Category Archives: Puritanism

Friends You Should Meet (2) — Thomas Watson

It’s not a secret that I love books.  Here in my study I often feel like I’m surrounded by good friends.  In this series of posts, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends, both the old ones from centuries ago and the more recent ones.  I’ll describe their strengths and, where necessary, their weaknesses.  The aim is to help you find good friends for yourself — in other words, to find edifying reading that will give you a better understanding of the Christian faith, a better grasp of the gospel, and a deeper love for Christ.

Today we’re going to go back a few years to my favourite Puritan author, Thomas Watson.  Unfortunately, the word “Puritan” will turn some people off right away.  If you’ve kept reading up to this point, I applaud your open-mindedness and willingness to give these brothers a chance.  We need to set aside our prejudices and what we may have heard about the Puritans and actually go and check them out for ourselves.  You may be pleasantly surprised!

Thomas Watson was an English Puritan, probably born in Yorkshire in 1620.  Following studies at Cambridge, he spent sixteen years at St. Stephens, Walbrook, London.  A Presbyterian, he was forcibly removed from his pastorate in 1662 when the Act of Uniformity was brought into law.  He preached for private audiences for some years following.  In 1672, however, he was again officially permitted by the authorities to preach and did so at Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate.  In 1680, his health began to decline and he was no longer able to preach.  He died in 1686.

Why is Thomas Watson important? Watson is easily the most readable of the Puritans.  Even when his works are not updated in any way, they are remarkably lucid for being nearly four centuries old.  What accounts for Watson’s readability?  Primarily his use of word pictures.  He knew how to communicate deep truths with vivid language.  Moreover, Watson is also important because he combined those communication skills with a deep love for the gospel and a passionate commitment to Christ.  In their helpful intro to the Puritans (Meet the Puritans), Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson remark:  “Watson’s depth of doctrine, clarity of expression, warmth of spirituality, love of application, and gift of illustration enhanced his reputation as a preacher and writer.”

Where do I start? Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any book-length biographies of Thomas Watson.  The best place to start reading Watson for yourself is his classic All Things For Good in the Puritan Paperbacks series published by Banner of Truth.  This is an exposition of Romans 8:28.  Very few modern writers touch on the subject of repentance.  Another Puritan Paperback by Watson tackles this subject:  The Doctrine of Repentance.  If, like me, you’re called to regularly preach on the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, then you need to have Watson’s books on these (also published by Banner of Truth).  These are Watson’s sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Next, there is a new compilation of Watson’s writings, arranged in a 365-day devotional format.  Glorifying God: A Yearlong Collection of Classic Devotional Writings is adapted from Watson’s Body of Divinity.  My wife and I are using it for daily devotions together and it’s a beautiful and edifying book.  Finally, one of the best books about Thomas Watson is Jack Hughes, Expository Preaching with Word Pictures, With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson.  That volume is one of the most influential and important books I’ve read on preaching.

What to look out for? I would be pleased if all God’s people would read Thomas Watson, ignoring 95% of everything else written in the last four centuries.  Spurgeon used to say that if you would cut a Puritan, he would bleed “bibline.”  Watson is nothing if not possessed by the Bible.  Do I really have any cautions about him?  Certainly none that readily spring to mind.  He was an orthodox, confessional Reformed pastor through and through.

Let me conclude with a sample from the devotion my wife and I read together this morning:

The Scriptures appear to be the Word of God by the matter contained in them.  The mystery of Scripture is so abstruse and profound that no man or angel could have known it had it not been divinely revealed.  That eternity should be born; that He who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle; that He who rules the stars should suck the breasts; that the Prince of Life should die; that the Lord of Glory should be put to shame; that sin should be punished to the full, yet pardoned to the full.  Who could ever have conceived such a mystery had not the Scripture revealed it to us?  (Glorifying God, devotion for Feb. 15)

The Art of Prophesying

What does a pastor (or aspiring pastor) read for personal edification?  Well, if you follow the advice of C. S. Lewis, you’ll be making sure that at least some of your edifying reading comes from older writers.  Most of my favourite older writers are Puritans.  Those godly Reformed men blended great learning with passion and commitment to Christ.  My friend Chris Gordon is big on William Perkins (1558-1602), often regarded as the first of the English Puritans.  So last week I was at Reformed Book Services in nearby Brantford and I picked up Perkin’s The Art of Prophesying.  It’s published in the Puritan Paperbacks series put out by Banner of Truth and includes another little work by Perkins, The Calling of the Ministry.  This edition has been revised by Sinclair Ferguson and is very readableThe Art of Prophesying is a little homiletics handbook.  The Calling of the Ministry features expositions of two passages (Job 33:23-24 and Isaiah 6:5-9) with an eye to the bearing of these passages on pastoral ministry.  This is an excellent little book — unfortunately, I don’t think the text of the book is available online.  Of course, you can purchase it from the usual sorts of online retailers.

