|Settled in the Faith
by Thomas Watson
"If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled."-Col 1:23.
Intending next Lord's day to enter upon the work of catechising, it will not be
amiss to give you a preliminary discourse, to show you how needful it is for
Christians to be well instructed in the grounds of religion. "If ye continue in
the faith grounded and settled."
First. It is the duty of Christians to be settled in the doctrine of faith.
Second. The best way for Christians to be settled is to be well grounded.
First. It is the duty of Christians to be settled in the doctrine of faith. It
is the apostle's prayer, 1 Pet. 5:10, "The God of all grace establish,
strengthen, settle you." That is, that they might not be meteors in the air, but
fixed stars. The apostle Jude speaks of "wandering stars" in verse 13. They are
called wandering stars, because, as Aristotle says, "They do leap up and down,
and wander into several parts of the heaven; air being but dry exhalations, not
made of that pure celestial matter as the fixed stars are, they often fall to
the earth." Now, such as are not settled in religion, will, at one time or
other, prove wandering stars; they will lose their former steadfastness, and
wander from one opinion to another. Such as are unsettled are of the tribe of
Reuben, "unstable as water," Gen. 49:4; like a ship without ballast, overturned
with every wind of doctrine. Beza writes of one Belfectius, that his religion
changed as the moon. The Arians had every year a new faith. These are not
pillars in the temple of God, but reeds shaken every way. The apostle calls them
"damnable heresies." 2 Pet. 2:1. A man may go to hell as well for heresy as
adultery. To be unsettled in religion argues want of judgment. If their heads
were not giddy, men would not reel so fast from one opinion to another. It
argues lightness. As feathers will be blown every way, so will feathery
Christians. Triticum non rapit ventus inanes palae jactantur. [Wheat that is not
gathered, the wind blows into chaff.] Cyprian. Therefore such are compared to
children. Eph. 4:14, "That we be no more children, tossed to and fro." Children
are fickle, sometimes of one mind, sometimes of another, nothing pleases them
long; so unsettled Christians are childish; the truths they embrace at one time,
they reject at another; sometimes they like the Protestant religion, and soon
after they have a good mind to turn Papists.
1. It is the great end of the word preached, to bring us to a settlement in
religion. Eph. 4:11, 12, 14, "And he gave some, evangelists; and some, pastors
and teachers; for the edifying of the body of Christ; that we henceforth be no
more children." The word is called a hammer. Jer. 23:29. Every blow of the
hammer is to fasten the nails of the building; so the preacher's words are to
fasten you firmly to Christ; they weaken themselves to strengthen and settle
you. This is the grand design of preaching, not only for the enlightening, but
for the establishing of souls; not only to guide them in the right way, but to
keep them in it. Now, if you be not settled, you do not answer God's end in
giving you the ministry.
2. To be settled in religion is both a Christian's excellence and honour. It is
his excellence. When the milk is settled it turns to cream; now he will be
zealous for the truth, and walk in close communion with God. It is his honour.
Prov. 16:31. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of
righteousness." It is one of the best sights to see an old disciple; to see
silver hairs adorned with golden virtues.
3. Such as are not settled in the faith can never suffer for it. Sceptics in
religion hardly ever prove martyrs. They that are not settled hang in suspense;
when they think of the joys of heaven they will espouse the gospel, but when
they think of persecution they desert it. Unsettled Christians do not consult
what is best, but what is safest. "The apostate (says Tertullian) seems to put
God and Satan in balance, and having weighed both their services prefers the
devil's service, and proclaims him to be the best master: and, in this sense,
may be said to put Christ to open shame." Heb. 6:6. He will never suffer for the
truth, but be as a soldier that leaves his colours, and runs over to the enemy's
side; he will fight on the devil's side for pay.
4. Not to be settled in the faith is provoking to God. To espouse the truth, and
then to fall away, brings an ill report upon the gospel, which will not go
unpunished. Psalm 78:57, 59, "they turned back, and dealt unfaithfully. When God
heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel." The apostate drops as a
wind-fall into the devil's mouth.
5. If you are not settled in religion, you will never grow. We are commanded "to
grow up into the head, even Christ." Eph. 4:15. But if we are unsettled there is
no growing: "the plant which is continually removing never thrives." He can no
more grow in godliness, who is unsettled, than a bone can grow in the body that
is out of joint.
6. There is great need to be settled, because there are so many things to
unsettle us. Seducers are abroad, whose work is to draw away people from the
principles of religion. 1 John 2:26, "These things have I written unto you
concerning them that seduce you." Seducers are the devil's agents; they are of
all others the greatest felons that would rob you of the truth. Seducers have
silver tongues, that can put off suspicions; they have a sleight to deceive,
Eph. 4:14. The Greek word there is taken from those that can throw a dice, and
cast it for the best advantage. So seducers are impostors, they can throw a
dice; they can so dissemble and subtly twist the truth, that they can deceive
others. Seducers deceive,
1. By wisdom of words. Rom. 16:18: "By good words and fair speeches they deceive
the hearts of the simple." They have fine elegant phrases, flattering language,
whereby they work on the weaker sort.
2. Another sleight is a presence of extraordinary piety, so that people may
admire them, and suck in their doctrine. They seem to be men of zeal and
sanctity, and to be divinely inspired, and pretend to new revelations.
3. A third cheat of seducers is labouring to vilify and nullify sound orthodox
teachers. They would eclipse those that bring the truth, like black vapours that
darken the light of heaven; they would defame others, that they themselves may
be more admired. Thus the false teachers cried down Paul, that they might be
received, Gal. 4:17.
