Taking no pleasure in this admission, let me say that I have far more pastors that I admire from yesteryear than I have in the modern day. Don’t get me wrong – I do have some men whom I respect and admire in the present, but they consist of an ever-shrinking minority. I fear that if men like Thomas Boston, Thomas Watson, John Calvin, or Thomas Manton were here today, they would be befuddled by most churches who identify themselves as conservative adherents to the five solas of the Reformation. The Berean spirit of past ages seems to have been replaced with a kind of truth-by-popular-appeal which says: “If it’s cool, trendy, and praised by many, ‘it’ must be good and true.” I say all this, not to complain, but to offer the context of my appreciation for men like Thomas Watson. His words of comfort are penetrating because he heralds, not himself, but the truth of God’s word. My recent discovery of his work on Malachi 3:16-18 underscores this:
“Why should we be holiest in evil times?
1. Because of the divine injunction. God charges us to be singular, to be circumspect (Eph. 5:15), to be separate from idolaters (2 Cor. 6:17), to shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15). He forbids us to join together with sinners, or do as they do. The way to hell is a well-trodden road, and the Lord calls to us to turn out of the road: Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil (Exod. 23:2). This is sufficient reason to keep ourselves pure in a time of common infection. As God’s Word is our rule, so his will is our warrant.
2. To be holiest in evil times is an indication of the truth of grace. To profess religion when the times favor it is no great matter. Almost all will court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth, this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down the stream, living fish swim against it. To swim against the common stream of evil shows grace to be alive. The prophet Elijah continuing zealous for the Lord of Hosts when they had dug down God’s altars (1 Kings 19:10, Rom. 11:3) showed his heart and lips had been touched with a coal from the altar.” [Thomas Watson, The Great Gain of Godliness: Practical Notes on Malachi 3:16-18, (Banner of Truth, pp. 5-6)]
I am sorry to say that too much of American Christianity has become a “Gospel Queen…hung with jewels,” where veracity is established by popularity rather than truth. Watson’s encouragement is helpful and timely for our generation. We must never be persuaded by the fads of the famous. Many of God’s greatest spokesmen and prophets were the most infamous of their generation. Ultimately, God’s greatest Prophet was crucified by the leaders of the religious establishment. Truth is neither augmented or diminished by the praise or persecution of men, because God’s truth is immutably and infallibly true. The gems found within Watson’s work are many, which is why Spurgeon expressed great disappointment for not having this book within his vast library:
“C.H. Spurgeon had a well-stocked library of around 12,000 volumes. However, one rare book was not to be found amongst that valuable collection: Thomas Watson on Malachi 3:16-18. With a note of sadness in his voice he said to his College students: ‘This [volume] would be a great find if we could 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.’” [Banner of Truth Publisher’s note, The Great Gain of Godliness, Back Cover]
What Spurgeon failed to find in his lifetime has been rediscovered and republished for our encouragement and edification. I heartily commend this work to you.