Glorifying God

The last two weeks I’ve had a seminary student working with me as part of the Pastoral Training Program.  I’ve enjoyed Tim’s company and we’ve had some great discussions.  Yesterday we took a field trip to Reformed Book Services in Brantford.  One of the books that I picked up was Glorifying God: A Yearlong Collection of Classic Devotional Writings. This is a compilation of devotions from Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity.  It’s beautiful, inside and out.  I have a deep appreciation for Watson and have learned much from him as a Christian and as a preacher.  So did Charles Spurgeon.  This is what he said about him:

Watson was one of the most concise, racy, illustrative, and suggestive of those eminent divines who made the Puritan age the Augustan period of evangelical literature.  There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom throughout all his works…His writings are his best memorial; perhaps he needed no other, and therefore providence forbade the superfluity.

If you’re looking for an accessible introduction to the Puritans, pick up anything by Thomas Watson. All Things for Good is a great place to start.

BTW, we’re still waiting for the Acts of the last two days of Synod.  I think we’ll probably be waiting until next week for them.

Calvin and the Regulative Principle of Worship

There are those, especially in continental Reformed circles, who argue that the regulative principle of worship (we must worship God in no other manner than that which is commanded in his Word) is a Presbyterian innovation or distinctive.  I have never been persuaded of this.  W. Robert Godfrey is not persuaded either and he says as much in his recent John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor.  He noted that Calvin’s approach to worship would later be known as the regulative principle.  He gives a lengthy quote from Calvin’s On the Necessity of Reforming the Church to back up this assertion.  But footnote 24 is what really caught my attention:

Attempts have been made at times to argue that the regulative principle is a Puritan invention foreign to the thought of Calvin.  Such a division cannot be maintained.  It is true that Calvin’s application of the principle was not always in harmony with some Puritan applications, but Puritans differed among themselves on the application of the principle.  This crucial distinction between principle and application is missed in Ralph J. Gore Jr., “The Pursuit of Plainness: Rethinking the Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship,” PhD dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1988, and therefore the relationship between Calvin and the Puritans on this point is fundamentally misunderstood.  (78)

I love good footnotes and this one definitely qualifies.  Although the name is never used (it didn’t appear until the twentieth century), Calvin definitely was in line with the RPW.  I have more proof for this in my booklet, The Whole Manner of Worship: Worship and the Sufficiency of Scripture in Belgic Confession Article 7.  The RPW is found with Calvin, in the Belgic Confession, and also in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Prevailing Over Satan’s Temptations

This Sunday I’m preaching on Lord’s Day 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism and the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  As part of my preparatory study, I’ve been reading Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer.  Watson is my favourite Puritan — eminently readable and filled with Scripture-shaped wisdom and insights.  On the sixth petition, it’s no different.  He spends several pages discussing by what means we may prevail over Satan’s temptations.  Here’s my summary (Watson goes into detail with each one, so if you want to follow up, I’d encourage to pick it up and read it):

1)  Get into the communion of saints, avoid solitariness.
2)  Beware of melancholy.
3)  Study sobriety with respect to the world.
4)  Be always on guard, watch against Satan’s wiles and subtleties.
5)  Beware of idleness – the bird that sits still gets shot.
6)  Be accountable to a godly friend.
7)  Make use of the Word – it’s a two-edged sword: one for your lusts, one for Satan!
8)  Be careful of your own heart that it does not deceive you into sin.  Bernard:  everyone is Satan to himself.
9)  Flee the occasions of sin.
10) Make use of faith.
11)  Be much in prayer.
12)  Pursue humility.
13)  Do not enter into a dispute with Satan.  He’s had far too much practice and you have little.
14)  Put on Christian fortitude.
15)  Actively call in the help of others.
16)  Make use of all the encouragements we can.

From Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (Banner of Truth, 1993 reprint), 294-299.