Last year, I was listening to an interview with Dr. Steven Lawson (whose preaching I admire and appreciate) and he was asked which books had been most influential in his ministry. His immediate answer was A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson. I’d never heard of the work or the man, so I did a quick search on the Internet and found the book as public domain on the Christian Classics Etherial Library.
I knew I was in for a treat after I read the glowing bio of Watson that opens the book, written by none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon! What followed that brief introduction was a series of sermons that have richly encouraged my faith and confronted me with a view of God that is rarely found in the modern church. I have grown to love the writings of this dear brother and plan to post comments from Watson on a regular basis. However, before I do that, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce you to my beloved Puritan friend.
Thomas Watson (1620-1686) was an English Puritan preacher.
As an Englishman, Watson suffered for his beliefs. He lived during a time of sweeping reformation and great difficulty in England. During his ministry he was imprisoned for his stand on the Monarchy. Later, he was released, but not before one of his companions was executed. When Charles II passed the Act of Uniformity, Watson was ejected from his pastorate (along with 2,000 other godly pastors) for his refusal to confom his church service to the Book of Common Prayer. He and many other believers were forced to meet in barns, homes, and sometimes in the forest. Watson lived in a time when taking a stand for the truth had serious, life threatening consequences yet he didn’t back down.
But above Watson’s struggles as an Englishman what I really treasure is his Puritan heart. What is meant by the term “Puritan?” Often as our modern era reflects back upon the Puritans, we view them as legalistic hypocrites; another incarnation of the NT Pharisees. But such impressions soon pass away when you begin to read their writings. What you discover is that they were people who loved God and His Word; people who celebrated Christ and the Gospel. They had a healthy hatred for sin but that was only because they were overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s holiness. This is what I mean when I say that Thomas Watson was a Puritan. His love for our God and his fascination with God’s beauty and the wonder of our salvation flow off of every page of his writing. His theology is so wonderfully practical and yet so rich and deep. (Reading Watson is like breathing-in refreshing, clean air as you hike through mountain meadows, gazing all the while at the breathtaking peaks around you. I love to walk among the majesty of his thinking and let my soul breathe it in deeply.)
I believe his theology was so practical because at his core, he was a pastor. His sermons are clearly words from a shepherd’s heart. That heart is evident not just in those words, but in what he endured to tend the Master’s sheep. Even when he could no longer preach in the approved church buildings of England, it didn’t stop him from feeding the flock. As I mentioned above, he would preach in barns, in the woods; wherever he could find. He had a passion to tell people about his God. Eventually, after more reforms in England, Watson was reinstated. He again pastored a church, and for five years shared the preaching duties with Stephen Charnock, whose work The Existence and Attributes of God is Puritan classic on Theology Proper.
Watson’s ministry had a powerful impact in his own day and through the repeated publishing of his sermons he continues to influence generation after generation for God. I am just one more mentored by this wonderful brother. I hope you will enjoy his wisdom in the posts ahead.
Starting this next week, I’ll begin posting Watson’s answers to the question: Why must I glorify God?