The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 2 of 2)

thomas_watsonPart 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
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The Legalistic Tendencies Of The Puritans (Part 1 of 2)

thomas_watsonPart 1 – by Terry Rayburn
(Part 2 is here)

Since there are certainly a large number of Christians who read the Puritans, I wanted to make some comments about the Puritans in order to bring attention to a form of Legalism that they are prone to, largely because of their Covenant Theology.

No one likes to pick on such esteemed men as the Puritans, but Grace is too important to neglect the subtle spiritually-detrimental influence that the Law-based message of the Puritans can bring on an unsuspecting reader.

The following link is to a fairly representative message from Thomas Watson, entitled “A Godly Man Is A Lover of the Word”:

http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson2.htm

I urge you to read it before reading comments by me in this post (“The Legalistic Tendencies of the Puritans, Part 1″), and by my wife Michele in the next post (Part 2).

Part 1, Comments by Terry:

Warning: Sin-centered Christians will not like the following comments. But sin-centered Christians love warnings, so I knew it would be an attention-getter :)

Watson, like other Puritans in general, thought he was being Christ-centered by being sin-centered.

This is a result of his not cutting straight (rightly dividing) the Word of Truth.

He didn’t understand that the Old Covenant was made obsolete by the New (Heb. 8).

He didn’t understand that sin shall no longer be master of us because we are no longer under Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14).

While he acknowledges grace in a vague way, his *focus* is on himself and his sin. This is unbiblical under the New Covenant.

Our *focus* is to be on Christ, and walking by His Spirit. Keeping our eyes on Him, fellowshiping with Him. Not examining our spiritual navel 24 hours a day to see if we’re more sinless than we were yesterday, and wringing our hands and hankies when we’re not.

“If we walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). The love of Christ constrains us to walk this way, and the love of Christ is grown in our hearts and minds as we look on Him, not our fleshly wretchedness.

And the Puritans didn’t get it, because they were reactionaries, reacting to a decadent immoral secular English church. And they reacted with a law/sin-focused life and study.

They rightfully gloried in the greatness of God, and this is the one value of reading the Puritans, but it’s a big mistake to go to them for tips on Christian living.

They are the Emperor who has no clothes. Greatly admired, almost worshiped like they were Christ himself, they were Law/Sin nerds who never got out of Old Covenant thinking, and into the bright light of Gal. 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

And yet, I mean no disrespect to them as men. They were influenced by their peers and their times.

But we are in another time, friends. A time in which we have an opportunity to bring the light of the New Covenant to a generation of believers who still think that their performance is the point.

A time when we can shake off “Religion” and replace it with Christ Who is our Life (Col. 3:4), and leave “Religion” for the World.

A time in which we can build true “…fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3), because “…the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)

We all want “true revival”. But true revival is happening now in the hearts of those who understand the radical nature of Grace, who understand the freedom which is in Christ, and I don’t mean Antinomianism.

The Performance-Based Believer can never have the revival he thirsts for, because his *focus* is himself, and he doesn’t even know it.

He thinks he still has a wicked heart, and doesn’t realize that he’s been given a *new* heart, a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone. (He has no idea what Paul means in Rom. 7:17, when he says, “…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”)

His goal in a good sermon is to be “convicted”, so that he can head back to his laboratory of Performance and maybe get it right this time.

“Tetelestai!” It is finished! He has done it! Life conquered Death! Our sins, beloved are *all* forgiven. We are free to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on the Author and Finisher of our Faith.

And the Catch-22 is that then we will sin less.

And it’s all of Grace.

That’s the New Covenant.