Thomas Watson. Heaven Taken by Storm: Showing the Holy Violence a Christian Is to Put Forth in the Pursuit After Glory. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications. 1992. 129pp. Hardback. $14.95.
In Heaven Taken by Storm, Thomas Watson sets out to make what amounts to a Christian handbook for life in expositing and applying Christ’s words regarding how Christians should take heaven by storm: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12, KJV). Watson argued, “The earth is inherited by the meek (Mt 5:5). Heaven is inherited by the violent” (3). This review sets out to demonstrate that, even though there are some drawbacks to the book, Watson succeeded in demonstrating the necessity of a ‘holy violence’ in the Christian life. He illustrates weel how to apply his principles, making it a very useful and practical book for Christians generally, especially those who are new to the faith.
The book is divided primary into four primary sections: We are to offer violence to 1) ourselves, 2) Satan, 3) the world, and finally 4) heaven. To set the reader up for interacting with these four sections, Watson introduces us to the text by connecting it to the traditional phraseology of the church militant. He wrote, “Our [Christian] 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” (3). What is the violence that is being advocated here? It is not violence in a physical, but in a spiritual battle.
The violence that Watson is advocating is defined by three aspects: “1. resolution of will, 2. vigor of affection, and 3. strength of endeavor” (Watson 7). In discussing the first he quotes Psalm 119:106 (KJV) “I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep Thy righteous judgment.” Mentally resolving to act. In the second, he discusses that vigor of affection is that which follows our resolve, it is our putting full effort behind this resolution. It is to be in effect being blind to everything except that which we have put our focus of effort on. The final aspect of violence is strength of effort which is a personal all hands on deck or a commit all reserves to the field of battle moment. The only way to grasp victory is to be fully committed and to press on with violence toward God.
The Christian must offer violence to himself in two primary ways: 1) we must mortify our sin, and 2) we must provoke ourselves to duty. In mortifying the flesh, we offer violence to ourselves by killing sin, in resisting the desires of the flesh, and in removing the temptations and opportunities for sin. The Christian must offer violence to himself in the provoking duty. Watson wrote, “Provoking ourselves to duty implies a uniting and rallying together of all the powers of our soul, setting them to work in the exercises of religion…Matters of religion must be done with intenseness of spirit” (Watson 11). The rest of this section deals with various aspects of Christian religious duty, such as prayer, reading God’s word and hearing it preached, meditation, etc.
The Christian must be violent towards Satan. Watson describes the various aspects of Satan’s war against the Church. The Christian is violent toward the Devil through faith. It is where Eve failed in the Garden. Trusting in Yahweh as being the Standard would have kept Eve from sinning. “Faith resists the devil. Faith keeps the castle of the heart that it does not yield…Faith enters its protest against the Satan” (Watson 42). He is God’s enemy, and we are to show him no peace or quarter. “The devil is a chained and a conquered enemy; therefore, fear not to give battle to him. Resist him, and he will fly away; he knows no other march than running away” (Watson 42).
The Christian must be violent towards the world. Watson wrote, “The world is blandus daemon, a flattering enemy…The world never kisses us except with an intent to betray us. It is a silken halter. The world is no friend to grace” (43). This violence is predicated upon our calling: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19 ESV). We do this by keeping Christ as our first love. Remembering that the world, though we be in it, is deceitful, defiling, and perishing.
The Christian must exercise violence toward heaven. He added, “Though heaven is given us freely, yet we must take pains for it. God gave Canaan to Israel freely, but they had to fight the Canaanites” (45). Scriptural examples Watson uses are Luke 13:24 – striving, Ephesians 6:12 – wrestling, and 1 Corinthians 9:24 – running. All of these are violent actions. Another example is Philippians 3:14, pressing towards the goal. So in this holy violence we must strive towards heaven, to take that which we have been freely given.
Personal Evaluation & Critique
Heaven Taken by Storm is a very useful little handbook for Christian Living. It is concise, and loaded with illustrations which make the main points memorable and digestible. Watson succeeds in presenting his main point, that Christians must be violent in faith and practice, and he shows how that practically works itself out. Through numerous examples and illustrations Watson answers the question numerous young Christians have asked or ought to ask, “I am saved, now what?”
Watson addresses vital aspects of the Christian faith and points to each aspects importance and the joy and the duty for which a Christian ought to do them. These aspects of the faith are things new Christians may have little to no knowledge of, and is written in a way that builds a structure: First you read God’s Word regularly, then you listen to God’s Word being expounded regularly, then you pray daily, ect.. In doing so he explains the need, how it is to be done, and the benefits and consequences of either doing or not doing these things. A very practical introduction to Christian piety.
This book has several deficiencies. The most glaring of which is the over emphasis on personal exertion. While it is true that the Christian must strive in this life, we do not strive in the same manner as the godless. Our striving is in and with the assistance of the Spirit of God, with our focus being on Christ.
For example, in the section Offering Violence by Meditation, Watson encourages the Christian to meditate on the following things: 1) “the corruption of your nature,” 2) “the death and passion of Christ,” 3) “evidences for heaven,” 4) “the uncertainty of all earthly comforts,” 5) “God’s severity against sin,” and finally 6) “eternal life” (Watson 24-26). At no point does he encourage the Christian to meditate on the person or the glory of Christ, or Christ as the object of faith. Meditating on the various offices, our union with Christ, or of his present glory at the right hand of God. This is a serious defect.
I am thankful for this work by Watson, and would very much encourage new Christians to read this work. There is so much to be gained from it, even considering its deficiencies.
Feature Art: “The Thin Red Line” (1881) by Robert Gibb