Thomas Goodwin’s Eight Remedies Against Fruitlessness

Thomas Goodwin, a Puritan born in 1600 who took over the pulpit of Richard Sibbes, another Puritan commonly and affectionately known as “the heavenly Doctor,” penned a list of eight “remedies” for the Christian to employ in the daily battle against fruitlessness. They are every bit as relevant, practical, and applicable today as they were in his time. The following is a summary of the Remedies as found in TCB Publishing’s The Power of the Puritans:

  1. Stock up your heart with “sanctified, heavenly knowledge in spiritual and God-given truths.” There is a difference between “natural knowledge” and “spiritual knowledge.” The former may give an appearance of godliness when in the company of others, but the latter will be your watchful guard, your “companion” when alone. See Matthew 12:35; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Deuteronomy 11:18-20; Proverbs 6:22.
  2. Fan the flame! Goodwin states, “Endeavor to preserve and keep up lively, holy and spiritual affections in your heart. Do not let them cool. Do not fall from your first love, fear, or joy in God.” How? Meditate on what you love. Make God and his law the object of your love and dwell there. See Psalm 119:97; Malachi 3:16; Psalm 39:3.
  3. Fill your heart with “deep, strong and powerful apprehensions and impressions of God’s holiness, majesty, omnipresence, and omniscience.” Goodwin drives the point home with this powerful image, “Why do the saints and angels in Heaven never have a vain thought, no, not in all eternity? His presence fixes them; their eye is never off Him.” God knows. God sees all. Perhaps our worship and meditation would be less encumbered by distractions and lowly thoughts if we spent some time “enlarging our thoughts beforehand, by considering God’s attributes and relations to us.” See Job 31:4; Psalm 139:1-17.
  4. Don’t reach out for that phone as soon as you wake up – reach out with your heart, by the empty virtue of faith, to God. Our fallen human hearts are prone to wander as soon as consciousness is upon us. Therefore, to cultivate a desire to seek the Lord as soon as we are back to the realm of awareness, one must do all that is possible to stay the idols of the heart and the “many suitors that will be attending you” by putting God before all else. Or else, “vain, windy, frothy thoughts” will take the place that rightfully belongs to God alone. See Psalm 139:18.
  5. Be ever watchful. Sin does not rest, barter, negotiate, or grants reprieves. When a city is under attack, the sleeping watchman has neglected his duty and put all others at risk. Let no enemy pass through the gates of your heart unwatched. If any do come through, make every effort to expose them, chastise them, and chase them out of your heart.
  6. Measure your leisure. Entertainment and light-hearted things have some value. But be careful not to indulge too much. This will only lead you to have “vain and worthless thoughts.” See Job 31:1.
  7. Work hard! Whatever your vocation is in life, do it with all your might. Busy yourself with it. Man was created, after all, to work before the Fall and to be busy therein. Goodwin counsels, “Put to it all the intention and strength of your mind. Let all the stream run about your mill; the keeping of your thoughts to that channel will keep them from overflowing into vanity and folly.” Just as the fallen human mind is prone to think about much that is worthless, so are the fallen human hands prone to be busy about the wrong things and not busy about the right things. That is what it means to be a busybody. The Lord has wisely given you a garden to tend. If you neglect to care for it because you are going after other things, you’ll have a hard time pulling all the weeds from it later. There is also the other side of this coin. One can busy oneself so much to the neglect of the “one thing [that] is neeedful,” as Jesus told Martha in Luke 10:42. See Ecclesiastes 9:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; Jeremiah 14:6; Luke 10:42; Exodus 18:18; Ecclesiastes 5:3.
  8. Entrust every step of your life to the Lord. When the cares of this life are many, look up from the noise of this life unto the one who gave you life. Center your thoughts on God. Goodwin counsels, “When such thoughts toss the heart and stir it up into turmoil, when the winds of passion are up, then a few thoughts of faith will calm the heart and fix it upon the Anchor of the soul once more.” See Proverbs 16:3; Matthew 14:22-33.

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