Thomas Watson on a Christian's Good Works

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Puritan Board Freshman
I have heard this reasoning from Thomas Watson before from others, and have probably affirmed it myself in the past, but I do not get the reasoning behind it. Could someone here please explain it to me?

“Q. What comfort may be given to a regenerate person under the failures and imperfections of his obedience?
Ans. That a believer is not under the covenant of works, but under the covenant of grace. The covenant of works requires perfect, personal, perpetual obedience; but in the covenant of grace, God will make some abatements; he will accept less than he required in the covenant of works. 1. In the covenant of works God required perfection of degrees; in the covenant of grace he accepts perfection of parts. There he required perfect working, here he accepts sincere believing.”-Thomas Watson, 10 Commandments

I can accept Watson’s statements that God requires of the unbeliever perfect conformity to His Law. However, how could God accept “perfection of parts” from the believer who is in the covenant of grace? I affirm that for the believer, God counts Christ’s righteousness as the believers, and that is why the believer is able to stand before God without fear of condemnation. Doesn’t God’s holiness still require of the believer “perfection of degrees” in his good works after justification (be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect)? How then could God accept a “perfection of parts?” If our good works, done with a sincere heart in faith, are still tainted with sin, I would think that this is still not acceptable in God’s sight. Does Christ’s righteousness make up for what is lacking?


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Does Christ’s righteousness make up for what is lacking?

No; that is definitely not the point Watson is making. That would be called a patched-up righteousness. The old building doesn't need repairs. It is a condemned building and must be completely demolished. All a man's own righteousness must be disowned in order that one might be be found in Christ and be reckoned with His righteousness, Philippians 3:9.

Watson's point assumes two important principles: (1) when a man is accepted in Christ, his good works are accepted also. They are not perfect works, but they are accepted on account of the perfect righteousness of Christ. God had respect to Abel, and to his offering. (2) The second principle is, that sanctification is throughout, in the whole man. He is not entirely sanctified, but he is sanctified in every part to some degree. Hence the sanctified man should "have respect to all Gods commandments." Attention should be given to universal obedience. He cannot obey perfectly but he can make a sincere endeavour to obey all that God requires.


Staff member
I believe Watson is only parroting the WCF.
[h=4]CHAPTER XVI.[/h][h=4]Of Good Works.[/h]I. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.
II. These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.
III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
IV. They, who in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.
V. We can not, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, because of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they can not endure the severity of God's judgment.
VI. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God's sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
VII. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.
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