The Violence Needed to Enter the Kingdom of God
Adapted from Heaven Taken by Storm, by Thomas Watson
Watson’s book is intended to show the holy violence a Christian is to put forth in the pursuit after glory. “We must offer violence to heaven in regard to the difficulty of the work – taking a kingdom. Our own hearts oppose us. This is a strange paradox; Man naturally desires happiness, yet opposes it; he desires to be saved, yet hates that holy violence which would save him” (Thomas Watson).
Luke 16:16, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”(NASB).
Matthew 11:12, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (NASB).
Matthew 11:12, “And from the days of John the Baptist until the present moment the kingdom of heaven has been continuously taken by storm, and those who take it by storm are seizing it as a precious prize” (Williams Translation).
Part and parcel of the holy violence necessary to enter the Kingdom of God is to take up our cross daily in true discipleship (Luke 9:23). Too much leniency emboldens sin. “Leniency shaves the head (of sin) that should be cut off.” The saved should be always ready to have their hearts searched as the Psalmist was – Ps 139 (Watson, p. 3).
The reason people are tricked into error is because they do not adequately love the truth (2 Thess 2:10). We can never say enough in the honor of the truth (Watson, p. 6).
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His Name” (Mal 3:16).
Holy violence entails: the resolution of the will; the vigor of the affections, thestrength of endeavor. The affections are “violent” things (Ps 42:2) (Note the relationship between the mind, the affections, and the will – the mind explains what is precious to the affections and the affections instruct the will to pursue that which it regards to be its treasure.)
The Christian offers violence to HIMSELF.
Pampering of the flesh is the quenching of God’s Spirit (the flesh lusteth against the Spirit – Gal 5:17). The flesh, Trojan horse within, does all the mischief – when the flesh has its way, we won’t believe or pray. We must offer violence to fleshly desires or we cannot be saved (Col 3:5; 1 Pet 2:11, Rom 8:12-14). The true believer keeps mortifying sin his entire Christian life.
Paul beat down his body by prayer, fasting, and watching (1 Cor 9:27). We offer violence by mortification; the opposite of gratification and indulgence (Watson, pp. 9-10).
All the exercises of worship are contrary to nature. We do violence by awakening ourselves that our exercises might be done with intensity of spirit and without distraction. It is holy labor (violence) to stir ourselves to be centered upon God and raised above self-interest (Watson, p. 11).
Violence by the reading of the Word.
The Word teaches us how to please God. It fills the heart with grace. They who are vessels of grace shall be vessels of glory. The Word gives us weapons against sin to cut asunder the lusts of our heart (Watson, p. 13).
On the Last Day, there are two books God will go by: the book of conscience and the book of Scripture. One shall be a witness and one shall be a judge. How we must provoke ourselves to read His Word with care and devotion. Those who dishonor the Word now by neglect shall bow to it as judge on that day (Jn 12:47-50) (Watson, p. 15).
In this life, it is a profound mercy to have our consciences washed by the Redeemer’s blood, educated by the Word of God, and sensitized by the Spirit’s ministry.
Violence by prayer. The names of prayer imply violence: wrestling, pouring out the heart, fervency (Gen 32:24: 1 Sam 1:15).
Stir the soul to take hold of God. A good way to quicken yourself in prayer is to review your wants. Do you want the light of God’s presence? Do you want a spiritual, humble frame of heart? Pray feelingly in order to pray fervently (Watson, pp. 19-22).
Violence by meditation. Meditation is opposed to flesh and blood – how hard it is to fix our minds and thought on God. Our flesh quarrels with this duty. Hearing begets knowledge, but meditation begets devotion. Only by meditation do wefeed our affections (Watson, p. 23). Do you get your spiritual insights by personal meditation upon the Word of God, or are all of your insights “second hand” from your pastors and teachers?
Meditation gives ballast to the heart and makes it serious. Meditation on eternal life makes us labor for a spiritual life. It has the effect of comforting and reinforcing in us the shortness of natural life. Death comes on us by degrees (see the metaphors for aging in Ecclesiastes 12).
Where do we find a meditating Christian? Most people live in a hurry, enveloped by distractions. This is UNLIKE the saints in former ages (p. 27). Consider the paramount truths that are ready subjects for meditation: meditate upon the corruption of your nature and what it means to pull down our pride. Meditate upon the death and passion of Christ and how He was bearing the Father’s wrath against our sins. Consider how dearly our sins cost Christ. See how this evokes love for Him in our hearts. Meditate upon your evidences for heaven: (Was your heart ever thoroughly convinced of sin? Did you ever see yourself lost without Christ? Has God ever made you willing to take Christ on His terms as your Priest and King? Are you willing to renounce the sins to which the bias of your heart does naturally incline? Are you willing to take Christ for better or worse; to take Him with His cross? Do you have the indwelling presence of the Spirit? What has the Spirit done in you? Has He made you meek, merciful, humble? Has He left the impress of holiness upon you?). Meditate upon the uncertainty of all earthly comforts (Ps 49:11). Meditate upon God’s severity against sin. Sin kindles hell and stirs up God’s wrath. Meditate upon eternal life (Watson, pp. 24-27).
