Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church
In 1669 the well-known puritan, Thomas Watson, published a short treatise entitled, “Heaven Taken By Storm”. It saw many editions and reprints in Watson’s day as well as many later reprintings after his life, most notably, in America, under the editorship of Rev. R. Armstrong, being published with the title, “The Christian Soldier; Or, Heaven Taken by Storm”. Most recently it has been edited by Dr. Joel Beeke and published by Soli Deo Gloria Publications under its original title. It still serves as a superlative manual on practical Christian living. If you can acquire a hard copy of this short volume, I urge you to do so. It is also available in digital format here.
The premise of Watson’s argument is based on Matthew 11:12 “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” His main point is that a brave, ruthless and militaristic effort is required by the Christian in both obtaining and improving his spiritual life. He writes,
“[The kingdom of heaven suffering violence] is a metaphor from a town or castle that holds out in war and is not taken but by storm. So the kingdom of heaven will not be taken without violence. ‘The violent take it by force.’ The earth is inherited by the meek (Matt. 5:5). Heaven is inherited by the violent. Our life is military. Christ is our Captain, the gospel is the banner, the graces are our spiritual artillery, and heaven is only taken in a forcible way.” (pg.3)
Watson argues that it is a “holy violence” that must be used, a spiritual fervor, spiritual strength and power. Our violence is not a physical, political or worldly violence; Rather, ours is a spiritual violence against self, sin, Satan and the lusts of this world (2Cor. 10:3-5). We must be violent “for truth”, God’s truth (pg.5). Men are violent for many causes (the defense of family, home and country); how much more should we be violent in the cause of truth and our own salvation (pg.7)? Watson adds that it is “easy to talk of heaven, but not to get to heaven [meaning, without passionate vigor for our desired end]; we must … put forth all our strength and call in the help of heaven to this work” for this work, namely our spiritual life, can only be accomplished by God (pg.8). The Christian, says Watson, must offer violence in four ways, “to himself, to Satan, to the world and to heaven.” (pg.8)
I want to focus in on some of Watson’s comments found in the sixth chapter under the topic of the Christian offering violence to himself in taking the kingdom of heaven, namely, his comments on the Christian’s duty to violent spiritual meditation. He states that we must offer violence to ourselves in meditation, which he says, is “a duty wherein the very heart and lifeblood of religion lies.” Watson defines Christian meditation as: “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” (pg.23)
Practically, meditation must be accomplished in two ways. First, it must be done in private, or as Watson puts it, in the Christian’s “retiring of himself, a locking himself up from the world. Mediation is a work which cannot be done in a crowd.” (pg.23) Second, meditation requires “a serious thinking upon God … not a few transient thoughts that are quickly gone, but a fixing and staying of the mind upon heavenly objects.” (pg.23) To rightly do this we must excite (or fan into flame) “all the powers of our souls in offering violence to ourselves.” (pg.23) We must overcome our sluggish and obstinate flesh like we would overcome an intruder who came for our goods and our lives. Our flesh is weak and useless for this task, but as our Lord Jesus Christ “the spirit indeed is willing.” (Matt. 26:41) We must therefore “walk in the Spirit, and [we] shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16)
But if we are to rightly improve meditation for the advancement of our spiritual lives we must have good matter upon which to meditate upon. Bless God, His Word is rich with such themes! Watson offers us a few examples: The corruption of our nature, the death and passion of Christ, the evidences of our faith, the uncertainty of earthly comforts, God’s severity against sin and eternal life (pgs.24-27) As Watson puts it, “Hearing [the Word preached] begets knowledge, but meditation begets devotion.” (pg.23) To simply know the great truths of God’s Word (even grand summary of them in our confessions of faith) is fruitless without its application to our hearts and lives. Our minds will be full and our spirits empty. We must chase down the truths we learn from Scripture and wrestle them to the ground until they bless us! Meditation provides the means by which this is done.