4. The fourth cheat of seducers is, to preach the doctrine of liberty; as though
men are freed from the moral law, the rule as well as the curse, and Christ has
done all for them, and they need to do nothing. Thus they make the doctrine of
free grace a key to open the door to all licentiousness.
5. Another means is to unsettle Christians by persecution, 2 Tim. 2:12. The
gospel is a rose that cannot be plucked without prickles. The legacy Christ has
bequeathed is the CROSS. While there is a devil and a wicked man in the world,
never expect a charter of exemption from trouble. How many fall away in an hour
of persecution! Rev. 12:4, "There appeared a great red dragon, having seven
heads and ten horns; and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven."
The red dragon, by his power and subtlety, drew away stars, or eminent
professors, that seemed to shine as stars in the firmament of the church.
6. To be unsettled in good is the sin of the devils, Jude 6. They are called,
"morning stars," Job 38:7, but also "falling stars." They were holy, but
mutable. As the vessel is overturned with the sail, so their sails being swelled
with pride, they were overturned, I Tim. 3:6. By unsettledness, men imitate
lapsed angels. The devil was the first apostate. The sons of Zion should be like
mount Zion, which cannot be removed.
Second. The second proposition is that the way for Christians to be settled is
to be well grounded. "If you continue grounded and settled." The Greek word for
grounded is a metaphor which alludes to a building that has the foundation well
laid. So Christians should be grounded in the essential points of religion, and
have their foundation well laid.
Here let me speak to two things: 1. That we should be grounded in the knowledge
of fundamentals. 2. That this grounding is the best way to being settled.
1. That we should be grounded in the knowledge of fundamentals. The apostle
speaks of "the first principles of the oracles of God." Heb. 5:12. In all arts
and sciences, logic, physics, mathematics, there are some rules and principles
that must necessarily be known for the practice of those arts; so, in divinity,
there must be the first principles laid down. The knowledge of the grounds and
principles of religion is exceedingly useful.
(1.) Else we cannot serve God aright. We can never worship God acceptably,
unless we worship him regularly; and how can we do that, if we are ignorant of
the rules and elements of religion? We are to give God a "reasonable service."
Rom. 12:1. If we understand not the grounds of religion, how can it be a
(2.) Knowledge of the grounds of religion much enriches the mind. It is a lamp
to our feet; it directs us in the whole course of Christianity, as the eye
directs the body. Knowledge of fundamentals is the golden key that opens the
chief mysteries of religion; it gives us a whole system and body of divinity,
exactly drawn in all its lineaments and lively colours; it helps us to
understand many of those difficult things which occur in the reading of the
word; it helps to untie many Scripture knots.
(3.) It furnishes us with armour of proof; weapons to fight against the
adversaries of the truth.
(4.) It is the holy seed of which grace is formed. It is semen fidei, the seed
of faith, Psalm 9:10. It is radix amoris, the root of love. Eph. 3:17. "Being
rooted and grounded in love." The knowledge of principles conduces to the making
of a complete Christian.
2. This grounding is the best way to becoming settled: "grounded and settled." A
tree, that it may be well settled, must be well rooted; so, if you would be well
settled in religion, you must be rooted in its principles. We read in Plutarch
of one who set up a dead man, and he would not stand. "Oh," said he, "there
should be something within." So that we may stand in shaking times, there must
be a principle of knowledge within; first grounded, and then settled. That the
ship may be kept from overturning, it must have its anchor fastened. Knowledge
of principles is to the soul as the anchor to the ship, that holds it steady in
the midst of the rolling waves of error, or the violent winds of persecution.
First grounded and then settled.
USE 1. See the reason so many people are unsettled, ready to embrace every novel
opinion, and dress themselves in as many religions as fashions; it is because
they are ungrounded. See how the apostle joins these two together, "unlearned
and unstable." 2 Pet. 3:16. Such as are unlearned in the main points of divinity
are unstable. As the body cannot be strong that has the sinews shrunk; so
neither can that Christian be strong in religion who wants the grounds of
knowledge, which are the sinews to strengthen and stablish him.
USE 2. See what great necessity there is of laying down the main grounds of
religion in a way of catechising, that the weakest judgment may be instructed in
the knowledge of the truth, and strengthened in the love of it. Catechising is
the best expedient for the grounding and settling of people. I fear one reason
there has been no more good done by preaching, has been because the chief heads
and articles in religion have not been explained in a catechistical way.
Catechising is laying the foundation, Heb. 6:1. To preach and not to catechise
is to build without a foundation. This way of catechising is not novel, it is
apostolic. The primitive church had their forms of catechism, as those phrases
imply, a "form of sound words," 2 Tim. i. 13, and "the first principles of the
oracles of God," Heb. 6:1. The church had its catechumenoi, as Grotius and
Erasmus observe. Many of the ancient fathers have written for it, as Fulgentius,
Austin, Theodoret, Lactantius, and others. God has given great success to it. By
thus laying down the grounds of religion catechistically, Christians have been
clearly instructed and wondrously built up in the Christian faith, insomuch that
Julian the apostate, seeing the great success of catechising, put down all
schools and places of public literature, and instructing of youth. It is my
design, therefore (with the blessing of God), to begin this work of catechising
the next Sabbath day; and I intend every other Sabbath, in the afternoon, to
make it my whole work to lay down the grounds and fundamentals of religion in a
catechistical way. If I am hindered in this work by men, or taken away by death,
I hope God will raise up some other labourer in the vineyard among you, that may
perfect the work which I am now beginning.