Meditation – “The clean animal chews the cud – the regenerate person chews truth.” Meditation makes the Word preached to profit. Meditation quickens the affections (assimilation of spiritual nutrition into the innermost being). Meditation has transforming power (note the principle of transformation – we become like that which fills the heart). Meditation produces reformation.
The only way to consistently meditate is to get a love for spiritual things. We naturally meditate on the things we love. If we loved heavenly things, we would meditate on them more (pp. 28-29). Through meditation, our affections are conformed to God’s truth. If our affections are not continually conformed to the truth we will manifest some combination of the following sins against God’s truth: suppress the truth, neglect the truth, distort the truth, or deny the truth.
Violence of self-examination.
The good and wise Christian begins as if it were the Day of Judgment in his own soul. We must be aware of the impediments: self love works against objectivity.You would give yourself no rest if you bounced a check until the account was made right with the merchant, yet so opposed is our flesh to examination, that denial and self-deception reign; we’re too willing to live with outstanding accounts of conscience (pp. 30, 31).
How the flesh resists self-examination – though we know that a lust is having its way in our soul like a raiding burglar, we do not even stir ourselves to turn on a light, instead we allow sin as a thief to steal our spiritual comfort, our boldness, our peace, and our sense of God’s presence. (Regarding self-examination, see Paul Zahl’s helpful chapter on self-criticism in his work, A Short Systematic Theology, pp. 79-82 .)
Your salvation depends upon you taking pains in self-examination. The “harlot-professor” is seldom home, but always out spying on the faults of others. By contrast, the true believer does violence by self-examination (pp. 32, 33).
If we will not try ourselves and we belong to the Lord, God will try us by scourging! (Note the promise in 1 Corinthians 11:31 – “If we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.”) “Lord show me my heart, lest I perish through mistake, or go to hell with hope of heaven” (Ps 139). The warning is “do not come short” (Heb 4:1).
Today we see believers visiting each other without giving their souls a visit. By way of example; a traveler talks about the home and country to which he is traveling, so also when we meet together, we should talk about our heavenly country (Heb 11:16). We ought to provoke ourselves to good discourse (this is only possible with some kind of violence – without it our conversations will remain light and airy, void of any eternal good).
Discourse reveals the contents of the heart. “While they communed together and reasoned, Jesus drew near” (Luke 24:15). Those with kingdom values cannot help but make those kingdom values the content of their discourse.
Violence in overcoming the world – Christ gave Himself to redeem us from this present evil world (Gal 1:4). If we are to be saved, we must swim against the world like a fish against the current (p. 44). This world is deceitful, defiling, perishing (biblical adjectives that modify world). The world is always attempting to seduce us, inviting us to lodge in its false refuges by promising comfort, security, fulfillment, and supply.
Violence in our pursuit of heaven. Consider the categories or metaphors that clearly imply violence: striving (Lu 13:24); wrestling (Eph 6:12); running (1 Cor 9:24); pressing towards the mark (Phil 3:14); fighting, laboring, warring (1 Tim 6:12); praying fervently (James 5:16); make calling and election sure by diligence(2 Pet 1:10); go from faith to faith (Rom 1:17); overcome (Rev 2 & 3) (Watson, pp. 45, 46).
Without violent AFFECTIONS, we shall never be able to resist violent TEMPTATIONS. Consider what we shall gain – a kingdom! So many fancy an easy way to heaven – that it can be gained with an idle wish, a feather pillow of grace without means, a death-bed tear, BUT Scripture tells us that we must offer violence. Heart affections must be regularly “wound up” by prayer and meditation – this is essential if we are to be spurred on to holy violence (p. 47).
The gates of hell are like the doors of an immense iron gate that open at their own accord. The way to its entrance is all downhill; nothing in our nature resists it easy and broad path (p. 48). Nothing is easier than to slide into hell. There is no harder work than repentance, and there is no labor more daunting than attempting repentance when it has long been delayed.
Heaven involves sweat to get to the top of the hill. This cannot be done without violence. To get to heaven, we must force our way, besieging it with sighing and tears, holding fast to the scaling ladder of faith in order to storm it. We must work and fight; use the sword and trowel (Neh 4:17).
We must charge against the whole army of lusts – each one as strong as Goliath. A Christian can never take a vacation from the fight of faith. He is either watching or praying at all times. While not under trial, the believer watches; he is suspicious of the apparent calm, knowing that the enemy waits for negligence as an ideal time to spring his next ambush.