We must stir up our passions, our emotions, our strengths and our desires toward God if we are to offer violence to ourselves in obtaining heaven. Mediating upon the truths of Holy Scripture are a primary way of doing this. Watson asks a question which is still pertinent in our day, “But where is the meditating Christian?” (pg.27) His answer is also still relevant, “Most people live in a hurry [if so in the 1600’s, how much more now!]. They are so distracted with the cares of the world that they can find no time to meditate or scarcely to ask their souls how they do.” (pg.27) Yet this supposed business is hostile to our spiritual advancement, for it wrongly impedes our meditation upon spiritual things. Watson writes,
“As the bee sucks the flower, so by meditation we suck out the sweetness of a truth. It is not the receiving of meat into the mouth, but the digesting of it which makes it nutritional. So it is not the receiving of the most excellent truths in at the ear that nourishes our souls, but the digesting of them by meditation.” (pg.28) (quote pg.29)
We give so much mind to the things of earth; where we shall go, what we shall eat, who we shall be with, yet “one thing is needed … that good part”, being seated at the feet of Jesus and being taught of Him (Luke 10:42). It is imperative that we keep before our minds, “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: be he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever”, and that it profits us nothing to “gain the whole world” only to lose our own soul. (1John 2:17; Mark 8:36) As humans, we enjoy, indeed, even relish in so many things of the world, and they are good things, but the best thing (namely, God and His beauties) we so often neglect. We must have a desire for God and His kingdom; this will make our meditation profitable and will furnish us with an eternity of content to meditate upon.
Watson states that the “reason our affections are so cold to heavenly things is because we do not warm them at the fire of holy meditation … mediating on the transcendent beauties of Christ would make our love to Christ flame forth.” (pg.28) Watson exhorts us, his readers and fellow pilgrims to,
“Get a love for spiritual things. We usually meditate upon those things which we love. The voluptuous man can muse on his pleasures; the covetous man on his bags of gold. If we loved heavenly things, we would meditate more on them. Many say they cannot meditate because they lack memory; but is it not rather because they lack affection? If they loved the things of God, they would make them their continual study and mediation.” (pg.29)
O’ how true this is! We seek not God because we desire not God. We think not upon Him because we do not love Him as we should. How can we get more love for Christ? By meditating upon Him! His person and work. His glories, His life, His death, His resurrection, His holiness, His love for us, His eternity, His divinity. The subjects are endless. Under meditation upon the death and passion of Christ Watson writes this,
“The meditation of Christ’s death would fire our hearts with love to Christ. What friend shall we not love if not Him who died for us? His love to us made Him to be cruel unto Himself. As Rebecca said to Jacob, ‘Upon me be thy curse’ (Gen. 27:13), so said Christ, ‘Upon Me be thy curse,’ that poor sinners may inherit the blessing.” (pg.24)
Dear Christian, if the fires of love for Christ are burning low in your heart, think upon His death for you. This was the clearest demonstration of His love for you, “But God commendeth [demonstrates] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) Christ declared, “My love for thee is such, that upon myself will thy curse lay, that thou mayest receive the blessing!” As Paul declared, and we with him, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
How do we know that God loves us? Because Christ gave Himself for us, dear Christian! Christ’s love for us made Him to be cruel unto Himself; His love for us inclined His death on our behalf that we might be His and He ours. A simple moment of meditation brings this before us, as I have done here.
Watson concludes his chapter on meditation with these words,
“I dare to be bold to say that if men would spend but one quarter of an hour [15 minutes] every day in contemplating heavenly objects, it would leave a mighty impression upon them, and through the blessing of God might prove the beginning of a happy conversion.” (pg. 29)
Therefore, dear Christian, let us make a habit of daily meditating upon Christ’s beauties.
All Scripture References are taken from the King James Version of the Bible
WATSON, THOMAS. HEAVEN TAKEN BY STORM. SOLI DEO GLORIA PUBLICATIONS, 2019.
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