adorn it. It is not greatness which sets us off in God's eye but goodness. What is the beauty of the angels but their sanctity? Godliness is the intricate embroidery and workmanship of the Holy Ghost. A soul furnished with godliness is damasked with beauty, it is enamelled with purity. This is the clothing of wrought gold which makes the King of heaven fall in love with us. Were there no excellence in holiness, the hypocrite would never try to paint it. Godliness sheds a glory and lustre on the saints. What are the graces but the golden feathers in which Christ's dove shines (Psa. 68:13)?

2. Godliness is our defence

Grace is called 'the armour of light' (Rom. 13:12).It is light for beauty and armour for defence. A Christian has armour of God's making which cannot be shot through. He has the shield of faith, the helmet of hope, the breastplate of righteousness. This is proof armour, which defends against the assaults of temptation and the terror of hell.

3. Godliness breeds solid peace

'Great peace have they which love thy law' (Psa. 119:165).Godliness composes the heart, making it quiet and calm like the upper region, where there are no winds and tempests. How can that heart be unquiet where the Prince of Peace dwells? 'Christ in you' (Col. 1:27).A holy heart may be compared to the doors of Solomon's temple, which were made of olive tree, carved with open flowers (I Kings 6:32).The olive of peace and the open flowers of joy are in that heart. Godliness does not destroy a Christian's mirth, but refines it. His rose is without prickles, his wine without froth. He who is a favourite of heaven must of necessity be full of joy and peace. He may truly sing a requiem to his soul and say, 'Soul, take thine ease' (Luke 12:19). King Ptolemy asked someone how he might be at rest when he dreamed. He replied, 'Let piety be the scope of all your actions.' If anyone should ask me how he should be at rest when he is awake, I would return a similar answer: 'Let his soul be inlaid with godliness.'

4. Godliness is the best trade we can engage in: it brings profit Wicked men say, 'It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it?' (Mal. 3:14). To be sure, there is no profit in sin:

'Treasures of wickedness profit nothing' (Prov. 10:2). But godliness is profitable (1 Tim. 4:8). It is like digging in a gold mine, where there is gain as well as toil. Godliness makes God himself our portion: 'The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance' (Psa. 16:5). If God is our portion, all our estate lies in jewels. Where God gives himself, he gives everything else. Whoever has the manor has all the royalties belonging to it. God is a portion that can be neither spent nor lost (Psa. 73:26). Thus we see that godliness is a thriving trade.

And as godliness brings profit with it, so it is profitable 'for all things' (1 Tim. 4:8). What else is, besides godliness? Food will not give a man wisdom; gold will not give him health; honour will not give him beauty. But godliness is useful for all things: it fences off all troubles; it supplies all wants; it makes soul and body completely happy.

5. Godliness is an enduring substance; it knows no fall of the leaf

All worldly delights have a death's-head set on them. They are only shadows and they are fleeting. Earthly comforts are like Paul's friends, who took him to the ship and left him

there (Acts 20:38). So these will bring a man to his grave and then take their farewell. But godliness is a possession cannot be robbed of. It runs parallel with eternity. For cannot weaken it; age cannot wither it. It outbraves sufferings; it outlives death (Prov. 10:2). Death may pluck the stalk of the body but the flower of grace is not hurt.

6. Godliness is so excellent that the worst men would like have it when they are going hence

Though at present godliness is despised and under a cloud yet at death all would like to be godly. A philosopher asked a young man whether he would like to be rich Croesus virtuous Socrates. He answered that he would like to live with Croesus and die with Socrates. So men would like live with the wicked in pleasure but die with the godly: 'Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!' (Numb. 23:10). If, then, godliness is so at desirable death, why should we not pursue it now? Godliness is needful now and would be more feasible.


They are like the gleanings after vintage. Most receive the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:17). The devil keeps open house for all comers, and he is never without guests. This may prevail with us to be godly. If the number of the saints is so small, how we should strive to be found among these pearls! 'But a remnant shall be saved' (Rom. 9:27). It is better to go to heaven with a few than to hell in the crowd.


Men are taken up with the things of this life, and 'what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?' (Eccles. 5:16). Can the wind fill? What is gold but dust (Amos 2:7), which will sooner choke than satisfy? Pull off the mask of the most beautiful thing under the sun and look what is inside. There is care and vexation. And the greatest care is still to come - and that is to give account to God. The things of the world are just like a bubble in the water or a meteor in the air.

But godliness has real worth in it. If you speak of true honour, it is to be born of God; if of true valour, it is to fight the good fight of faith; if of true delight, it is to have joy in the Holy Ghost. Oh, then, espouse godliness! Here reality is to be had. Of other things we may say, 'They comfort in vain' (Zech. 10:2).

Excerpted from The Godly Man's Picture, published by The Banner of Truth Trust.

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