Countless souls sit in self-deception, imagining that they are on their way to heaven though they offer no holy violence. They content themselves that their soul’s estate is well -- they sit under preaching, though they never look at their hearts (p. 49).
(How many churches are filled with folks who imagine that the precision of their creed and the eloquence of their pastor shall in the end save them.)
Compartmentalization of religion is proof that so many professing believers are trapped in a soul-endangering pattern of moderation. Moderation in the world’s sense is to not be too zealous, too violent for heaven, too fierce to enter glory. Moderation is not to venture further in religion than may coexist with self-preservation (p. 50).
Moderation in the world’s sense is NEUTRALITY – a “happy medium” between strictness and profaneness (neither debauchery, nor purity). Here is the warning:moderation is lukewarm-ness. Be zealous and repent (Rev 3:19). A moderate pace will never win the prize – it has made many miss heaven just as the foolish virgins did.
No man is saved by chance, he must know how he came by it – by offering violence (note all the warnings in the book of Hebrews alone) (p. 51).
Take heed when the desire for heaven is not as strong as it once was. This is a shrewd sign of lukewarm-ness. RECOVERY from losing one’s first love begins with diagnosis: 1.) The more violence, the more peace you will have (2 Pet 1:10, 11). 2.) Walking in the fear of God issues forth in the comfort of the Spirit (Acts 9:31). 3.) Deadness in service and duties opens us up to serious, dangerous temptations. The more violent we are; the less violent Satan is. 4.) The more lazy a Christian is in his desires, the more lively his corruptions. Oh pray for quickening grace (Ps 143:11). 5.) A pet lust given haven in the heart can destroy our violence for religion. Only sowing the seed of repentance will keep us on track in offering violence (see pp. 56-59 Watson).
Examining whether we are offering violence.
Do you strive with your heart to get into a holy frame? Do you thirst for the living God? Do you desire the holiness that is heaven? Do you desire to be like Christ as much as to be with Christ? Are you skilled in self-denial? Can we cross our wills to fulfill God’s? Can we “behead” our beloved sin? Do we love God more than fear hell? Do we keep a spiritual watch? (pp. 63-64). Are these disciplines and spiritual postures of soul increasingly your practice? Plead for more grace to do violence at these junctures.
God makes the way hard that we might raise the price of heavenly things. If entrance into the kingdom of glory were easy, would we value its worth? (p. 66). The more we sacrifice for heaven, the higher premium we place upon glory; the better able we are to reckon where our true treasure resides.
The narrow way is hard by design; it makes us choose over and over again. In every step of progress toward heaven, we leave something behind down here. Every pinched place on our journey, every thorn, every tear shed helps the saint consolidate all of his hopes and affections upon glory. Difficulties in the Way steel and solidify our determination to have a united heart before the Lord.
If a man is so drunk with the cares of the world that he cannot find time for the needs of his soul, he is not offering violence in seeking to take heaven. If he does not repent, will not God say to him, “Why did you not take pains for heaven?” “Why did you eschew the cross?” (p. 70).
This violence for heaven is the grand business of our lives. Why else did we come into the world? It is the main errand of our living here – shall we go through life and avoid the errand? All of life is preparation to live with God. Our journey’s end is the knowledge of God that we might come into the presence of the Holy One whom we know and love. God does not intend to make His eternal abode with strangers who loved the Egypt of this world and who have not set across the wilderness to enter Zion (p. 72).
Holy violence has much delight mingled with it (Prov 3:17). The joys and comforts of the new covenant are experienced by us when we are violent, not when we are double-minded. Think about how violent Christ was about our salvation: Sleepness nights in prayer, fastings, weeping, violent death (pp. 73-75). Holy violence brings rest (Heb 4:9). Holy violence prevents much sin and blocks the devil’s designs. Holy violence is always energized by the Spirit’s working (Phil 2:12, 13) (pp. 73-75).
The damned in hell would gladly serve a thousand year apprenticeship in hell if they could by it be given another opportunity to do violence for heaven. Do violence now while God’s terms are easy! (p. 82).
A little violence would ease our fear of death and make the believer willing to die to be with his Lord. Those who profess Christ but fear death are bothered by a conscience that correctly tells them that they have taken none, or too few pains for heaven (pp. 85, 86). (The conscience will not generate peace and comfort if bogged down with the rust and baggage of this world. By contrast, the heavenly citizen is unwilling to endure the hardships of travel on the narrow way.)
The time is coming to every man wherein he will wish with all his might that he had been more violent for heaven. (Christ and free grace is the cause of us inheriting heaven. But we shall not obtain the kingdom of heaven without violence.)
God’s will is that we should pray and repent, making our calling and election sure (2 Pet 1:10). He has from the beginning chosen us for salvation through sanctification (2 Thess 2:13). According to Romans 6:22, eternal life is the outcome of a life set apart to God (pp. 89, 90).
Take heed who you bring into your intimate company. Those who are unacquainted with the spirituality and sweetness of religion judge all zeal to be frenzy, therefore they will lay hold upon us to hinder us in this sacred violence. When we are earnest suitors to piety, our carnal friends will raise some ill report of it and endeavor to break the match (p. 93).
Labor to grow in sanctity/holiness – for the more grace, the more strength, the more strength, the more violence. If you would be violent for heaven, convince yourself that offering violence is a laborious work. If you think that heaven may be had without much in the way of violence, you will be apt to slacken your pace. This work is not easy – “Strive as in agony.” It is a work above nature and against it – it is as great a wonder for a soul to be saved as it is to see a millstone lifted up into the upper atmosphere (p. 94). Kingdom values are utterly realistic – strive for realism (the reality of God’s Kingdom will someday fill the universe.)
A man will be violent for nothing but what he loves. Are you constrained by the love of Christ? (2 Cor 5:14). Are your most precious hours of the day those spent with God? If you would be violent for heaven, make sure that going to heaven is your business. To the degree that you are indifferent, you will not be violent. When it is your business, you will be industrious about it. One thing is needful; to get Christ and heaven (Lu 10:42). To lose the prospect of heaven is to slacken the pace – certainty is therefore your duty (2 Cor 5: 1-10). If you would be violent, be sure heaven is your consuming goal (Heb 12:1-3).
Find companions that fear God! (Ps 119:63) (pp. 96, 97). Godly companions will sharpen you. Their company will energize your conscience – holy dialogue will heighten your awareness of areas where you have been slack and repentance is needed.
Prepare your affections for God by contemplating the excellencies of God. Study your own wants – consider how much you need God – you cannot be happy without Him (pp. 111, 112). Draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Heb 10:22). If God be the treasure delighted in, our hearts will be drawn to Him. Make it your vocation to match your depravity with Christ’s sufficiency and righteousness. Endeavor to see how perfectly Christ’s Saviorhood fits your ruin and ill-desert. Meditate upon your completeness in Him. Think upon His suitability for your every need. Dwell upon all that God is toward you in Christ, and all that He will be to you throughout eternity.
Some folks in this world perish for not having the Scriptures, and other perish for not improving their possession of the Scriptures (Heb 4:1, 2). That God should pass by millions and yet set His electing love upon you move you to holy ecstasy and wonder. Like God manifesting Himself in the pillar of cloud and the blazing mountain, think that God should show His dark side to others, yet a light side to you. That to others the Word is a dead letter, but to you, it is the savor of life. Marvel that Christ is not only revealed to you, but in you (Gal 1:16). Are these infinite riches not a cause for offering violence?
When our holy affections are inflamed, we will find ample motivation to do violence. When our affections for the Lord burn bright; our taste for the “cistern water” of this world will be dulled. Our longing will be for the “Fountain of Living Water” (Jer 2:13).
Have you walked with the Lord for many years? Consider just how much those around you are in need of your ministry in their lives. Let this sink in next time you are reluctant to do holy violence – “Those around me need my holiness; for it is only by holiness that I shall be a clean vessel available to the Lord for their spiritual welfare” (2 Tim 2:21).
Conclusion on doing holy violence (taken from Prophetic Ministry, by T. Austin-Sparks).
The spirit of citizenship in the Kingdom is “by force” (Matt 11:12). The reason why encompasses the immeasurable loss that will be suffered by those who do not take the Kingdom seriously. The Lord Jesus preached the Kingdom of God amidst constant opposition. The whole organized religious system expressed tremendous prejudice; they blocked the way into the Kingdom for as many as they could (Matt 23:13).
Everything from devil and men works to obstruct one’s entrance into the Kingdom, therefore to enter requires violence. If you are willing to be hindered; you will fail to enter in. If you are easy-going, you will tend to give in to antagonistic forces. To enter requires violence.
To gain the Kingdom is not a once-for-all entering in; it is a continuous entering.You have to make it a desperate matter because everything will be there to stop you. Violence must characterize us – we must desperately mean business (T. Austin-Sparks, p. 93).
How easy it is for lives to become side-tracked, simply because they are not desperate enough. The only way to get past all obstacles that oppose our progress is to be men of violence, to be men who are desperate; to be men who say, “By God’s grace, nothing and no one, however good, is going to stand in my way; I am going on with God.”
If the above describes your heart’s posture, God will meet you on that ground. God will be toward you what you are toward Him. He will mean business if you mean business (p. 94).
In order to get in, the Kingdom calls for violence. Are you ready to do violence to everything that stands in the way of God’s full purpose as revealed in Christ? You will never know what God’s purpose is unless He finds that you are one after His kind – entering violently. Are you like that? If you are passive, everything will be lost. If you mean business, everything will be gained (p. 96).